If we have freedom of choice, how can God be all-knowing?

Q. Some people say you have freedom of choice, however, if you believe that God knows all things, then he knows what you are going to choose. People think they have a choice but if you really think about it, you really don’t. If you say yes you do, then you don’t believe God knows all things. We may think we have a choice, but he knows what you are gonna choose. Yes or No. Peace to you. Oh, by the way, back in the ’60s when I asked this question I was slapped in the face.

First of all, let me say how sorry I am about the experience you had when you asked this question before. Though it was probably fifty years ago, I’ll bet it still hurts, physically and emotionally. I call this blog Good Question for a reason. I honestly believe that questions like yours are good. They allow us to probe more deeply into what we believe, to see what we can understand better, and to recognize that there are maybe some other things we just won’t understand in this life. But there’s no such thing as a bad question, if it’s asked out of a genuine desire to learn and understand. May God give you grace and peace to deal with the memory of that slap. It should never have happened.

Your question is one that has actually been asked before on this blog, from a number of different angles. For example, one person asked how God could ever have created Satan. Even though he began as a glorious angel (Lucifer), didn’t God know that he would disobey, fall, and turn into a monster who would wreak havoc on the earth for all of human history? In my response, I rephrase the issues this way:

“How do we explain the creation and continuing existence of Satan?  Is God not all-knowing?  (He didn’t realize Satan would rebel?)  Or is God not all-powerful?  (He thought he could stop Satan but then wasn’t able to?)  Or is God simply not all-good?  (He doesn’t care whether his creatures are destroyed?)”

I think you’re getting at some of these same issues in your question. So here’s what I say in that other post:

“I think the solution to this problem lies in appreciating the radical nature of the freedom that God has endowed each of His intelligent creatures with.  It’s hard for us to understand this because we are created and finite, but an eternal and infinite God can make creatures who are so free that their moral choices are not predetermined and so cannot be known in advance.

But isn’t God supposed to be omniscient and know everything, even the choices that we’re going to make?  No, it is no failure in omniscience not to know what cannot be known.  And the freedom God has given us is so radical and profound that the essential moral choices we will make cannot be known in advance.”

I develop these thoughts further in that post, and in a follow-up that deals in more detail with the issue of how our freedom can be reconciled with God being all-knowing. At the end of the first post there are links to some other related posts as well. (As you can see, many people have this same question!)

I hope that this blog will always be a place where you and others feel comfortable and safe asking any questions you want.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

7 thoughts on “If we have freedom of choice, how can God be all-knowing?”

  1. I don’t understand the relationship between human “free” will and God’s foreknowledge of the same that is expressed in your question as stated. I do understand if what you are talking about is related to God’s omnipotence and does He use His power to circumvent our moral decisions and free will choices? I believe we are free will agents and God does not force us to obey Him. Yet, God is able to, by His providence. I found an article that pretty much supports my viewpoint so I will reference it here:

    https://gotquestions.org/divine-providence.html

    1. 4 years later…Either we are free will agents or we are not. If so, then God isnt going to force us to do anything. If He could or would, then why doesnt he cause all people to believe in Jesus since he desires for all people to be saved?

  2. “It’s hard for us to understand this because we are created and finite, but an eternal and infinite God can make creatures who are so free that their moral choices are not predetermined and so cannot be known in advance.”
    While it is tempting to believe this statement, it doesnt seem to jive with prophecy wherein God tells us what will happen and that involves the choices of free willed agents.

    1. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel say that at least some prophecies in which God tells what will happen are actually contingent on the moral responses of people. Jeremiah 18:7–10, “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” Ezekiel 33:13–15,”If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done. And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die.”

      1. Yes, but what about prophecy in Daniel and Revelations, for example, that are not conditional on our response?

      2. It is not necessary for every single human moral choice to be unknowable in advance for the point I am making to be valid. If even some human moral choices are not knowable in advance, then it is still true that it is “no failure in omniscience not to know what cannot be known.”

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