Exploring the Problem of Evil (Pt. 4) – “Can God’s soveriegnty co-exist with man’s free will?”

I’m going to offer my syllogism for how God’s sovereignty and man’s free-will can co-exist. Now, this isn’t me trying to “philosophize” the issue, I’m simply taking my understanding of the Scripture (which is that both God is sovereign, knows the future, knows what actions we will do, but that we also have free will) and showing how my in my understanding God’s sovereignty and man’s free will don’t contradict each other. This is not an explanation of how I believe things work, because there is no possible way I can know how God functions outside of time, much less inside of time.

The following is heavily influenced by Plantinga’s Free Will Defense.

First, to provide some definitions:

Sovereignty the ability to control all events, guide all events toward one’s plan, but not actualizing said ability in all possible situations

the ability to see what actions will commence in both the actualized world and possible worlds

Possible worldsworlds that could plausibly occur, but haven’t and/or won’t be actualized (i.e. “In a possible world, Nixon could have won the 1960 Presidential election”)

With that said:

As Christians, we can and must assume two things from Scripture; (1) God knows the future in its entirety and (2) humans have the ability to choose. If humans do not have the ability to choose, specifically in the realm of morality, then all responsibility for evil must befall back on God (see Exploring the Problem of Evil (Pt. 2) for a more detailed reason as to why this is a problem). Therefore, somehow God must know future events and man must have free will.

Often times, people come up with the following reasoning:

(15) If God knows that Bob will do action A, then no matter what, Bob will necessarily do A.


(16) If no matter what Bob will do A, then Bob has no other choice than to do A

At first glance, this seems to be quite open and shut. However, I’m not sure that (15) is necessarily true; we need to look at it some more. In other words, though it is true that if God knows Bob will perform action A, is it necessarily true that proposition P is true? Or, as Plantinga puts it:

“…it simply doesn’t follow that if God knows P, then P is necessarily true.” (God, Freedom, and Evil, p. 67)

We often forget that God is omniscient. In being omniscient, He knows every proposition and which propositions are true and which ones are false. Thus, what God knows at time T1 will be actualized in time T2. He forsees what will occur at T2 in T1, but this doesn’t necessarily mean He caused A to actualize in T2, merely that He foresaw that Bob would perform A at T2. So can God be wrong? Can Bob perform, say, ~A (the opposite of action A) at T2, thus doing something God did not know at T1?

Or, as Plantinga has it written:

(17) It was within Jones’ power at T2 to do something that would have brought it about that anyone who believed at T1 that Jones would do A at T2 (one of whom was by hypothesis God) held a false belief and thus was not God – that is, that God (who by hypothesis existed at T1) did not exist at T1

The problem with (17) is that it ignores what is implicit within the omniscience of God, namely that He knows what will actualize and what won’t actulize. Thus, if Bob performed ~A at T2, then God would have known at T1 that Bob would perform A at T2.

Or, as Plantinga argues:

“[(17)] says that it was within Jones’ power to do something – namely, refrain from doing A – such that if he had done that thing, then God would have held a false belief at T1. But this does not follow…If Jones had refrained from A, then a proposition that God did in fact belief would have been false; but if Jones had refrained from A at T2, then God (since He is omniscient) would not have believed at T1 that Jones will do A at T2.” (pg. 70)

Thus, God’s omniscience is the lynchpin in the argument. Because God knows what will happen in the future, He is (mysteriously) able to know the future while at the same time allowing us to make a choice. We have a real choice though he knows what that choice will be.

(18) Bob can perform A or ~A at T2, but God will know at T1 which choice will be actualized

We could say

(19) If Bob performs A at T2, then any being existing at T1 believing that Bob would perform ~A at T2 has held a false belief

But again, the inherent problem with this is that it ignores God’s omniscience – God wouldn’t hold to (19) because, knowing what will be actualized, He wouldn’t believe that H would perform ~A at T2.

Theologically, what this means is that our free will doesn’t negate or contradict God’s knowledge. Likewise, it doesn’t contradict His sovereignty as, being omnipotent along with omniscient, He could put barriers in the way for H to perform ~A at T2. Furthermore, knowing that H would perform A in given situation S, He could guide factors to S.

Now, how He does all of that, how He works all things towards His Will – that is an absolute mystery. In my opinion, both sides of the free will debate try to simplify it way too much. As you can tell above, this is a complex issue (and what I offered is actually a simple version of the syllogism), and that’s just to explain how our free will doesn’t contradict God’s sovereignty an foreknowledge.

What it shows is that God’s view is complex and transcendent, but that His sovereignty doesn’t contradict our free will.