If God knows everything that’s going to happen, and has known it from the moment that he created me, do any of my decisions matter?  Do I really have free will?  

This is one of the oldest, most frequently-debated topics regarding the omniscience of God, and people have used this question to “support” a number of theological arguments.  Some have said that if God were ALL good, then he wouldn’t have created humanity knowing that some would choose unspeakable evil.  Others argue that free will is a myth, a construct that serves to reinforce a person’s responsibility to the societal whole.  Personally, I try to look at free will from a biblical perspective, understanding – first and foremost – that YHWH is YHWH.  HE is the I AM, and anything that my finite mind can comprehend will still fall far short of who HE is.  

The arguments that I mentioned before, along with several others, are only problematic when we view time and creation as a linear journey, a timeline that moves from Point A to Point B along a definable path.  If a person’s life looked like this, then both of those arguments have weight.  If Hitler or Judas, Dahmer or Jezebel, had no chance for redemption – if God knew the evil that they would do and knew their end result, then their creation might be considered inherently evil. 

But let’s take a moment to look at that creation:  God did not simply speak man into existence.  YHWH’s own hands took the time to form man in HIS image, and with the breath of creation, that image became a “ḥay nep̄eš,”  a living soul.  YHWH places his creations in the garden and then, immediately, he gives them a choice: eat or don’t eat, obey or disobey (Gen 1:26 – 2:8)  If God knew – at the moment of creation – that our disobedience would happen so quickly and lead, within a generation, to murder, then what was the point?  Again this is is only a problem along that linear path; when we realize that a life does not move simply from Point A to Point B, when we understand that who we are and where we are going is the result of a thousand-thousand branching paths, then the omniscience of God and our creation in HIS image becomes more clear.

We were created in HIS image, a little less than angels infinitely more than the beasts of the field, and we were created for perfection, for glory, for work, and for relationship with the Father.  But what is the distinction?  It isn’t our appetites; they are often animalistic.  It isn’t our appearance, because I can think of a couple of critters that look kind-of like me.  That we were created in the image of God is found in our ability to love and hate, to create and to destroy, to build up and tear down, and, more specifically, it is found in our ability to choose.  And that choice matters!  

Let’s look at the biblical account.  We can begin in Exodus with the story of the golden calf.  While Moses was speaking with God, Israel was returning to the worship of idols. In Exodus 32:11-14 we are told, “But Moses interceded with the Lord his God: “Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with an evil intent to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from Your great anger and relent concerning this disaster planned for Your people.

That we were created in the image of God is found in our ability to love and hate, to create and to destroy, to build up and tear down, and, more specifically, it is found in our ability to choose.

Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel—You swore to them by Your very self and declared, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever.’” So the Lord relented concerning the disaster He said He would bring on His people.  What would have happened if Moses hadn’t interceded? What if he had ran down the mountain to join Aaron and his people?  The outcome would have been dramatically different, but Moses’s intercessory prayer shifted the position of God’s people from a place of judgement to a place of mercy.  Our choices matter!

But let’s not stop there.  In Jonah 3:10, the Bible states, “Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it.” You know this story, God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah; Jonah declines and gets swallowed by a fish.  When the fish finally spits him out, the prophet decides that it might be a good idea to listen to God, so he goes and preaches to the people at Ninevah.  Ninevah repents and God decides not to play out Soddom and Gommorah, part 2. What would have happened if Jonah had chosen to obey immediately…or not at all?   What if the experience with the fish hadn’t changed Jonah’s mind?  What if Ninevah hadn’t repented? Our choices matter!  

Yes, YHWH, God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, can see ALL ends from the beginning.  He can declare new things before they happen (Isa. 42:9).  This in no-way detracts from our free-will and our ability to choose.  Sin evokes one response on the part of Holy God, repentance another; and in every moment, we are gifted with the ability to choose. When I find money that does not belong to me, I can pocket it or attempt to find the owner. God can see the end of both, but only one lines my life up with His Word. The choice is mine to make. When a juicy conversation is taking place, I can dive in or walk away.  God knows the pain that the first choice will cause as well as the freedom gained by the second. But the choice is mine to make.   When I am hurt or offended or betrayed, I can respond with anger, resentment, and rage OR I can extend mercy, forgiveness and grace.  One keeps me in the will of Father the other leaves me out on a limb alone.  God knows the outcome of both choices, but the choice is mine to make.

Because we carry the image of our Father, we have the capacity for immeasurable good.  We can choose to feed the hungry, take care of widows and orphans, run into burning  buildings, and, like Desmond Doss at the Battle of Hacksaw Ridge, we can survive a war praying, “Lord, please help me get one more!”  But love is not love and goodness is not goodness if there is no other option. I can make my daughter hug me before she leaves the house, but it doesn’t warm my heart like it does when she runs back in the house of her own free will, throws her arms around my neck, and says, “I love you, daddy!”

An omnipotent God could certainly force his creation to adhere to His will, but in doing so, He would steal from it both the life and the image that He gave it.

Likewise, an omnipotent God could certainly force his creation to adhere to His will, but in doing so, He would steal from it both the life and the image that He gave it.  Our greatest good comes from obedience to YHWH and His Word; conversely, sin and evil are born through our willful disobedience.  Malachi 3:6 tells us that the Lord does not change, but we, as His creation, are immeasureably changeble.  “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

That transformation begins with choice, with our free will.  We are not locked in to some preset pattern.  We have the ability – the responsibility – to change, to grow closer to God, to follow his commandment, to chase his heart.  Joshua tells us, “But if it doesn’t please you to worship Yahweh, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship: the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh” (Jos. 24:15).  God tells his people through Moses, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live; love the Lord your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land the Lord swore to give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deut. 30:19-20)   

Free will exists as a matter of choice.  We can choose to repent, lining ourselves up with God and His Word, thus changing our position in relation to Him and shifting ourselves from a place of judgment to a place of mercy.  We can do the same for others through intercessory prayer, altering their position in the sight of God.  We can remain babies, living off the milk of His Word, or we can choose to grow, following the leadership of Jesus, into disciples who are making a difference for the Kingdom all for the glory of God.  We can choose to line  ourselves up with the immovable, unchanging Word of God and open up every blessing that God has for us, or we can leave His gifts unwrapped, tucked away in some dusty corner.  Can God see all ends?  Yes.  Is the end of the story already written?  Yes.  But your place at the end of the story is decided by your choice.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it!” (Mat. 7:13 -15)

Thanks for reading!  Shalom!


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About the Seeking Scripture Team: We are a group of believers from all walks of the faith, saved by grace alone through faith in our Messiah. While we are of one accord in many things, we are all works in progress and lifelong learners. Therefore the opinions of one may not always represent the opinions of all.

Matt Adams
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