Since God is all knowing, it might seem that God’s knowledge creates an inescapable destiny for every single human person. Classically, this is called Fate, that we are trapped in certain roles, certain habits, and even certain ends with no possibility of escape. The argument favoring Fatalism is that since God’s knowledge is foreknowledge, i.e., he knows before we act, then, since what he knows is true, it follows that what he knows about the truths of our actions are true before and regardless of what we might like to do! Hence, it seems that God’s knowing in advance locks us into having to fulfill what God’s infinite knowledge tells him is going to happen. As such, free will is an illusion and we are wholly subject to Fate.
The theologians who follow the school of thought begun by John Calvin find this sort of argument beneficial to their position that God’s sovereign power is fully and determinately in control of everything that happens. But is this argument from foreknowledge actually a sound argument? Let’s look more closely at just how the determinist in this case is conceiving of God’s existence.
The determinist inserts God into the time line as though he were just another creature.
The determinist here sees God as existing at this present point of time and at all the previous points of time that ever were. During all of that time God knew what was going to happen in advance. Hence, he thinks that God’s knowledge locks us into doing what he knew we were going to do. His knowledge appears to cause our behavior. But maybe this is actually an impoverished way of looking at God’s existence. How so? The determinist inserts God into the time line as though he were just another creature. But the cosmological argument shows us that God had to exist logically prior to all space and time, because time and space are both created at the Big Bang. Thus, God’s existence isn’t temporal, but eternal. Eternality does mean that God existed at all previous times, true. But it also means that God exists at all future times, because God is “outside” and independent of time.
When we say that God is eternal, what we are really saying is that God’s now is always. Thus, God is “at” the burning bush with Moses, “at” the furnace with Daniel’s three friends, “at” the cross watching his Son die, and here with us “at” this particular moment, and he’s also twenty years into the future! For God’s now is an eternal now. Thus, God is at all points present.
In practical terms here’s what that means: God is at all points present. Think of our “present” time. It’s probably measured in a set of nano-seconds, when I say, “Now!” and then it slips into the past. But we could imagine creatures whose experience of time was measured more broadly, say a creature whose now was a matter of minutes, or even of weeks, or even of years. There’s nothing impossible about any of those options. But when we say that God is eternal, what we are really saying is that God’s now is always. Thus, God is “at” the burning bush with Moses, “at” the furnace with Daniel’s three friends, “at” the cross watching his Son die, and here with us “at” this particular moment, and he’s also twenty years into the future! For God’s now is an eternal now. Thus, God is at all points present.
It’s hard to imagine this, because we have been taught to conceive of time as a line. But God’s eternality exceeds any linear depiction. St. Boethius suggested that we think of time instead as a circle or as a spiral, and we think of God as existing at the core of that spiral seeing all times at once. Notice how this offers us some further insight into God’s knowledge. God knows what is happening everywhere and at every time because he is there.
God knows what I am going to do tomorrow because he is already in tomorrow and watching me act. My choice causes my action. God is simply there seeing it.
Now, that notion that God is present at all times implies that God does not have to cause events in order to know them. On the contrary, God knows what I am going to do tomorrow because he is already in tomorrow and watching me act. My choice causes my action. God is simply there seeing it. So, God can both “fore”know and not cause events, because from his perspective there is no foreknowledge but only infinite knowledge. We say that God foreknows because we place his knowledge in our spectrum of reference. Relative to our existence and choices, God’s knowledge is eternally prior, hence foreknown. But God’s now is bigger than the past because it includes all possible times. So, we could just as easily say that God “pastknows” than to say that he foreknows. Of course, it’s best to just say that God knows infinitely, or, that he possesses omniscience. But it should be clear now that God’s omniscience does not fate our choices, since God’s knowledge does not cause our choices. We cause our choices and God sees them, all of them, in one massive, eternally infinite intuition. So, free will is perfectly compatible with divine omniscience.
God chooses and we choose. He never drags us up to the altar in chains. God sets us free, but only if we will have him.
When St. Paul speaks of foreknowledge in Romans 8, he is not suggesting that God causally determines human beings. That ship sailed in Romans 1, when St. Paul demonstrates how God holds men morally responsible for their free choices. We have to read Romans 8 and 9 through the lens of Romans 1 if we are going to understand that important book. And now that we understand that foreknowledge is simply God’s eternal now viewed from our temporal perspective, it illuminates what St. Paul means when he says that those whom God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. God’s foreknowledge is his eternal now seeing those who would freely embrace his love. Since love takes two, and God is himself a lover, he also chooses to love us, committing himself toward fulfilling our choice by fully completing us in Jesus’ image. This is a kind of destiny, since God has a plan for all those who love him, namely, the beatific vision. And it is true that from our perspective, God’s choosing that destiny is a pre-destination. But God’s predestination is not causal determinism as the Calvinists claim, for his choosing is based on his foreknowing our free choice to receive his love in faith. Thus, God fully commits to honoring his promise to bring our faith to fulfillment in divine love and beatitude, what St. Paul calls our glorification in Romans 8:30. Rather than being a text on our slavery to divine tyranny (as the Calvinist determinists would have it), Romans 8 reveals God’s commitment to carry out his end in our reciprocal loving relationship, to bring us ultimately to himself as fitted for the divine bedroom. Remember, there is no divine rape. God chooses and we choose. He never drags us up to the altar in chains. God sets us free, but only if we will have him.