If God Knows the Future, Do I Really Have a Choice?
by Timothy McCabe
There are many who insist that a choice, a true choice, cannot be foreknown. The outcome cannot be predetermined, or it isn’t really a choice. They recognize that if the outcome is predetermined, then the one who chooses could never have chosen otherwise. If they could not have chosen otherwise, then the alternate option was not really and truly viable. If only one option was really and truly viable, then no choice was involved.
However, these people confuse themselves.
God knows the future
All Christians agree that God knows the future. He says so consistently throughout scripture.
“Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’”
— Isaiah 46 (NKJV)
“Even from the beginning I have declared it to you; Before it came to pass I proclaimed it to you…”
— Isaiah 48
“And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ — when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
— Deuteronomy 18
“And the vision of the evenings and mornings which was told is true; Therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future.”
— Daniel 8
God not only knows some things about the future, God knows absolutely everything, and He knows it perfectly.
“God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”
— 1 John 3
“Do you know how the clouds are balanced, Those wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge?”
— Job 37
“…both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
— Colossians 2
People make choices
The scriptures also make it absolutely clear that, whatever it means to choose, whatever it means to make choices, people can in fact do it.
“Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.”
— Genesis 13
“And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.”
— Exodus 18
“Go and tell David, ‘Thus says the LORD: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.”‘”
— 2 Samuel 24
“Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
— Joshua 24
For the Christian, scripture plainly settles the issue. God knows what we will choose, and yet we do in fact still choose.
But we will go further.
God knows what people will choose
God prophesies over and over again regarding future events that appear to involve people making choices, telling us what the outcome will be as a result of their choices. As one of hundreds of possible examples, God knew that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, even though Mary’s parents had not yet chosen to get married (indeed, they hadn’t even been born); Mary’s husband Joseph had not yet chosen to stay with her when she was pregnant without his involvement; Joseph had not yet chosen to obey the emperor’s decree to journey to his hometown of Bethlehem from Nazareth; and criminals could have chosen to rob, abduct, or murder them along the way, even though they did not.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”
— Micah 5
We could investigate other prophecies as well, such as that in Daniel 5, where God informs Daniel, and King Belshazzar by means of Daniel, that the kingdom of Belshazzar is going to be taken over by his enemy, King Darius. But how did God know whether or not Darius would choose to continue his attack rather than call it off at the last minute? How did God know that one of Darius’ generals would not choose to assassinate his own king? How did God know that Darius would choose, when he won the battle, to dethrone Belshazzar? He could have chosen to keep him as a puppet leige as far as we can tell. If God did not know the result of human decisions, He could never have known that Belshazzar was going to be dethroned.
Clearly, since the prophecy was so dependant upon human choices, God knew the decisions those humans would make.
How does this work?
First, let’s look at a dictionary definition of the word “choose” from Google:
Choose – to pick out or select (someone or something) as being the best or most appropriate of two or more alternatives.
Notice what is strangely absent from this definition. There is absolutely nothing in the definition about both options needing to be viable. There is also nothing there about the decision itself needing to be wholly undetermined or absolutely unknown by anyone prior to its actualization.
But perhaps we’ve cherry-picked a definition that suits us. Let’s look at another.
Choose – to select from a number of possibilities; pick by preference.
Note again that the same supposedly necessary elements are completely missing from this definition as well.
Confused? Here is how human choices work.
A human choice or decision is always, without fail, the result of the human will. The human will is the only created final factor in causing the actualization of that decision. If there are are other created final factors, then it was not a choice. As the second definition put it, the decision is made by preference.
But the human will is only the final factor. It is the last cause, or the immediate cause of the decision. But it is never, and can never be, the only cause.
It cannot be the only cause because the human will is created, along with the human himself. Our wills are caused to exist by the One who caused all things other than Himself to exist. Since the human will is caused, everything that results from it also results from that which caused it. This is known as a causal chain. The causal chain in question can be summarized as follows:
Decision results from man, man results from God, therefore decision results from God.
God not only knows our choices, He causes them through, or by means of, humans.
“…it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
— Philippians 2
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
— Proverbs 21
“O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”
— Jeremiah 10
“And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.”
— 1 Corinthians 12
Of course God knows what we will choose — He is the one who created our mind, our heart, our will, our genes, and our environment! God creates our preferences, our inclinations, our desires and interests. He uses these things, which are known as our “will”, to effect His perfect plan on the earth. He uses our will to create our decisions.
When the human will is what God uses to effect His perfect plan, we refer to that as a human choice. If God uses something other than a human will, it is not a human choice.
This is how human choices work.
Not only does God know the future, He knows it perfectly. He knows without error the outcome of every human decision. He Himself has ultimately caused the outcome of every human decision, even as He, the only uncaused-first-cause, the only true and eternal Creator, has caused absolutely everything that happens.
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
— Colossians 1
Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, And He who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who makes all things, Who stretches out the heavens all alone, Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself…”
— Isaiah 44
Since all things are created by God, the only way a human choice can exist is if God causes it to exist. Since God knows the future perfectly, human decisions can only be actualized if God knew what they would be ahead of time.
For human choices to be real, it is not only false that they cannot be predetermined, but it is true that they must be predetermined.
God knows the future perfectly, and humans do indeed make choices.