And the answer is ……I don’t know
Recently I wrote a post about God’s foreknowledge repudiating other views that say that God’s knowledge of the future is limited in someway (either by logic or by self-imposed limitations). I concluded that God’s knowledge of the future is absolute and that God fully knows His own thoughts and actions from eternity past (Acts 15:18). This brings us to a good question. If God is sovereign and knows everything in advance, how then can it be said that man has free will? The answer is I don’t know. But I do know that both are true at the same time and that you can not emphasize one Biblical truth at the expense of another. Saying that God is all powerful (and He is) and that He is knows everything (and He does) seems to bring us to the logical conclusion that God has predestined all that has come to pass (including evil) and that the idea of man’s free will is at best an illusion. That is where I draw the line. Here’s why.
To say that God is behind all that comes to pass directly contradicts what Jesus shows us about the nature of the Father. The Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus is the complete revelation of God. Hebrews 1:2 says that Jesus is “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.” If Jesus is the “Word of God” made flesh (John 1:1,14) then any conception of God outside of what Jesus shows us is a misperception. If God is behind all that comes to pass (e.g..sickness, pain, natural disasters) then Jesus must have been undoing the works of the Father as he healed the sick, raised the dead, and calmed the raging storms. Of course we know that everything Jesus did was in accordance with God’s will. Jesus said “a house divided against itself can not stand.” As to man’s free will, think about what Jesus said to the people of Jerusalem in His day, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your chicks together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Notice that Jesus did not say that God was not willing to accept them, but that they were unwilling to accept Him.
So how can God know everything and allow for man to have free will at the same time? I don’t know. How can God be all-powerful and present everywhere and yet, not be responsible for all that comes to pass in the natural world? I don’t know. Here is where a dose of humility comes in. The truth is that God’s essence is unknowable. As finite creatures, we will never know, at least on this side of eternity, exactly how God’s eternal nature relates to His finite creation. We can, however, know God’s character. God’s essence is unknowable, His character is not. Jesus clearly shows us the character of God in all that He taught and accomplished while here on earth. So here is my proposition, instead of focusing on the unknowable, let’s focus on what we can know. Through Jesus, we can know how God cares for His creation and, more importantly for us, how He treats people. And that is all we really need to know.