Having grown up in the Wesleyan tradition, I’ve always believed that I have free will. I am a free agent, making free choices, even if there are factors at play pushing me in any particular direction.
When you grow up with this understanding, you don’t run into the kind of dilemma that some sects of the church do. You can’t wake up late for work one day and think, “Well, I guess God wanted me to sleep in today. All a part of His grand plan for my life.” This kind of thinking simply wasn’t on my radar.
However, there was a different kind of dilemma I had to face. See, most of us who believe in free will, also believe that God knows all things—that He’s omniscient. And eventually I had to be honest with myself: These ideas contradict each other. If God already knows what my choices are going to be because He’s omniscient, how free am I in actuality?
This is a conundrum. For while both views see something completely opposite (free will versus no free will), the idea of omniscience requires that both views have one thing in common: God’s book will only be written one way and He has no need for an eraser. For if something needs to be erased, that means that God doesn’t have omniscience, right? He doesn’t actually know all things if He had to edit His book based on our decision.
We’re stuck. It seems we can either have free will and no omniscience or no free will and omniscience. We can’t have both. Right?
Actually, I’d suggest we can. But in order to do so, we need a much bigger view of what God’s omniscience is. We think that God knows all things because life is playing out the one way He knows it will go. Word for word is being read exactly as He has written it—every page turning just as planned.
But I think that our book analogy is a flawed way of looking at God’s omniscience. To use a different but similar analogy, I think God’s omniscience is more like a library—each book detailing the different ways in which our lives might proceed given the different decisions we could make. These decisions, of course, are impossible to count and have numerous effects not only on us, but on the people around us. In this library you could skim through countless books to see the ways in which our decisions changed us and changed others. You could read millions of books in that library based upon your life alone.
This is the way that I view God’s omniscience. He knows everything. That which did happen and that which never came to be—each decision having been our own. And if this perception of God feels unbelievable to you (because who could really know all of that?), then the question you have to ask yourself is whose view of God is greater? A God who has memorized one book or a God who has memorized an infinite amount of books?