IS OUR FREE WILL REALLY
An Answer From
William G. Menzel
Some Christians and non-Christians alike contend that God
knows the actions and choices they will make through what is termed Free Will. But because He knows what will influence these
choices, He is really in control of whatever we do. And
so, the problem of Free Will continues to prevail.
The Catholic Encyclopedia states The
question of Free Will and moral liberty, ranks amongst the three
or four most important philosophical problems of all time.
The view adopted in response to it will determine a man's position in regard
to the most momentous issues that present themselves to the human mind. On the one hand, does man possess genuine moral
freedom, power of real choice and true ability to determine the course of his thoughts and
volitions? Or, on the other, are man's
thoughts and choices, his character and external actions, all merely the inevitable
outcome of his circumstances? Are they
predetermined in every detail along rigid lines by events of the past, over which he
himself has had no sort of control? This is
the real import of the Free-Will problem.
William G. Menzel, a Roman Catholic priest fondly called Father Bill by all,
addresses the Free Will issue in answer to a question sent to the Ask
A Priest category of CatholicView.
proclaiming the Catholic faith gave its richness and nourishment to me and
eventually called me to the priesthood,
ordained in 1967, and has had the privilege of ministering among the people of Wisconsin
in Marshfield, La Crosse, and Eau Claire. His current assignment is as pastor
of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in
QUESTION TO FATHER BILL:
Dear Father Bill:
Is the scripture,
"God created all, God knows all" true? If
this is found to be true it offers confusion in my Christian life. I feel that this statement would negate the
foundation of my belief in God regarding free will. Please
help me to understand. - Patrick
I had to chuckle to myself when I read your
question because it brought back a childhood memory. I must have been around eight
years old, and my second grade teacher, Sister Benjamin, must have just taught us that God
knows everything. While walking home after
school I pondered this, and daring child that I was, I decided that I was going to try to
fool God. When I stopped at a neighborhood
grocery store on the way, I thought that I had figured out a way to do that.
It was a clever scheme. Instead of turning to the right toward home, as I
left the store, I would fool God by turning left. So
I did that. I had taken no more that two or
three steps the wrong way when it occurred to me that God knew I was going to do that too,
so the real way to fool God was to turn around and head for home. So I did. Again,
I took a couple of steps and
well, I am sure you can see where this is going. After going back and forth a couple of times, I
decided to give up trying to fool God. Ive always wondered whether anyone in
the store or in the nearby houses saw that little boy going back and forth on the
sidewalk, and if they did, what they might have speculated was going through his head.
Your question about Gods omniscience and
human free will is one that has been asked over and over again for many centuries.
Just do an Internet search on the topic and you will see what I mean. The Scriptures are quite clear in affirming that
God knows everything. Psalm 139 goes about it rather gently, while 1 John 3:20
states it directly. Human free will is never
stated directly, but is certainly implied in passages like Deuteronomy 30:19.
Those who try to answer this apparent dilemma
or contradiction often use analogies from human experience.
For example, does a parents knowledge of a childs behavior cause that
behavior? To be more specific, if a parent
puts a chocolate chip cookie and a piece of cauliflower on the table and tells the child
to get something to eat from the table, does the fact that the parent knows that the child
will choose the cookie in some way diminish the childs freedom to choose the
cauliflower? I think that just about everyone
would agree that the child would be free to choose the cauliflower that the
parental foreknowledge of the childs choice didnt take away the choice.
However, I think that this approach has a
serious deficiency. I dont want to get
into this too deeply, but suffice it to say that human knowledge doesnt imply that
something actually exists, while Gods knowledge does.
What God knows, is. What God
does not know does not exist. This seems to
doom free will once and for all, but well see in a moment that thats not the
I really think that the solution to this
apparent dilemma demands that we at least try to come to grips with one significant
difference between our existence and Gods. Ive
pondered this a lot over the years, and I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around
it, so forgive me if my attempt at clarity is anything but clear.
The huge difference between our existence and
Gods is that we live in time and God lives in eternity. Time is nothing more than a measure of
change. If nothing changed, we would have no
need of time- in fact, wed never even think to invent it. Since everything we
know does change, we have conceived of time as a way to measure our changing surroundings.
Heres the hard part. God lives outside of
time, in an eternal, changeless now. For God, everything just is.
And this includes the choices we humans freely make, as well as all the evolving details
of the changing universe we inhabit. I firmly believe that God does not micromanage
the universe, so what He knows "is, but His knowledge does not cause it
Taking all this another step, God knows that we
have free will. If God knows it, then we must have it.
Finally, if none of this makes any sense to
you, and I would not blame you if it doesnt, just do what I do when my brain gets
tired; ask a few simple questions. For
example, do you feel you are free to make choices? Do you feel that you could choose
to answer an email or not answer it? Do you
feel that when you sit down to dinner you can choose to put salt on your meat or not?
Do you feel that the TV remote in your hand gives you the freedom to surf at will
or to stop wherever you want? To believe that
all this might somehow be determined by Gods knowledge always seems to me to be a
greater stretch than to believe that we actually are free.
But you can choose to agree with me. Or
not. God bless you, Patrick.
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