If God knows everything, what is the point of free will?
Dear Fr. Joe: If God knows everything, what is the point of free will?
Q. Since God knows everything, then he knows what we are going to do next and if we are going to heaven or hell; what does that mean for free will?
A. This is one of the hardest questions I’ve had to work on – what a great challenge you gave me! Let’s dive right in.
We start by saying “God knows everything” and think that means God knows what we are going to do next. I’m afraid its much more amazing than that: When we say God knows everything, we mean God knows every possibility. That, my friend is mind-bending.
Look at it this way: You and I and everyone you know live in linear time. In a nutshell, linear time is the way we experience reality. It is defined by constant motion. We are always moving forward; we remember the past (usually badly!) and move forward toward the future. We use the word “now,” but when is “now?” When it comes to the past, we can only remember it; we can’t go back there. When it comes to the future, we can only guess what’s going to happen and again; we can’t get there.
With me so far?
So, we linear-time creatures are extremely limited in our ability to experience time. We have a vague, amorphous “now,” which doesn’t really exist, an almost non-existent means of predicting the future and a highly inaccurate recollection of the past, with no ability to “re-enter” it. Basically, we experience time as a scroll – time, quite literally “unfolds” for us.
So, how does God experience time? Well, we’re not God (I’ll leave out the obvious joke), so all we can do is explain our best guess. Here’s how I do it: You and I experience time like a scroll, but God sees all of time and history as one moment, like you see this page in the magazine.
As you read this, there is a seemingly infinite number of possibilities open to you. You could rip the page out of the magazine and burn it (that may be the best option for you); you could keep reading, move on to a better column (the salad recipe looks good); all sorts of options. If you think about it, no matter which option you choose, it creates a whole bunch of different options for the people you will encounter. For example, let’s say you decide to read this article and then share later with someone what you read. They then have the choice to discard it or embrace it and that changes the options of all the people they will meet. Now, the crazy part is that there are more than 6 billion people on the planet, all of whom are constantly changing each other’s options. Until heaven (God willing), we’ll never really know the effects of our everyday decisions and actions (this is why I’m a regular at confession).
Now, brace for the brain melter: When God sees our time and history, he doesn’t just see all that has happened and will happen, God sees every possibility. God knows everything that could possibly happen next, how it changes the entire future of the human race and each possibility along that tree. It’s astounding to think about. This is just one more reason to be in absolute awe of God.
So, now, when we land back into the hard-core reality of our own lives, hopefully we can see that we are truly free. God is not a puppet master, pulling our strings, but a mighty, omniscient God who looks at each thing we could do and meets us there when we make our choice. When I was a younger man, I remember a great quote my folks gave me: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”
You are free at every moment. Free to choose to love, free to choose to sin. Whatever our future, God is there, waiting with all the love and grace we need to be who He has called us to be.
Let’s choose wisely.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!
– Father Joseph Krupp
from: faith magazine