If God Knows the Future, does his People have Free Will?
Lucas D. Elliott
December 26th, 2021
NA4A – Author – https://na4a.me
Original Copy published February 15th, 2019.
If God Knows the Future, does his People have Free Will?
God’s Omniscience and the Future
“If God knows the future, do we really have free will?” This is a challenging question, and one familiar to many Christians. The omniscience of God means he knows everything, Past, present, future. But, if God already knows what choice you’re going to make, is there really any choice at all? That is what this paper will attempt to analyze and answer.
To start off, how can God’s people be certain of his omniscience? The Bible talks about God’s omniscience in many places. For example, Psalm 147:4-5 reads “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” (Psalm 147:4-5, NIV). To put that in perspective, studies have calculated that the number of stars visible on earth reaches over 7×10^23. That’s a seven with twenty-three zeroes after it, and there are an uncountable number of additional stars beyond our vision.
Consider another verse that points towards God’s omniscience: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:1-6, ESV). Again, God’s word tells his people of his all-knowing nature.
That being said, these verses say nothing directly about future, do they? One might think it possible that God could know everything about now, but not in the future. However, that isn’t actually possible. God knows the future because he knows everything about the present. He knows absolutely everything about absolutely everything right now. Because he knows this he also knows the future.
French Scholar and Polymath Pierre Laplace put it like this, “An intellect which at any given moment knew all the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that comprise it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit its data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom: for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain; and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.” (Collier, 2011). This theory is known as Laplace’s Demon. Laplace’s Demon does have it’s issues. In today’s understanding of Quantum Mechanics, it is known that one would have to understand more than simply the state and position of the particles observable in existence, but if you apply it to God’s true omniscience, it is possible.
Think of it like this: if God is omniscient, he knows where every star, every grain of sand, and every hair on your head is. He knows what choices people are being faced with at this very moment. God also knows everything about every person in the world including the deepest depths of their character. This means he knows what choices you and everyone else are about to make. Since he knows that, he knows where everything and everyone in the world will be in ten seconds from now. He therefore knows what choices every person will make in ten seconds, and so on and so on for infinity. It’s kind of like he can accurately predict the future, except predict isn’t really a strong enough word. He knows the future because he knows everything now.
God’s Omniscience Applied to His Nature in Time
With God’s omniscience of time, is he then inside or outside of time? This is another common question that many Christians struggle with. In order to answer this question. To start our analysis, one must first define what time is. A page on a website called “got questions” put it really well when the author said this: “To put it simply, time is duration. Our clocks mark change or, more precisely, our timepieces are benchmarks of change that indicate the passage of time. We could say, then, that time is a necessary precondition for change and change is a sufficient condition to establish the passage of time. In other words, whenever there’s change of any kind we know that time has passed. We see this as we go through life, as we age. And we cannot recover the minutes that have passed by.
Additionally, the science of physics tells us that time is a property resulting from the existence of matter. As such, time exists when matter exists. But God is not matter; God, in fact, created matter. The bottom line is this: time began when God created the universe. Before that, God was simply existing. Since there was no matter, and because God does not change, time had no existence and therefore no meaning, no relation to Him.” (www.gotquestions.org).
So is God inside or outside of time? Well, God is kind of outside of time, but that’s a really limiting way of saying it. Time is simply irrelevant to God. God does not change and has no physical matter. Time is a human concept we created to describe change. Past, present and future are human terms that simply do not apply to God. God existed before us, exists now and will exist forevermore. Additionally he will not change in any way. God simply exists. Period. He knows everything now and will have the same amount of knowledge five-hundred years from now. To God, five-hundred years from the present time is the same as five years ago because he and his knowledge will not change. He can decree something now and it will take place in the future. That’s what is meant by 2 Peter 3:8, when it reads “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Pet. 3:8, NIV).
God’s Personal Presence in the Current Moment.
One important aspect of God’s nature one must remember despite God’s omniscient and timeless nature, is that he is still with his people in the moment. Humans experience change. They get to learn, something God created just for mankind. He is with every person through it all in a one-on-one relationship. God’s relation to time can be a confusing concept and hard to understand, since everything in one’s life is constantly changing and is indeed under the ruling control of time, but it is one of the many designs of God to show his creation his awesome power.
Review & Conclusion
To review, consider the four points we just went over:
1. God knows everything about everything
2. Because of this he knows the future
3. Time is irrelevant to God because it is a human term to help measure change (and God does not change).
4. God is still with his people in the moment.
However, the keen readers may have noticed that the original question remains unanswered. If God knows the future, does mankind still have free will? Yes, mankind does have free will. While God is aware of the choice someone is about to make, it is still that person’s choice to make, and indeed he makes it.
In the movie series The Matrix the main character Neo asks a similar question of the future knowing Oracle when she offers him a candy. He asks, “do you already know if I’m going to take it?” The Oracle says, “I wouldn’t be much of an oracle if I didn’t.” Neo then asks the big question “but if you already know, how can I make a choice?” The Oracle replies “Because you didn’t come here to make a choice, you’ve already made it. You’ve come here to try and understand why you made it.” (Wachowski, 1999).
In this scene, The Matrix, although a fictional story, touches on one of the biggest real life theological questions ever asked, and its answer is pretty good. Instead of thinking it as “God knows what choice you’re going to make”, think of it as “To God, you already made the choice.”. Your choices are still your choices, they effect the world in a real way. God knows how the world would be different if you make a different choice in ten minutes, but he also knows what choice you will make and how that choice effects the world.
So in closing, free will is another one of the many amazing gifts God gives his people. It’s not a trick, the other choices are still there, he just knows what choices you will make and his master plan is designed with that in mind. If the choices were not mankind’s to make, then love and hate would be meaningless. God wants his people to experience the great love he has for them and he wants them to love him as well. Simply put, “That is why God left your next choice up to you.”
Collier, J. (2011). Holism and emergence: Dynamical complexity defeats laplace’s demon. South African Journal of Philosophy, 30(2), 229–243. https://doi.org/10.4314/sajpem.v30i2.67786.
Got Questions (No Date). What is God’s Relationship to Time? Got Questions. https://www.gotquestions.org/God-time.html
Wachowski, L., & Wachowski, L. (1999). The Matrix. Warner Bros.