The Sovereignty of God Does NOT Obligate the Free Will of Man

Can God limit his knowledge? Can He choose to exercise his omniscience and omnipotence within self-limited restraints? Can God create a world where He allows humans the freedom to make decisions, even decisions that He has not willed or desired? Is it tenable to think of God as creating a world and voluntarily limiting Himself in terms of what He chooses to know and do in that world? Can God limit his power by delegating some to human creatures?

Of course, God can make this kind of world. When we talk about God’s sovereignty, we don’t just mean that there’s nothing that God can’t do or know. We also mean that He can create any kind of world that He wants. And this would include a world where free human agents are involved.

While God has committed himself to accomplishing some broad purposes in our world, I do not believe that we have to conclude that every last detail of life has all been pre-determined by God. He created that kind of world where humans are to co-create the future alongside Him. And even though humans would choose to rebel, declare that He doesn’t exist, God is still able to work things toward His broad purposes and toward the fulfillment of what He has promised. All the atheist in the world will not prevent His kingdom from coming. God has promised that it will happen.

But while we may not thwart God’s broader purposes for the world, there is legitimate free will in the decisions that we make within these broader purposes. And even though God works things toward His broader purposes, as humans with free will, we CAN destroy his purposes for our lives as individuals. We can even do the ultimate deed – declare that God Himself does not exist.

God does not push people around. He takes a step back and allows us to go our own way if we want. He does not immediately punish wickedness in most cases, nor does He immediately reward righteousness in most cases. But He does honor our free will. God partners with us to create a preferable future. He listens to our prayers and they actually mean something to Him. Prayer proves that the future is open with God; that everything has not already been settled.

Some would have you to believe that everything was frozen into place before history ever got started; that God is not really responsive to our input, nor flexible to change His mind. That God is a Chess Player God, playing both sides of the board, moving His pieces and our pieces too. Don’t believe it.

God is not some aloof deity, living in some solitary place, contemplating only Himself. He has created a dynamic world, is open to free will human creature input, and is constantly working in light of the decisions that we make. He experiences sadness when atheists and the rebellious turn away from Him and He experiences incredible delight when they come Home to Him (Luke 15).

God is omniscient in that He can know everything that can be known. But when he made our kind of world, He voluntarily limited himself, such that, we co-creators can make decisions that surprise and delight God. In this self-limited world that God made, free will actions are entities that God can choose not to know.

Some would even argue that free will actions are entities that even God doesn’t know, because He has self-limited Himself, working with us free will creatures. This does not make Him any less God, they would argue. If God knows every detail of the future exhaustively, then conditional prophecies lose their integrity would be a legimitate logic. But this might be a bit of a stretch for some to ingest. So rather than affirm it as absolutely true, I would suggest stopping just shy of it, and instead, consider that God can self-limit or choose not to know some things, including what we humans are going to do about certain things. God can exclude from his foreknowledge the things that are undecided by human creatures. Of course, God knows what is best for us and woos us toward that always. But the choice is ultimately yours. God is still Sovereign. And we can’t create situations for Him that He cannot handle. But he allows us human freedom to make our choices and waits to see what we will do with anticipation.

God created mankind because he loves story, said Elie Wiesel. I would modify and say that “God created man [with free will] because He loves stories [with surprise endings.]” How about creatings a surprise for God? Turn away from atheism. Embrace the One true God. Partner with God to create a new and better future.

I think I will partner with God in prayer, and requests that each atheist will exercise their free will and say “Yes” to God’s invitation to write a better chapter in their story – a God chapter.

Advertisements

11 Comments

Filed under Agnosticism, Atheism, Atheist, Christian Worldview, Free Will, Sovereignty of God, Theism, Worldview

11 responses to “The Sovereignty of God Does NOT Obligate the Free Will of Man

  1. InTheImageOfDNA

    Joey,

    You say that God can limit His knowledge and yet remain sovereign. This is a contradiction. If God limits His knowledge, then He doesn’t know certain things and can be surprised by things. If God can be surprised by things because He didn’t know about them, then He was not able to exercise His will on these things because they had already happened; hence He is not Sovereign. The only way now that you can extricate yourself from this contradictory position is some kind of weird time-travelling god that when something happens that he didn’t like, he reverses time. But then, again, we get back to the “free-will” contradiction because then God knows what will happen in the future.

    You see, this is a fundamental incoherence of monotheistic doctrine – one that has been tried and tried to be resolved and has yet to be because it can’t. It’s like trying to say circles can be squares.

    Saying your God can “choose” what He knows is certainly one of the more popular rationalizations of the problem that I have heard and yet it remains a spectacular failure. Choice entails knowledge. How can a choice be made in ignorance? It can’t, at least not in any agency directed manner that is distinguishable from randomness. (And the maintenance of perceived agency direction among events is the prime reason religion exists in the first place.) If God makes the choice of what He knows and doesn’t know then that implies that, at least at some point (if God then erases his memory), all actions are known and hence our “free-will” is an illusion.

    I applaud the valiant effort, but square pegs will never fit in round holes.

  2. I think your issue is with omniscience, but it need not be in my proposition, especially if we move beyond the “God chooses not to know scenario” into the harder presupposition that God knows all that can be known, but because he has delegated out to human creatures via free will the ability to also shape the future, that these entities of decision and action, cannot even be known by God. They are not knowable. God knows ALL that can be known, thus his omniscience is in tact. But free will human decisions (delegated to the creation by the Creator) are not entities that can be known.

    It might take this kind of “hard line” position in order to resolve your logic. But it is tenable, though I myself personally, would not go so far with this position.

    You are right. This has been an antinomy that has perplexed the greatest theological minds for centuries. I will not pretend to resolve it here. But what I have proposed is a new understanding of omniscience, and harmonizing that with an Omnipotent One who self-limits in order to genuinely partner with man.

    You have choice. God does not play both sides of the Chess Board.

  3. Return of Tofu

    If god doesn’t know how things are going to turn out before it happens, then he’s not all-knowing. He does not know all, and therefore does not meet the requirements of omniscience.

    If he’s self-limited himself, then he was once omniscient, but is so no longer.

    Your version makes more sense and allows for free will, but is not omniscient. I don’t know how much this is in line with Christian teachings, but at least it’s not completely contradictory.

  4. InTheImageOfDNA

    Joey,

    Thank you for your responses. You seem like a thoughtful person and I appreciate that.

    However, we started this and we might as well follow through to all of its implications. You seem to acknowledge now that God can only know what is knowable and this excludes actions by free agents (humans.) This is good; it is a coherent position in relation to itself. But, simple psychology can predict human behavior in a general way. And if, it is like you say and that we are created beings whose creator should be the most expert psychologist ever and if, as in Luke 12:7, God has intimate knowledge of every individual such that the very hairs on our head are numbered, then it doesn’t make sense that God can’t know our actions. Fallible humans with imperfect psychology can, with simple personality tests, predict such things as life choices, career satisfaction, etc to a statistically meaningful degree. So, it does not seem to follow that human actions are in the realm of the unknown. They can be known.

    Getting back to the issue of God’s sovereignty – (and within your framework that human actions cannot be know.) This is still yet another dead-end. Just for purposes of illustration, let us use the 9-11 attacks. Say God, in accordance with letting humans have free-will, did not know that this was going to happen. One can now say that it happened and it was God’s will (such as Pat Robertson, et al did because of “pagans and abortionists.”) But suppose that it wasn’t. Say that God did not want it to happen but was powerless to stop it, because, like the rest of us, He didn’t until it did. That God isn’t sovereign. But if he did know that it was going to happen, then the hijackers couldn’t have deviated from the path because God knew it was going to and God’s knowledge can’t be fallible. And we are back to square one.

    That is, unless you hold naturalism, which I do, and have no such conundrums to deal with.

    I realize that you didn’t claim to fully resolve this issue and that I am still belaboring it, but I see it, as I mentioned before, as a fundamental incoherence in theism. And if we are going to get into rhetorical goals (you want to portray Christianity as true) I don’t see how you can if such a core problem remains unresolved.

  5. Return of Tofu

    Does god know what his own actions will be before he does them?

  6. God works in conjunction with man in most things. “If man does this…then I will do this…” He has chosen to make a world where he works with those to whom he has delegated authority.

    But that is not to say that God does not decree certain things. Satan will be destroyed. All the people on earth cannot keep that from happening. This age will eventually be swallowed by another Kingdom age; we can’t stop it. So God is Sovereign and not dependent on creation to do what He has decreed.

    But who I choose to follow – God or Satan – is up to me. My decision will determine my personal destiny. And it will also determine how I live today, what I give my life too, and what worldview I espouse.

    So God knows some things that He’s going to do because that’s what prophecy is about. But other things are contingent upon what man does.

  7. DNA: God can anticipate decisions that we might make. But we are not talking about that. Hairs on our head are knowable. Future decisions and what we might do is another issue.

    We are talking about what can be known or is known by God in the world that He has set up. In order to resolve your dilemma, I have offered to you a possibility (not my own personal viewpoint) – that free will human decisions are not knowable. A case could and has been made for this by others. If this is true, then your argument collapses. The issue you have with omniscience is resolved and you have the responsibility of forsaking a naturalistic worldview that cannot answer the deeper questions of life.

    Make no mistake. God is Sovereign. 911 does not leave God shaking his head in despair, out of sorts, and wondering what he’s going to do about all the bad people in the world. God saw what those guys were up to. He watched as those decisions were made; and they grieve Him. But they didn’t have to do it. It was not decreed. They chose it of their own free will.

    And God could have intervened, but most of the time, God uses justice, the legal system, citizens and policeman and the military to hold people accountable for their actions, rather than zapping them just before they do these horrendous acts of evil. That’s the way He works. He allows us a measure of freedom to shape the future, for good or ill. Now, having said that, all will be brought to justice in time, cosmic justice.

    And, God has miraculously intervened into our world in some situations, but for the most part it’s His Providential Care that He uses to work in peoples lives and the established institutions of government, family, and church serve to create a better world.

    In the world God has made, He has delegated out to humans this ability to make decisions and create a future. This doesn’t make Him any less sovereign. In his sovereignty, He created this kind of world that works this way.

  8. InTheImageOfDNA

    Joey,

    Thank you for your responses.

    But I think we have reached an impasse. The God I have forced you to define is indistinguishable from a non-existent god. That was my goal. Logic tends to do that. For further reference see:

    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/flew_falsification.html

  9. No falsification here. Do you believe in the sun, even when you can’t see it? Do you believe in love, even when you can’t feel it?

    No, no DNA. No falsification. God exists and He has self-disclosed. He has given you free will for which you are responsible. And someday, you and I will be held accountable for the decisions that we have made.

    “But God, you pre-determined everything…you set our destiny before we ever made our first decision…you played both sides of the Chess Board…” will not cut it. To even think so, reveals that I don’t understand what “being created in God’s image” is about. You have power as a human being – the power to make decisions, delegated to you by God. You are not made in the image of DNA. In fact, the DNA alone is a great argument for the existence of a Designer – encyclopedic volumes of information contained within it. Naturalism as a worldview cannot explain it. Only God could have done it.

    And remember, the love story….love….true love…. Your DNA will never hold you, love you, and commune with you…

    In the image of God, I remain yours and a seeker of the One True God…

  10. Return of Tofu

    “No falsification here. Do you believe in the sun, even when you can’t see it? Do you believe in love, even when you can’t feel it?”

    The difference is that, unlike god, we can experience these things some of the time. They also have effects even when we can’t directly see them.

  11. I believe in the sun even when I can’t see it. I believe in love when I am alone and don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.

    His existence is a no-brainer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s