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Monday, October 21, 2013

Omniscience and Sovereignty

The Sovereignty of God is not an easy topic. It often generates sparks, arguments, disagreements among believers. One side argues that God is Sovereign and, by that, means that God works all things after the counsel of His will, and the other side says that God is sovereign, but in a self-limiting sense so that Man's Free Will can rise to the top (so to speak). There are, of course, shades and gradations in these perspectives, but that's the general idea. God is either actually Sovereign, ordaining all that comes to pass (without necessarily causing all that comes to pass), or He is not.

Rarely discussed in this question is the concept of Omniscience. Traditional, historical orthodoxy argues that Omniscience, like Sovereignty, is absolute. That is, God knows all things -- past, present, and future. There is nothing that has, is, or will happen that He does not know. He knows all contingencies, but He doesn't know anything contingently. That is, there is no "Plan B", no "what ifs". He knows what might have happened, but He knows perfectly what will happen.

The collision here, of course, is again with Man's Free Will. If we admit that God knows all future events, then God knows perfectly what you will choose to do tomorrow. And if His knowledge is perfect, you cannot, in a sense, choose anything different. Doesn't this contradict Free Will?

It does, I suppose, if free will is defined in a libertarian sense -- without coercion, influence, or predetermination. The complaint is that even though free will is theoretically in play tomorrow -- you could choose something different -- the fact that you will not because God knows it in advance means that free will is a myth.

I would beg to differ. Let's look at it from the perspective of humans (who, we understand, are not perfect). I know that if I place a cookie in front of my granddaughter and tell her "You can choose to eat this or not", she will eat it. I know it. But is there any doubt that it was her free will? "True," someone will argue, "but there is still the slightest possibility that she may not." Okay, so let's say that a group of us are doing an experiment and we place the cookie in front of her and let her choose. I say, "She will surely eat it" and someone wiser than me says, "Oh, no, she won't. I happen to know she's not feeling well, so on this quite rare occasion, she will refuse it." And she does. Free will. So the more perfect the knowledge is, the more perfect the predicted outcome will be. And perfect knowledge does not negate free will. So when we have a God who is Omniscient by biblical standards -- perfect knowledge -- then His predicted outcome cannot err. Again, without interfering with free will, God would know perfectly the choices any of us would make without error and without doing violence to free will. From a human perspective, all options are on the table and we can choose whatever we want. From a divine perspective, the choice we will make is sure.

You see, then, that Sovereignty and Omniscience are tightly linked. God, knowing perfectly the choices we will make (Omniscience), can choose to allow or disallow those choices (Sovereignty) so that, without necessarily making our choices for us, He would end up working all things after the counsel of His will. You know, like Scripture says.

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