Free will and God’s omniscience: not mutually exclusive

It’s a question that many have posed: does God know what choices we will make? Does he know what we will do before we do it? Thank the Lord for brilliant minds like Patrick Madrid who know exactly how to explain mysteries of the faith such as this in a way that we can begin to understand.

“Because of free will, does God know ahead of time which we will choose or does God only know what will happen once we choose A or B?” asked Mercedes in Philadelphia.

“The former,” responded Patrick. “Look at it this way: God knows anything that can be known. In other words, there’s nothing that can be known that God doesn’t know.”

“Anything that can be known including your sins, your virtues, whatever you do—good, bad, or indifferent—God already knows all that. And keep in mind the second thing is that God is outside of time. So we experience a procession of moments—now, now, now. We look forward to and anticipate the future; we look back upon and think about the past. But there’s nothing like that for God, he’s not in time,” Patrick explained.

It’s a difficult concept for us to wrap our human minds around, he acknowledges. We do the best we can to imagine a world outside of the confines of time, as God lives.

“That means that from all eternity, God knows all things all at once. It’s always ‘now’ for God,” said Patrick. Therefore, God already knows what we will do today, tomorrow, and decades from now. He doesn’t need to wait for us to make up our minds—he already knows everything that will ever happen.

How does this affect our free will? If God knows all, do we still have the freedom to choose? Short answer: yes.

“God, on the one hand, is completely sovereign and all-knowing. And on the other hand, we are simultaneously free. We’re not automatons, we’re not robots, we’re not computer programs that are forced to do what God is dictating to us. How it is that he already knows that’s going to happen and yet at the same time we’re still free, that’s a mysterious interplay; but it’s true. And these are not mutually exclusive or contradictory truths. It’s paradoxical, perhaps, but it’s certainly not contradictory.”

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