God’s Will Vs. Free Will

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And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.(Romans 8:28)

At the Seventh-Day Adventist Academy that I attended, I remember this as being one of the verses drilled into our heads in Bible class. Even though we went to academy – with nothing but cows, farmland, and the 20 citizens of the town to keep us company – that didn’t mean that we didn’t see the same range of worldsuck that you can get from an episode of Degrassi. Bomb threats, parental deaths, sex scandals, self-mutilation, explosive relationship fights in the hallways, racial tensions, you name it. One time, someone even threw a CRT monitor out of the boys’ dorm window out of frustration. And when these times of tribulation fell on us at a speed of 9.8 m/s/s, we were told to remember that one central truth – that God works all things together for those who love Him.

This entire verse aims to give a feeling of security to someone that is feeling like the world is out of control, but it’s actually just a huge problem for the concept of free will in Christian theology.

A common argument from Christians is that everything in the world is going to hell in a handbasket because of the concept of free will and choice. God cannot impinge upon the choice of His creation, because He wants us to truly love Him. True love requires choice, therefore God cannot manipulate our free will. And the evil that we see in the world is the consequence of our actions. But in light of the Romans 8:28 verse, how can that be true? If everything I do is just considered one small thread in the fabric of “exactly the way God wanted it to be in the first place”, how free are my actions?

Furthermore, how in the cribbiscuits can we claim to have free will when we know the end of the story?

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Rev 21:4)

And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:8-10)

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jeremiah 29:11)

These verses tell us exactly how the end of the world will come about, and assures us that the wicked will be roundly defeated. We are being told this from the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the universe who was here before us, and in whom we “live and move and have our being” (which sounds more like the attributes of Pinocchio than an agent with free will) (Acts 17:28) Not only this, but the entire story of the Bible assures us that God had this “expected end” in mind from the beginning of the world, that all of these “birth pangs” (Romans 8:22) of creation and history are leading up to this eventual climax, and that God is in control of it. He is meticulously guiding this process every day, the process of redeeming the world.

Using the argument that God has simply left us to the consequences of our own actions does not hold water in light of all the miracle stories that Christians would like us to accept. The idea of a squad’s guns going click instead of brutalizing their Christian prisoners with lead, the idea of a community praying with such intensity that a baby breathes his first breath, or the tales of an angel stopping a bus full of children from going off of a cliff – all of these are unacceptable in light of the doctrine of free will. Once you accept that even one of these stories is true, it leads to the only sensible question – why them?

If God doesn’t have a problem intervening, even in one case, how is it justifiable that He could not have intervened in the very first one? If there are many situations where God shields us from the consequences of our actions, of the original sin that Adam bestowed upon the human race and that Jesus freed us from, how could God not change one variable to keep Adam and Eve from eating from the tree in the first place? If He is omnipresent, was He not there while the snake spoke to them? Could He not speak while His children destroyed themselves?

The next verses in that Romans passage, 8:29-30, sum it up quite nicely:

“For whom He foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Macklemoreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified, and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (italics mine)

But don’t worry. You’re still totally free.

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6 thoughts on “God’s Will Vs. Free Will”

  1. Perhaps your looking at this from the perspective that God foretold the future, explained how everything is going to go down, and now He’s working behind the scenes manipulating mankind to achieve that outcome. Following after this model of thinking would perhaps lead one to conclude the types of paradoxes that you’ve pointed out. Where is our free will if God can trump the consequences of our decisions?
    But I’ve always considered it followed after a different model. God foretold the future because He knows the beginning from the end. Rather then manipulating to achieve that end, He peaked into the distant future and revealed it to us in His word. The end story is a result of mankind carrying out his free will, and God simply reveals it to us.
    This is not to say that God doesn’t get involved, He does. But He is a respecter of man’s choice to place Him aside. He will get involved when asked by those who seek Him.
    As far as predestination, He foreknew because He knows the beginning to the end. But it doesn’t mean that He chose who would be saved based on some unknown criteria, certainly not in light of all these verses. “God would have all of mankind to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4); “He is not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9); “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Eze. 33:11) ; “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28); “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17); “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

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  2. I appreciate your thoughts! You are completely right, I do not think about it at all in the same way. As good as the examples that you bring up might be, the lynchpin of it all is that God created everything anyway. That’s where the argument of “He doesn’t determine everything, He just knows how it will be” falls flat for me. Because if God created everything, then He’s responsible for how everything functions, precisely because He made it that way AND He knew before He made it that it would function that way. Sounds a lot like predestination to me.

    Thanks for commenting!

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    1. When God created mankind with free will, with it He created the risk that the human race will fall astray. But in His creation, He also created a method for salvation to undo that fall. We are all predestined to be saved. But some will choose not to be.

      I suppose that in your view, upon seeing the effects of this world AND believing that this is how it will end, a God who supposedly created it all would then be at fault.

      Except that for me, His word tells me how it will end. And the way it ends, sin will be no more, and all partakers of heaven will live for all eternity in paradise. When I think about a God, who set up the human race to think on their own, and all those who will be in heaven have chosen to be there, and all those who will no longer exist have chosen not to be, I cannot think of a more responsible, respecter of the individual, then that God.

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      1. This sounds a lot like an informal version of Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense.

        I’ll help you out a little by pointing out something that will clarify your argument a little: the fact that humans have free will logically entails that God does not causally determine how they will act.

        And now, despite the fact that I just helped you, I’ll point out, in brief, why you’re still wrong. The problem is that God can constrain human actions such that no one succeeds in doing evil while still allowing them morally significant free will. If you’re interested in seeing my argument for this in full, I’ve written a rather long blog post explaining it, which you can read here: https://badventistblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/plantingas-free-will-defense-does-it-deserve-all-the-hype/

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