If you have not read Part 1, please read that first before you continue.

Now that we have a better idea of what free will is and if it contradicts God’s omniscience, we are ready to look at the other issues. With that in mind, let us continue.

Why doesn’t God intervene?

Why should anything happen at all which is not in accordance with God’s intent? If God is sovereign can’t he intervene so that they don’t happen? The reply differ according to the nature of the event – what causes it? If it’s a result of man’s moral choice, then the straightforward answer would be – because God doesn’t temper with man’s free will at whim. A child is sexually abused. A loving God would certainly find it abhorrent, let alone desire it. It happened because another person freely chose to commit a moral evil. Remember what we learn about free will earlier – it is the ability to make willing choices that has real consequences. Unfortunately in this scenario, the child also experiences the consequence of that choice even though he/she did not choose to be a victim! And realize too that the child’s free will is violated by the abuser! Glenn Miller of the Christian Tank thinks that sometimes God does intervene in cases like this, where a person’s free will is violated by another (see “suggested reading” below). This illustration also shows that sometimes we suffer because of another’s wrong doing. It demonstrates that our choices have more far-reaching consequences than might be immediately apparent. Our choices and actions don’t affect us alone but the people around us as well. This ought to motivate us to make responsible choices.

But back to the main issue, why doesn’t God intervene and stop the abuse? (God being impotent is not one of them!) There certainly will be reasons we will never understand this side of heaven but there are a few possibilities we can explore. Firstly, God, due to his foreknowledge might have known that He can redeem the situation to bring about a greater good for the child and for the people whom the child will cross path with in the future and even for the abuser himself. It is precisely because God sees the future that he is able to withhold his judgment (allowing an event to take place). Case in point, God did not intervene when Saul went about persecuting the early Christians. It’s not difficult to guess that He knew Saul will become one of the greatest apostles (Paul) someday! An even better example would be the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. God did not dispatch his legions of angels to stop the crucifixion because He saw all of us (the redeemed ones) in the future and count it worthwhile that His Son should go to the cross. God knows enough about our free choices to work out a plan that will encompass all our free choices and still accomplish His purpose. He is able to incorporate them into His grand plan because of what He knows. Rev Joe stowell puts it this way, “God moves the chess pieces of our life to prepare us for a checkmate!”.

But what about “bad” events which are not due to man’s moral choice, like natural disasters?  The Bible says that God gave Adam dominion over the world (Gen. 1:28). When he rebelled against God, he set in motion an entire series of events and changed the very nature of man and creation. Both were affected by sin. Creation was no longer a paradise, but bore thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:22). People became sinful (Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:3), who were haters of God (Rom. 3:19-12), etc. The only conclusion to such a situation is death. But even then, we don’t despair because God has already visited the future and He tells us there will be a new earth where there will be no more tears and suffering. This is one future event that falls within the category of God’s sovereign will (explained in further detail below) which cannot be violated.

Understanding God’s will

Another question that comes up about things that happen against God’s intent is due to statements like Jesus’ in Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” Peter also writes that, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

The problem is that the Bible seems to indicate in these verses that God has a will for something which doesn’t get done. Israel didn’t come to Jesus, though He willed it. Not everyone is saved, though God wills it. Yet at the same time, the Bible says that nothing can thwart God’s will. Check out Dan. 4:35: “And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’”

We’ve got an honest to goodness, bona fide contradiction right there! But there is a way out according to Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason.

The law of non-contradiction states that “A cannot be non-A at the same time and in the same way.” The only way these teachings are not contradictory is if God’s “will” in one case does not mean the same thing as God’s “will” in the other case. This is the only way out.

The words “God’s will” can mean two different things. Or, to put it another way, you can have different “wills” of God, or two aspects of the will of God. The simplest way to describe them is God’s moral will—what He morally desires, but doesn’t always take place (like salvation for everyone)–and God’s sovereign will—described in Daniel 4 and other places—that which He purposes to take place and which always happens.

Two wills of God. Moral will and sovereign will. Moral will entails all those things God wants us to do, yet we may disobey. God wants us to be saved, yet many are not. God wanted Israel to turn to Jesus, yet most did not. God wants all kinds of things of His people—He wills those things—but they don’t come to pass. There’s a sense of God’s will that can be violated.

Yet, at the same time, there are other things which are clearly stated about God’s will that He intends actually come to pass. We see some of those details in the book of Daniel, and this is why Daniel makes the statement that God’s will, in this sense, cannot be violated.

What determines the future?

In closing I would like to bring up another point of consideration as I feel it’s important to our discussion. What determines the future? Again, Greg explains that the common assumption is that since God knows every act in the future and everything about the future, then the future must be set in concrete, making the future determined. If the future is fixed, how can our actions have meaning since it can’t change anything? Greg offers this solution, the best way to state or define the nature of God’s omniscience is that God knows and believes every true proposition. In other words, God already knows all true propositions about the future. There is a difference between God knowing the future and God decreeing every future event by fiat such that it will then take place. I will clarify that distinction in just a moment. Let me say this: I believe that the future is set. I believe there will be a particular future. Particular things are going to happen, and I will give you an illustration on how I know that to be the case. But I don’t think that has anything whatsoever to do with free will. Or a better way of saying it, I don’t think that obviates free will. It doesn’t remove the necessity of free will. It is precisely because of human free will that the future is set the way it is. The real question isn’t whether the future is set or not, but what it is that sets the events of the future.

My argument is this: The future is set. It is going to be something in particular. How do I know that? Because God, being omniscient, knows and believes all true propositions. Some of those propositions are tensed. In other words, God knows not only the present facts, but the future facts as well. If God knows future facts, then that means the future facts are particular things. They aren’t things in flux. He knows what the future will be. So, one could say the future is fixed, then conclude from that fact that the future is determined and there is no free will. The second does not follow from the first. Or I should say, to be more accurate, the third doesn’t follow from the second. The first being the future is fixed, the second that it is determined, and the third that free will choices makes no difference.

The fact that the future is determined does not remove the significance of free will choices. I can prove it to you by simply asking you to reflect on the past. The past is a particular thing. There are not all kinds of pasts that are possible. The past is a past fact. However, the past facts have been established by free choices. Even though the details of the past are fixed without any possibility of them being moved, they are fixed because people chose particular things and those particular things expressed themselves in time and are now past history.

You see, the critical question about determinism with regards to free will is not whether the future is set, but what sets the future. If the future is set by God’s fiat sovereign decree—and when I say the future I am talking about every single detail of the future—then I think it is true that there is no genuine free will. If that is the case, it seems to me that you can’t avoid the charge that God is now responsible for evil.

But I don’t think that is what sets the future entirely. I think there are things that are certain in the future and we know those things are certain because God told us about them. We know the ultimate fate of the wicked. We know the ultimate fate of the righteous. We know particular details, at least some broad outlines, about the second coming of Christ. God will accomplish those things because He decides to do it. Therefore, some facts of the future are going to occur in time simply because God has decided it to be so.

However, I don’t think most of the facts about the future are going to be set in that way. I think most of the facts of the future are set, not because God decides, but because you and I decide sometime in the future that certain things will be such. If you and I are making decisions that set the future into a particular mold, then we have free will, don’t we? One could ask, “Well, could I change the future?” All it takes to change the future is for you to make different decisions in the future. Those different decisions are the decisions that set the future as it will be.

In other words, “Yeah, the future is set, but what sets it?” You set it. Your decisions determine what the future will be to a great degree. What that means is that your individual choices, by and large, make the difference in the future. I am speaking in general terms here about God’s knowing the future as a function of His omniscience. However, knowing the future does not remove the possibility of your freedom in some measure in the future, because what He knows in the future are your free choices. This is a very important point.

I hope you have found this short study helpful to your understanding of the issue. It was certainly a worthwhile learning experience for me. I have to thank hk for initiating the discussion. I have quoted from several sources and have listed all of them below. Now I can finally take my break (hk, please don’t draw me into another discussion so soon, I’ll die!) and if I feel like it, maybe we will explore other philosophical and theological questions again in the future. 😉

Sources
CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry)
If God knows our free will choices, do we still have free will?

Probe Ministries
Which is it? Mens’s free will or God’s omniscience.

Stand To Reason
What determins the future?
Bad arguments against Calvinism.

Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem

Suggested Reading
Does God’s judgment violate the free choice of his creatures? (Glenn Miller, The Christian Thinktank)
If God is all powerful and loving, why is there suffering in the world? (CARM)
God and the future: Examining the open view of God (Rick Wade, Probe Ministries)

 

rk

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