God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom

In my last five posts I’ve presented and commented on John Sanders’ “summary of openness theology” at his Open Theism Information Site, with the last two posts being on man’s freedom (Libertarian Freedom) and God’s omniscience (God’s Omniscience). Although most Christians believe both that God is omniscient and that human beings have a free will, they differ on what God’s omniscience and man’s freedom involve and on the relationship between them. In this post I’ll state what I think each involves and explain how I think that they are consistent with each other.

I’ll begin by defining “omniscience” as “the quality of possessing all possible knowledge” and considering whether that “all possible knowledge” includes knowledge of the future. The great church father Augustine claimed that “to confess that God exists, and at the same time to deny that He has foreknowledge of future things, is the most manifest folly” and that “one who is not prescient [having knowledge beforehand] of all future things is not God” (Augustine, City of God, V, 9).

If God foreknows all future things, then everything has to happen in the way that it is foreknown. And if everything has to happen as foreknown, then those involved have to participate in the way in which they are foreknown to take part. And if those involved have to participate as foreknown, then they are not free not to take part. In other words, God’s foreknowledge seems logically to negate human freedom. That the Reformers recognized this can be illustrated by the following quotation from Martin Luther: “For if we believe it to be true that God foreknows and predestines all things, that he can neither be mistaken in his foreknowledge nor hindered in his predestination, and that nothing takes place but as he wills it (as reason itself is forced to admit), then on the testimony of reason itself there cannot be any free choice in man or angel or any creature” [Martin Luther, On the Bondage of the Will, Conclusion].

However most Christians not only believe that God foreknows the future but also that human beings have a free will. How do they reconcile the two? Generally they do it in one of three ways:
– They redefine “free” in such a way that it is compatible with being determined.
– They argue that foreknowledge does not involve determination of future actions but mere knowledge of future free actions by seeing the past, the present, and the future instantaneously.
– They claim that how to reconcile the two is a secret of God beyond understanding.
Unfortunately none of the ways is satisfactory:
– Redefining “free” in such a way that it is compatible with being determined gives it something other than a natural meaning.
– As demonstrated in the preceding paragraph, foreknowledge of events logically implies that the events are predetermined and thus negates human freedom.
– Claiming that how to reconcile the two is a mystery might seem to be theologically sound, but it is philosophically unsound.

The failure of these attempts to reconcile God’s foreknowing the future and human beings’ having free will indicates that if human beings have free will the part of the future brought about by their exercising it is not foreknown by God. At the same time true prophecies of the future indicate that at least the part of the future predicted by those prophecies is foreknown by God. Thus it seems as if God foreknows part but not all of the future. Obviously He foreknows those parts of the future which He foreordains, and surely He also foreknows those parts of it which are necessitated by or can be predicted without chance of error from the past and the present. However He doesn’t foreknow those parts of the future which are dependent upon the exercise of the free will which He gave us (and others of His creatures, such as angels).

My conclusion is that GOD IS OMNISCIENT and MAN IS FREE. The basis of God’s omniscience and man’s freedom being consistent is God’s having voluntarily limited the realm of possible knowledge when He created free creatures. THANK YOU, LORD, FOR TRUSTING US WITH THE GIFT OF FREEDOM!


2 thoughts on “God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom

  1. Rodney Froude

    This was very interesting, I have never thought about this before.
    Thanks for opening my mind to new thoughts.
    God Bless You!


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