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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reconciling Man's Free Will with God's Sovereignty

Reconciling Man's Free Will with God's Sovereignty

By Jim J. McCrea

God's sovereignty means that God is omnipotent and has control over every detail of creation and does in fact control every detail of creation.

Now Calvinism generally claims that this rules out man's free will, for if man were free to decide this or that, it would take away from God's controlling power since it would be a human being deciding in a given situation rather than God.

Is there a way to reconcile the free will of man with God's sovereignty so that there is no conflict between the two, in which a human being can decide a given thing yet God is in total control?

I would say yes.

One thing that we have to know is that God is not simply another being along side of us (much greater than us of course) in a kind of competition with us, in the flow of time with us, where one player takes away from the action of the other.

Rather, God is the infinite ground of being itself - the sheer act of being - outside of time - from which all other beings derive their own existence.

God being outside of time is crucial to this. He is present to all times and to all things of all time, all at once. Everything in existence, for all time, is simply "now" for Him.

Another thing that is necessary to this thesis of reconciling man's free will with God's sovereignty is a given idea of His omniscience. This goes beyond God knowing all things that are actual. It is God knowing all that is possible - that is, knowing all that could possibly happen or exist, and all that would happen under all possible circumstances.

Of course God knows the free-will choices of all creatures for all time, but one of the deepest mysteries of God's omniscience, that theologians discuss, is that God knows how a given rational creature (created personal being) would choose even if a situation that would elicit a choice were not presented to that creature, and even how any creature that could possibly exist but was not created would choose in any given situation. For example, God would have known that Satan would have rebelled even if Satan were not created. For Satan's fall is part of the *concept* of Satan that exists even if he never had real existence. And God knows the concepts of all possible beings.

Now with God knowing all possible choices of all creatures, for all time, in all possible situations, this allows Him to bring into existence a history of creation down to the finest detail, without Him first having to create anything to find out what would happen.

His will to make things happen precedes anything happening at all (not in the order of time, but logically).

Out of all the infinite possibilities with its infinite branchings, God selects one logically consistent possibility and gives it real existence (logically consistent mean that a given created possibility does not have an event and its contradictory, such as an angel falling and not falling at the same time).

The free will choices of all possible creatures under all possible circumstances forms the "possibility" space that God has to work with. He selects one self consistent possibility, out of all, and brings it into reality, so that a particular universe and history are created. Another constraint is that that universe must be consistent with God's goodness. He would not have allowed a possible history to come into existence that has gratuitous evil to inflict His creatures. All evil that any creature experiences, in the reality He has brought into being, has a place in God's plan and is consistent with His love, justice, and mercy.

With this, it is not true that a creature makes a choice and then God responds with an afterthought. The creature only makes the choice because God selected that possible history with that choice in it with a view to what would be the consequence of that choice (because the consequence is part of that possible history) - not that God wills or causes the sin directly, for sin comes from the creature alone, but God *permits* the sin because that possibility (out of all) that He brought into existence includes the sin within it. Although God sees all possible sins of all creatures for all possible times, He is not the creator of the sins themselves and strictly forbids them as they are offences against Him.

We have to digress here for a moment and discuss whether God causes evil or brings evil into people's lives.

The book: Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence (by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and St. Claude de la Colombiere) holds that although God does not will sin, He does will the evils (apart from the act of sin itself) that flow from that sin, and is responsible for bringing them into people's lives with a view to the good that God wishes to bring about.

From this perspective, although God does not will the sin itself (which is defined as a pure choice in the will), He does will the troubles and the tragedies that flow from that sin. This is because God takes an infinitely long view of that possible history that He has brought into actuality (seeing it before-hand). That possible history which contains the sin and the trouble or tragedy also contains the good that will come about in the long run as a result of that trouble or tragedy. Everything that God does is a function of His infinite knowledge and His infinite goodness, and any possible history that He could have brought into existence is compatible with His infinite knowledge and goodness.

It can be argued that if a thing occurs and God only responds as an afterthought, that God's plan could be destroyed or at least severely degraded. That would defeat His omnipotence and sovereignty. We can see that many things that depended upon a certain exercise of free will of creatures were necessary to God's plan. We know that in the time of test of the angels that Michael the Archangel was necessary to lead the good angels to God and salvation as Satan lead other angels to rebellion against God and to hell. And we also know how essential St. Michael is in defending us on earth against Satan and his infernal hoards. The system of St. Thomas Aquinas (died 1274) is a necessary undergirding of all sound philosophy and theology in the Catholic Church today. On the other hand, it was necessary that others choose wrongly for God's plan to be fulfilled. For example, the betrayal of Judas and the cowardice of Pilate were necessary to bring Jesus to the Cross so that He could redeem the world. But what if Michael fell along with Lucifer and what if St. Thomas succumbed to that woman that his brothers sent to tempt him? What if Judas choose to be faithful to the Lord or Pilate choose to exercise courage in refusing to condemn a man whom he knew was innocent? God choose the history out of all possibilities with those particular players (St. Michael, St. Thomas, Judas, and Pilate) and which included the free will actions that they executed which included the good that would flow from them afterwards.

Calvinists claim that God predestines people to heaven or hell. They are right, but not in the way they think. The Church rejects *positive* predestination to hell - it rejects that a person is determined to hell by God and that he could not have chosen otherwise. I would hold that a proper understanding of predestination means that God sees all the journeys of all possible creatures in all possible worlds to their final end, and that God then selects the particular history out of the infinite possibilities which includes all the paths of all the rational creatures contained in that particular history.  This would not be predestination to hell in the sense condemned by the Church, because if a given human's path is to hell, it is necessary that that path include his freely chosen mortal sin and his refusal of repentance before death.