Does free will exist if God is all-knowing? Does God lack omniscience if free will for humanity exists? Questions such as these have flummoxed philosophers since the inception of philosophic thought! Fatalism is the belief that human actions happen through necessity and as a result humans ultimately lack free will. Upon initially hearing this argument as a new student to philosophy I too developed angst. How do I reconcile the Christian assertion of free will with God’s omniscience? For if a being is not omniscient the being cannot be God and if human freedom is a façade—Christianity is a sinister masquerade.
Opponents to Christianity may look at my stance so far with euphoria. Here a Catholic man admitting his struggles to reconcile basic Christian philosophy. I would tell any adversary that such triumph is premature. Through the lucid writing of C.S. Lewis, specifically his work Mere Christianity, and my own humble experiences in my nascent fatherhood I learned it is possible to reconcile the apparent Catch-22 between free will and divine omniscience!
Light from Lewis
Mere Christianity was a book that I read after taking several theology courses. Yet surprisingly, instead of acting as a mere introductory and basic level of Christianity, C.S. Lewis managed to shed light on the looming battle over the omniscience of God versus the freedom of mankind.
In the chapter titled Time and Beyond Time, Lewis put forth an incredibly simple and insightful example to describe God’s relation to time and space. He states, “Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another…If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn”(Mere Christianity 167-168).
If you look in the above picture the blue arrow represents all of time and space. In other words the whole of the universe and reality as we know and experience is represented on that line. God is so above our comprehension that He is represented as “existing” on the rest of the page [see image above]. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ took place in a specific place on the line of time and space but God still remains above, below, outside of time while still being able to take on human flesh and live in time and space for 33 years!
Later on in the chapter Lewis acknowledges the same difficulty I put forth at the beginning of this post—how do we reconcile God’s omniscience with human free will? According to him,
“Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being the He can see ahead and we cannot…But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him” (Mere Christianity p. 170)
Clarity from My Children
Together with the insight Lewis gave me on the issue of reconciling God’s foreknowledge with free will, my experience as a father schooled me on this issue as well. Let me explain. I have learned that as my children continue to grow I have become aware of their preferences and likes. Once I asked my oldest son if he wanted a animal crackers or a cheese stick for his evening snack. I had a foreknowledge that my son would select the cheese stick because I know that is his preference [AND YES HE DID CHOOSE THE COLBY-JACK CHEESE STICK J]. Another time I asked my daughter if she wanted to watch Frozen or Moana. I knew the answer was the latter and she choose that movie for that day.
Despite my foreknowledge of their choice I did not stop my son’s and daughter’s freedom to choose. In a more deeper and intimate way God as our Father knows us better that I know my children. God already knows our deepest longings and loves us so much that He allows free will to take place.
Both Lewis’ example and my paternal experiences helped me reconcile the seeming chasm between God’s omniscience and human free will. While these examples ultimately fall short in explaining the nature of God’s omniscience 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!