If God is all-knowing and He knows our future, then how is that free will?

by Matt Slick

God knows the future of what the free-will creatures choose. Free will does not stop becoming free because God knows what will happen. For example, I know that my child will choose to eat chocolate cake over a bowl full of stinking dead mice. If I were to set them both before my child, it is safe to say she will not eat the dead mice. Knowing this is not taking away the freedom of my child since she is freely choosing one over the other. Likewise, for God to know what a person will choose does not mean that the person has no freedom to make the choice. It simply means that God knows what the person will choose. This is necessarily so since God knows all things (1 John 3:20). Besides, if a person were to choose A instead of C, then that is what God would have known would happen.

Furthermore, if God knows all things and knows what we are going to choose, then by definition, we are still making the choice; after all, the argument says that God knows what "we are going to choose." If we are going to "choose something," then we really are making the choice -- otherwise, it wouldn't be logical to assert that God knows what we are going to choose. Choice implies the ability to decide between different options. Again, by definition if God knows what we are going to choose, then He knows what we are going to choose between options... otherwise, we are not choosing anything, and the statement is illogical.

But, the questions is why does he know?  Does he know because he is a good guesser, or because he can see the future, or is it because he ordains all things after the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11)?  It is the latter. God knows all things because he is the one who chose to bring the universe into existence with all that would occur. This means that it is God's will to allow sin to operate in the world.  But, he does not sit idly by and watch things happen. He knew what would happen with the created world because he is the one who put everything in place; otherwise, nothing would've happened in. This can be enigmatic, but it is true. God is the sovereign and all things in the universe exist within the direct will and/or permissive will of God.

Back to the bowl of dead mice. The father, however, is not omniscient where God is. But does this difference negate the analogy? Not at all. Knowing what a person will do still does not force them or limit them to doing what is known. Some people assert that if God knows what we are going to do, then we don't have "real" freedom.  They try to state logically that God's foreknowledge of an event somehow limits the event and the choice of the individual. The complaint implies that there is an action by God upon a person that negates His freedom to choose. It would be up to the complainer to establish some logical connection between what God knows what will happen and the mind of the one who makes a choice so that the mind of the person making the choice no longer is making a choice. It seems that the critics are saying that the choice-maker is affected by God's knowledge to such an extent that his freedom is lost. If that is the case, then can they prove this logically? If not, then how can they maintain their position?

God's knowing what we will choose is a function of His omnipresence since He is in all places all the time. If He were not, He would not know what choices we were freely going to make. To deny that God is all-knowing, even of the choices we make, is to deny His omnipresence and reduce God's nature to something more like ourselves, which would be a mistake.

Nevertheless, some people try and claim that God does not know what we will freely choose. But, this cannot be since it would violate the biblical teaching that God knows all things.

Following is taken from an email complaining that God's foreknowledge means we have no free will. The person wrote six points. I reproduced them and have inserted comments, in green below the points.

  1. God knows every decision that I am going to make tomorrow.
    1. Correct.
  2. For the sake of simplicity, let's assume that I am going to make only one decision tomorrow. My decision will be whether or not to go to my aerobics class at the gym.
    1. A decision is a choice about something that you want to do or believe. It is drawing a conclusion while considering the options. Your statement that you are going to make the decision means that you admit that you are the one making the choice. By definition then, you are freely choosing to do something. Therefore, to later say that you have no choice in what you are doing is a contradiction of your statement here.
  3. God knows what decision I will make. He has it written on his "list."
    1. There is no "list" that God has anywhere of the things that anyone is going to do. The knowledge of God is not a list. It is simply necessarily complete since He knows all things. This is because God's nature requires that He know all things since He is everywhere all the time: the past, present, and future.
  4. His "list" can't be wrong.
    1. This is not an issue of the list being wrong. It is simply a fact that God knows all things. Whatever you choose to do is what God knows will happen. If you chose not to go to the class, then that is what God would have known would be your choice. So, whichever choice you freely make is the one God knows you will make.
    2. Furthermore, the "list" will always be right. That is, it is always right because it is a list of the free will choices you want to make. Read below...
  5. If his "list" says I am going to my aerobics class, I must go.
    1. The problem here is that the idea of a list introduces the error that there is a set list of things that the person must accomplish because it is on a list for them to do. This is not the case. You do not go to the gym because it is on the list that you must fulfill. It is simply an advance recording of what you will do based on the choices you will freely make.
    2. A better understanding of the "list" idea would be if God wrote a list of the things you did after you did them. He can do this since He is in the future and can look back from the future to see what you chose to do at any time. Time is relative to God. Because you have already done them freely (from God's future perspective looking backward), the list can be made accurately by God. Since He is also in the past and present, He can even show us this list in advance... only for Him it happened a long time ago as He watched you freely do what you wanted to do. So, since God is in all places at all time, He can look back in time to get the list, and then even reveal it in advance to you. It would be a list of things you freely chose to do -- or should I say, that you will freely choose to do.
  6. The fact that "I must go" is incompatible with the statement that I am free to decide whether to go or not to go.
    1. There is no "must" in this situation. You will freely choose.
    2. There is no incompatibility at all if we see that God simply knows what our choices are going to be before we make them since it is necessarily true that He knows all things.
    3. Furthermore, this idea of God's knowledge and peoples' freedom is ultimately an unanswerable issue since it involves us working in time and God is not restricted to time the way we are. Our question deals with a situation from a perspective inside of time where God is in relationship to time in a way that we cannot truly understand. By default, our questions and answers concerning this issue cannot be complete. Past, present, and future are concepts and realities created for us, not for God.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.