God Knowing All vs Free Will
by Stephen Surgener
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It would seem this concept of all knowing, equaling an elimination of free will, has become a new front in the battle to maintain accurate Biblical theology among youth within the Christian community. The topic has arisen in my personal circles of conversation several times this year. And in every instance, the initiators of the topic were either currently enrolled in, or had recently completed a college philosophy course. But, terms like predestination, fate, and divine intervention, have been a part of spiritual discussions since Biblical times. So, why now do we see an insurgence in it's proliferation? In many ways todays culture, so obsessed with control, could be viewed as the motivation for breathing new life into this old "dilemma".
My experiences have taught me that a single statement can best demonstrate the fundamental flaw in the logic behind this idea that if God truly is all knowing, than we cannot have free will. "You may know all the winning numbers for every state lottery in the country, but your not going to be a winner if you don't buy a ticket." It is a statement that demonstrates knowing, in and of itself, is benign, whereas free will is an action. The only time all knowing becomes an affront to free will, is if that knowledge is used to suppress it. It is this understanding that pulls back the vial, and reveals how damaging this ideology can be.
Issues of, God created everything and now He's just watching it happen, can arise. Beliefs that our free will dictates to God what He does next, have been expressed to me by people in the church. A type of spiritual fatalism, or apathy, can begin to take hold, and eventually grow into an attitude of not being responsible for your own actions. When dealing with an issue like this one, which cuts so close to the fundamentals of core beliefs, the list of potential effects is too great to tackle in a single writing. But we don't have to.
Back to the basics. God does directly intervene in our lives. However, because He is all knowing, He is able to do so without violating our free will. The teenager is a great example of free will being exercised while still receiving direct intervention of parents. Those who live at home may do so for a variety of reasons, but they themselves chose to stay. Those that run away will do so, again for a variety of reasons, but they chose to leave. In between, there are varying levels of obedience, or rebellion, based on levels of respect, love, and appreciation; or fear, disregard, and rejection.
And what is free will? Is it simply a series of choices, motivated by whims of preference, and desire? Not at all. Not in God's eyes. Being all knowing, He knows your tomorrow with just as much detail as He knows your yesterday. The fact is, our choices are based on short sightedness, and our decisions are blind to the future ramifications on ourselves and others. God may intervene in a way that today may seem to conflict with your free will, but the result falls right in line with tomorrows. In essence, it is in fact God's all knowing, that allows Him to interact with us, and not violate our free will.
In the end, it boils down to a single word; faith. Not faith that all knowing verses free will is wrong. In our everyday lives we can find numerous examples of knowing and free will co-existing. No, it goes much deeper than that. It is trusting that God is all He says He is; patient, kind, slow to anger, righteous, merciful, and true. It is having faith enough to give up control, imagined or otherwise. It is choosing to be the son or daughter who shows true appreciation for the opportunity to have a relationship with the only perfect parent ever, by following His instruction.
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