Unraveling the Paradox

Free will. Omniscience.

These two things seem to be at odds with one another. But are they really?

Of course, such questions are often cast at the feet of the Christian who affirms God’s omniscience, that God knows all things both real and possible and that humans freely do what they desire to do. I’ve touched on this in a previous post,  but it’s worthwhile to actually interact with actual statements that are drawing a conclusion. To that end, I found this post from someone I have interacted with in the past, a young atheist that goes by the name Closet Atheist. Yes, this and this Closet Atheist.

Closet Atheist, who I believe is a woman by some of the comments that have been made, writes,

One topic that has always fascinated me about Christianity is the problem of evil, and lately it’s lead me to consider various issues and explanations concerning free will, heaven, prayer, and God’s omniscience and omnipotence.

Let’s keep in mind that “evil” is not a problem for Christianity, categorically speaking. Evil is a product of rebellion. One of the many Christian presuppositions is that man, humanly speaking, is a fallen and rebellious creature. So human evil, moral evil that is, is a direct outgrowth of that reality. People freely engage in evil without prompting. God knows this and uses his power to limit evil to his ends, but nothing obligates God to stop evil completely–though the Christian believes that he will–but only to judge evil and the person who commits it. Evil, however, is a problem for someone who denies the existence of a eternally good God.

She continues, turning to the issue of prayer,

I said that if God is omniscient, then he already knows what is going to happen, so praying is useless, because we can’t change God’s predetermined course of action.

This commits the common fallacy of confusing foreknowledge with predestination, they are not the same thing. Just because God foreknows something, does not mean that action is predestined to come about, however, what God predestines to occur will occur. We see such a reality in 1 Samuel 23 when God clearly foreknows what could occur if David did not act. Likewise, in Acts 4, we see what happens when God predetermines what will occur. That is why the Christian can say that nothing happens apart from God’s will, because God can freely act to interfere or direct, or he can sit back and let things go. We pray because we do not know and need his knowledge, as seen in the former, or because we now see and need to praise him. But as to whether or not prayer actually does anything, we see constant commands in Scripture to pray, so we do so obediently.

Moving to the problem of evil and questions about it, she writes,

A very common response to this question is that God doesn’t create or commit evil acts, we do. What we do is out of his control; he didn’t intend for humans to sin, but Eve ate the apple of her own accord. It’s not his fault that we can sometimes be despicable, because we’re free agents and while he can steer us in the right direction, what we do is ultimately up to us.

Just for clarification, I would never say that what we do, as creatures, is out of God’s control, but that everything that we do is bounded by our nature as creatures, and that whatever we do, good or evil, is only so because of who God is and to the extent that we reflect his image. It’s true, God had no intention, that is God did not cause man to sin in any sense other than in the act of creating man. Yes, Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil freely, but it was Adam who sinned with a high-hand, knowing what she had done and the commandments of God. Eve was deceived, but Adam acted knowingly and willingly. We, as imagers of God, reflect a measure of the freedom that God has in that no one has to put a gun to our head to make us act, but we do it freely.

So she continues,

[What] I ask is this: if you explain the problem of evil by saying that God can’t control our actions, then why would you pray to him to influence what someone does?

I pray because I know God can change people and, again, because he has commanded us to. Our freedom to act is determined by our desires. That means that if we desire sin and rebellion, that is what we get. If we desire God and his goodness, that is what we will get. However, it takes a free act on God’s part to regenerate the person in order to bring this about. God is not obligated to do this, but does so freely and lovingly.

She directs her reader to atheist Alex J. O’Connor’s video on the Freewill defense, and derives three arguments:

  1. Yes, there is free will. Since evil arises out of free will, there’s also evil in heaven.

  2. No, there is no free will in heaven (neither #1 or #2 sound like a very ideal way to spend eternity, do they?)

  3. Yes, by some miracle (perhaps one of God’s mysterious ways), free will exists in heaven but evil does not.

This is what happens when people ignore what the Bible says,

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:9-12, ESV)

and

[Flesh] and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery (something that has been revealed). … [We] shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:50-53, ESV)

What causes our sin is two-fold: our corrupted desires and our imperfect knowledge. To that end God must change our desires and give us knowledge. Part of trusting God is living in light of his revelation and freely doing what he has commanded his image bearers to do and taking what he has made known at face-value. The incarnation and the resurrection demonstrates what God will do to us to protect our will and exclude evil from his presence by making us like his Son, in something that is called theosis.

The only thing “mysterious” about it, in the modern sense, is when will God do this? We don’t know, that is why we proclaim the gospel and, in doing so, extend God’s good and just rule over the earth.

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