Question: How can you believe both in God's foreknowledge and that man has the power of choice? If God knows ahead of time that Mr. A is going to do something, how can Mr. A decide for himself? Isn't foreknowledge the same as predestination?
Response: The biblical doctrine of foreknowledge simply states that God knows everything that will happen before it happens—which as God He must know. Prophecy, in which God reveals His foreknowledge, is the major part of Scripture, the great proof that God exists and that the Bible is His Word (Is 42:9; 43:10; 46:9-10; 48:5, etc.). Prophecy is also the foundation of the gospel (Rom:1:1-3; 1 Cor:15:1-4, etc.). Scripture never says or even implies that God knows all beforehand because He has caused it--much less that He must cause it in order to know it. The future is as plain to Him as the past.
The future is part of time, which is part of this physical universe. God is not part of the universe (which He created out of nothing), but He is separate from it. Perhaps He observes the universe from the outside, including past, present, and future time, seeing it all at once. It is not necessary for us to know how God knows the future, but we know He must.
Scripture makes it clear that God is no passive observer, entirely disinterested in events taking their own course in the universe He has created. He keeps a watchful eye and plays an active part because He has an eternal purpose for all creation. He exerts His influence upon men and events in order to create the future which He desires. He makes no last-minute emergency adjustments but has eternally foreknown whatever He would do to implement His plans: "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts:15:18). Predestination and foreknowledge cannot be the same. God's foreknowledge doesn't make things happen. To know something in advance is not the same as predetermining that it will happen. Nor does God need to predestine something in order to know it will happen. Were that the case, God would not be infinite in His knowledge. There is a vast difference between saying that God fully foresees everything that will happen and allows much that is not His perfect will—and saying that God predetermines everything that occurs and it is therefore all just as He would have it. The latter view makes man a mere puppet and God the cause behind all wickedness and sin.
Martin Luther asserts that "God foreknows and wills all things." He argues that if this is not true, then "how can you believe, trust and rely on His promises?" 1 The answer is, "Quite easily. We rely upon God's promises because He is God and cannot lie."
Furthermore, it is neither logically necessary nor biblical that unless God wills all things He cannot make and keep promises. Clearly, what God promises and determines to do He will do regardless of the will or actions of man or nature. That He is able to protect us and bring us to heaven does not require that He must will every event that swirls about us-—only that He must have known them and taken them into account in effecting His eternal purpose.
You ask how God's foreknowledge and man's free will could both be true. Surely whatever God foreknows will happen, must happen, or His foreknowledge would be wrong. Nothing can prevent what God foreknows from happening, so a person might ask, how can man be a free moral agent? Even though God may be looking in upon time from outside, doesn't the fact that He knows the future eliminate man's choice? If the future must happen, as God knows it will, isn't everything predetermined? Claiming that the issue of free will was the very heart of the Reformation and of the gospel itself, Luther dogmatically declared that it was impossible for God to foreknow the future and for man at the same time to be a free agent to act as he wills. Believing firmly in God's foreknowledge, Luther wrote The Bondage of the Will to prove that the very idea of man's free will is a fallacy and an illusion. In fact, Bondage is full of fallacies, both logical and biblical, which I point out in What Love Is This? , my book in defense of God's character.
Calvin states no less dogmatically than Luther that foreknowledge leaves no room whatsoever for free will. Period. We are astonished that Calvin repeatedly makes fallacious, unbiblical statements; and doubly astounded that so many leading evangelicals continue to praise him for being so logical and such a great exegete.
If God cannot know by His foreknowledge what every person will think and do by their free will, then He is not God. Moreover, the fact that God is able to allow man freedom of choice while still effecting His eternal purposes unhindered is all the more glorifying to His sovereign wisdom, power, and foreknowledge.
What is future to us may not be future to God: He sees not only our past but our present and future as already having happened. From this understanding, God's knowledge of what in our experience hasn't yet happened would have no effect upon its occurrence and therefore would leave us free to choose.
Even Augustine (known as the father of modern Catholicism), whom both Calvin and Luther admired, clearly affirmed that there is no incompatibility between God's absolute sovereignty and foreknowledge and man's free will:
Therefore we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious. But we... faithfully and sincerely confess both. 2
We don't accept something just because someone, no matter how great their reputation, says it. The Bible is our authority. We believe that what we have said here is scriptural, but each reader must be a Berean and come to his or her own conclusions on the basis of Scripture alone.
- Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (trans. J.D. Packer and O.R. Johnston, Fleming H. Revell, 1957), 83-84.
- Augustine of Hippo, The City of God (n.p.n.d.), V. 10. 1977), 35.