I Struggle with the Fact That God Knows and Plans for Everything That Happens. How Can I Reconcile This with Our Ability to Choose?

Question from a Reader:

I really struggle with the fact the even before God created Adam and Eve, HE KNEW exactly what the outcome would be. Didn’t HE? He knew that they would fall, He knew that He would throw them out and allow all mankind following to be “sinners.” He knew that He would manifest Himself in the Physical being of Christ and He knew He would go to the cross. He set it up that way. It is all His perfect plan, so He had to have set it up or that would mean that somewhere along the line He goofed. Since He is perfect He couldn’t have goofed so it is His design from beginning to end. I wonder if there really is free will, ultimately. We may each have the right to choose to be for or against Christ and to accept Him as our Savior, but we did not choose to be born. Just by our birth alone we are forced into a life as a sinner who must make a choice. We have no option.

Following that train of thought, I have a struggle with the emotional aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice. It had to happen because it was part of God’s plan before creation. Mankind wouldn’t have needed the sacrifice except for the fact that it was THE PLAN all along. So even though Christ suffered physically, as God He know exactly how long it would last, exactly what the outcome would be, etc. I, in my humanness, can withstand a great deal of pain (a medical procedure for instance) when I know how long it will last and that it is for a good purpose. As a child, a shot seemed like a lot to endure, as adult it’s a snap. So, it is hard for me to over emotionalize the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. It was planned, the time was known, the ending was known, the outcome was known, etc.

Now, I know that somehow while Christ was fully human and fully God, that theologically Christ was not always aware of his deity. (I don’t get that either.) But, He always knew at a certain level that He was “about His Father’s business” and what role He ultimately would play. I also know that to suggest that He was never really tempted because He could never have sinned (since sinning is against God’s nature and Christ is God) throws me back in history with heretics—but I cannot reconcile it.

I do not want to be a fake, I want to believe wholeheartedly as I see others do. I am afraid that if Christ returned now that I would be left behind, that I am going through the motions and am not “saved”. I spend a lot of time in prayer and in the Word and have beseeched the Holy Spirit to help me. I feel so torn and divided. I have trouble sleeping, I am depressed. I am confused. Can you offer me some help?

Answer from Dave Martin, EPM Volunteer:

I can certainly identify with many of your doubts and questions regarding God’s sovereignty, our free will, etc. Although I was raised in a strong Christian family, I went through a couple of years of intense skepticism and cynicism when I was younger. I disavowed belief in God or Christianity and investigated other religions, philosophies, and worldviews. None of them seemed to provide a compelling or comprehensive answer to the big questions of origin, meaning, and destiny. God used a couple of key tools to bring me back to Christianity: C. S. Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity, and a seminar that presented a Christian worldview. Of course, there was also the example of Christians I knew (including my parents) who lived lives of undeniable authenticity. I became utterly convinced, heart and mind, that Jesus is God and that the Bible’s explanation of God’s world and God’s ways is true.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of any questions or perplexities about evil, suffering, free will, etc. But those questions have never shaken the joyful certainty that God is my Maker and my Father who loves me—and likes me—very much!

It seems to me that your first concern has to do with God’s omniscience. If God were not fully aware of everything that ever was or will be, could He really be God? That idea of God’s omniscience may make us uncomfortable, but the alternative—that God does not know all—is really scary! If that’s the case, then there’s always the possibility that something could enter the picture that God didn’t account for, and mess up His whole plan. How could we ever feel safe and secure in God’s love if He didn’t know all and rule over all?

You wrote, “I wonder if there really is free will, ultimately.” Of course, the best minds in history have wrestled with the problem of whether or how free will could coexist with God’s ultimate control. I think it’s one of those issues in Christianity (like the Trinity or Jesus being fully God and fully human) where God’s ways and thought are greater than our little minds are able to grasp (Isaiah 55:8). It’s not that Christianity is irrational or illogical at these points, but that it is suprarational and supralogical—above and beyond our power to fully grasp. Frankly, if it weren’t for these mind-blowing paradoxes, I’d suspect that Christianity was just another manmade religion and not worthy of my belief. I want God to be a lot bigger and more complex than I am—otherwise, maybe He’s not really God!

Let me quote a few sentences from Wayne Grudem’s excellent book, Bible Doctrine, on the matter of free will:

“The doctrine of concurrence affirms that God affirms that God directs and works through the distinctive properties of each created thing, so that these things themselves bring about the results that we see. In this way it is possible to affirm that in one sense events are fully (100 percent) caused by God and fully (100 percent) caused by the creature as well....

“[Many passages in Scripture], reporting both general statements about God’s work in the lives of all people and specific examples of God’s work in the lives of individuals, lead us to conclude that God’s providential work of concurrence extends to all aspects of our lives. Our words, our steps, our movements, our hearts, and our abilities are all from the Lord.

“But we must guard against misunderstanding. Here also, as with the lower creation, God’s providential direction as an unseen, behind-the-scenes, ‘primary cause’ should not lead us to deny the reality of our choices and actions. Again and again Scripture affirms that we really do cause events to happen. We are significant and we are responsible. We do have choices, and these are real choices that bring about real results. Just as God has created things in nature with certain properties (e.g., rocks are hard, water is wet), God has made us in such a wonderful way that he has endowed us with the property of willing choice....

“It seems [best] simply to affirm that God causes all things that happen, but that he does so in such a way that he somehow upholds our ability to make willing, responsible choices, choices that have real and eternal results, and for which we are held accountable. Exactly how God combines his providential control with our willing and significant choices, Scripture simply does not explain to us. But rather than deny one aspect or the other (simply because we cannot explain how both can be true), we should accept both in an attempt to be faithful to the teaching of all of Scripture.” [pp 145-146]

Well, I haven’t had time to respond to all of your questions, but I hope this much is helpful anyway. I hope I’ve communicated my conviction that there’s joy in striving to learn all we can about God, but there’s also joy in realizing that He will continue to blow our little minds throughout eternity!

For more on this subject, see Randy's book hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice.