How can God be in control when/if people have free will?
I have few questions that have weighed on the back of my mind for a while. How is God in control when people have free will? They can sin against me in ways that will hurt me. This causes me anxiety and I struggle to trust in God. I acknowledge that God also intercedes miraculously but when he does this is he taking away one’s free will? I thought that the free will he gives us is absolute. I came to this belief because I was once confronted with an argument by a philosophy professor who argued that God can’t be good because any decent person would intervene if they saw that a woman was about to be raped. He said that if God is truly good and all powerful he could not allow a woman to be raped without himself being evil. Absolute free will was my answer. God gives it and He will not retract it for any reason, making him still good. I’m not sure if this is accurate but if it is not what I have trouble grappling with is the fact that God intervenes miraculously for some and not others. Is he taking away free will only to protect his favorite people? How can God be good then? How can he be good when he only intercedes for some and not all?
It is remarkable that just a few minutes ago I answered an almost identical question from another inquirer. I will start by copying and pasting that Q & A and add a couple of thoughts for you.
I believe God controls everything. I believe in the sovereignty of God but if he controls everything then doesn’t he control our thoughts as well? Isn’t he the one that puts thoughts in our minds in order for his will to prevail?
The assumption you base your question on–that God controls everything–is definitely not correct. With an incorrect premise, It is a bit challenging to answer your question, but I will do my best.
The reason I say that your assumption is not true is because God has created us human beings (and I believe the angels and demons as well) with what we usually call free will. We have choices, and those choices are real. We are not robots or automatons. One scripture which proves this claim is Matthew 6:10. In Jesus’ pattern-setting prayer, he prays that the Father’s will be done. If God’s will were always done, there would be no need to pray for it to be done. In fact, when we pray, we are attempting to influence God, which means that he does not “control” everything. Another scripture, among hundreds, that shows that God does not control everything is Deuteronomy 30:19-20 where God call us to “choose life.” The very act of calling us to choose whether or not we will obey and follow God proves that God does not control everything.
Therefore, my answer to your question is that God certainly does not control our thoughts. He does not put thoughts into our minds. I believe that he does interact with our world in ways that do not steal our freedom of will. Acts 17:24-28 shows this. God intervenes in this world in ways in which he tries to influence our path, but he does not determine that path! God does not control us. In fact, in 2 Tim 1:7 we are told that God has given us a spirit of self-control/discipline. God admonishes us to have self control, which would be an irrational command if it were God controlling us. I hope this helps.
Answer to first question:
Now, here is the rest of my response to you, as your question has more nuances. In fact, it shows a lot of careful and clear thinking on your part. Good job! I am not sure I would exactly say that we have “absolute” free will, but that is very close to what I would say. I will explain below. God holds us accountable for our actions and decisions for this very reason. Otherwise, it would not be just for him to judge us. I think you are right on there, and your philosophy professor is very mistaken in his thinking. I am attaching an article I once wrote on the Problem of Pain and Suffering. The Problem of Pain and Suffering You and I are thinking almost exactly the same. Your question about God’s rare but important miraculous intervention is the exact reason why I hesitate to use the phrase “absolute” freedom. Again, you and I are thinking the same! God does overrule our free will by his own predestination but only rarely and only that his good intentions toward us will be fulfilled. For example, God overruled Pharaoh’s free will by hardening his heart and he overruled Judas’ free will. In both cases, the “reason” God intervened was because these events had to do with God’s attempts to save us by Jesus Christ. In the first case, it was as a foreshadow of our salvation from Satan’s grasp by Jesus. In this story Pharaoh is Satan and Moses is Jesus. In the case of Judas, it was directly attached to the prophecies about the means and mode of the sacrificial death of Jesus. Also, God intervenes in history to favor Israel over Gentiles (Malachi 1:1-2 for example). These are examples in which God does not give absolute freedom of will, but in these rare cases, God intervenes and trumps our freedom of will in order to help bring about the salvation of as many as possible. As to you question about individual miracles, we may not be able always to understand precisely why God, in his sovereignty chooses to intervene in one situation and not in another, but I believe that he ALWAYS keeps a balance between giving us as much free will as he can, while still providing for our salvation.
For example, God does have “favorite” people, such as Israel/Judah/the Jews, but he chose them, not because of their awesomeness, but because of his plan to save mankind. Deuteronomy 9:1-6 and Deuteronomy 7:7-11 will help to demonstrate this. Actually, Romans 9:6-29 is probably the most detailed account of the rare but important times and reasons that God trumps our free will. Note, that in every case it was to the end that as many as possible would be saved, not in order to jerk us around.