It’s Your Choice, and It’s God’s Too

file8811270600714Christians often say things such as, “God is in control.” Certainly the Bible teaches that God is in control in the sense that He is capable of causing anything to happen that is logically possible and consistent with His will.1 Concomitant with God’s control over the world is His foreknowledge; He knows all future events.2

Despite the protestations of many religionists who follow John Calvin, the Bible also teaches that God has given us the ability to choose (Joshua 24:15). That is, a human being can somehow interject his will into the course of events and cause an event. Given that this is so, it must be that God does not necessitate such an event. For if God necessitated all events, then at least the following three repugnant conclusions would follow: (1) No one could knowingly choose to serve Him, because God would have made the choice already; (2) Humans would be deceived in thinking they could choose freely, and God would be responsible for the deception; and (3) God would be responsible for bringing about all the evil in the world.

The question thus arises: How is it that God knows with certainty that an event will occur, and yet does not necessitate it? One answer is that foreknowledge does not imply causation. I may know with relative certainty that something is going to happen, and yet not cause it to happen.3 Here, however, I would like to notice a different argument, from Augustine. We find this argument in Augustine’s dialogue with Evodius called On Free Choice of the Will.4 Consider the following reading:

Augustine: You think that all things of which God has foreknowledge come about by necessity, and not by will?

Evodius: Absolutely.

A: Now pay careful attention. Look at yourself a little and tell me this, if you can: how are you going to will tomorrow, to sin or to act rightly?

E: I do not know.

A: Do you think that God does not know either?

E: Of course I do not.

A: If God knows what you are going to will tomorrow and foresees how all men who exist now or will exist are going to will in the future, He foresees much more what He will do about just men and about wicked ones.

E: Yes. If God foreknows my deeds, I would say much more confidently that He foreknows His own deeds and foresees most certainly what He will do.

A: If everything of which God has foreknowledge happens, not by will, but by necessity, shouldn’t you be careful lest you say that God does what He is going to do by necessity too, and not by will?

E: When I said that everything that God foreknows happens by necessity, I meant only those things which occur in His creation, not what occurs in Himself, since these latter are eternal.

A: By this reasoning, God is not involved in His own creation.

E: He has decided once and for all how the order of the universe He created is to be carried out, and does not arrange anything by a new act of will.

A: Does He not make anyone happy?
E: Yes, He does.

A: Then He is responsible when someone becomes happy.

E: Yes.
A: If, then, for example, you are to be happy a year from now, He will make you happy a year from now.

E: Yes.

A: Therefore, God foreknows today what He will do in a year.

E: He has always foreknown this. I also agree that He also foreknows it now if it is going to be so.

Augustine is making the following point: If it is the case that God’s foreknowledge entails that humans do not have free choice, then the same foreknowledge entails that God does not have free choice. Yet very few who would argue that God prohibits human free choice also think that God has no free choice. God’s choice is determined only by His perfect character (Deuteronomy 12:11; Psalm 18:30; Matthew 5:48; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:27; James 1:17). May we strive to align our own will with His.

  1. See Caleb Colley, “The Omnipotence of God,” (2004). 

  2. See ibid., “The Omniscience of God,” (2004). 

  3. E.g., Norman Geisler, The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 263. 

  4. Trans. Anna S. Benjamin and L.H. Hackstaff (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964), 90-91. 

- 2017