Reconciling Free Will with God’s Omniscience: Evidence form Fulton Sheen and My Life

Among the perennial questions that mankind asks involve freedom. With the increasingly new information scientists learn about human biology and DNA that gets passed on from generation to generation, it is natural to wonder: how much control or freedom do I actually possess in my life? Over the course of history the greatest of literary works—Oedipus Rex and Macbeth to just name a couple— centered on the debate of freedom versus fate. When things did not go my own way, I recently struggled with having fleeting thoughts about fatalism— the belief that human actions happen through necessity and a result humans ultimately lack free will.

A year and a half ago, I wrote an article titled Reconciling Free Will with God’s Omniscience: Evidence form C.S. Lewis and My Life. Since publishing this originally in 2017, I have noticed that more search engine results came up on the topic of free will, God’s knowledge, and how to resolve these two seemingly diametric views. If God is all knowing and knows the outcome of every event in an individual’s life, do we truly possess free will? Or are humans fated and not in possession of the ability to be permitted to act on their own accord? Because a lot of attention centers on this topic, I feel compelled to write again on this subject.

While I still experience feeble moments of struggle to reconcile God’s omniscience with human freedom, hope is not out of reach. I am stronger in my belief and understanding. This is through the graces of the Holy Spirit along with my own continued pursuit of truth and sharpening my intellect through reading of people much, much wiser than myself. Most recently, I re-discovered the superb sagacity of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Through the clear writing of Sheen, specifically his work Re-Made for Happiness, and my own humble experiences as a father I furthered my understanding that it is possible to reconcile the apparent Catch-22 between free will and divine omniscience!

1. Sagacity from Sheen: Although every book I have read of Archbishop Fulton Sheen impressed me, as of right now, Re-Made for Happiness tops them all. Chapter 13 entitled Hope specifically resonated with me. I got so excited after reading that chapter that I called my wife and declared, “This is the most amazing chapter, I have ever read of perhaps any book ever!” Whether this is a premature hyperbole, that is a debate for another time, nevertheless, I strongly recommend reading his entire book as soon as possible. In the meantime, I hope to provide an adequate highlight of his treatment on hope, free will, and God’s omniscience.  According to Fulton Sheen, “Remember that in God there is no future. God knows all, no in the succession of time, but in the ‘now standing still’ of eternity, that is, all at once. His knowledge that you shall act in a particular manner is not the immediate cause of your acting, any more than your knowledge that you are sitting down caused you to sit down, or prevents you from getting up, if you willed to do it” (p. 161).

Being outside of the space-time continuum, God is not contained within the constraints of time. Our ability to judge knowledge depends on succession of events, day by day, moment by moment. Divine omniscience does not fit into the box of time. Sheen goes on to say, “Because there is no future in God, foreknowing is not forecausing” (p. 162).

2. Insight from Infants [and beyond]: As a parent I have known my children since the moment of their birth. I gazed [lovingly, not creepily—so do not worryJ] at them while rocking them to sleep, watched them slowly grow, develop, and learn about the world around them. The more I learn about my children the more I am aware of the outcome of the choices they will make. Let me give an example. For instance, my youngest son has developed a fond affection for toy cars, actually wheels in general. Possessing the intimate knowledge of my son’s [all my children’s] interests, patterns, and needs allows me to have an ability to now the outcome of a choice posed for them. This “foreknowledge” does not limit their freedom.

Together the examples from Fulton Sheen and parenting helped deepen my ability to reconcile the apparent chasm between God’s omniscience and human free will. Ultimately, these examples fall short in fully explaining the natural of divine knowledge. Nevertheless, I am still at peace with these explanations.

I realize that I am a mere part of creation and my Creator is infinitely greater and more loving than I may possibly imagine. This endless wonder and awe about God is a gift. Let us not quiver at the omniscience of God but joyfully ponder it every day!

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