What is your view of how to reconcile God's foreknowledge with free will? Do you agree with Karl Barth?
I read in one of your recent Q & A in which you explained Calvin’s predestination (or was it more accurately Beza’s double predestination) as a false doctrine. In this light, what is your opinion of the most logical relationship between God’s atemporality, foreknowledge, sovereignty, omniscience, and humanity’s free will without infringing upon one for the sake of the other, for instance: if God does not predestine then how is He certain that some will be saved; if a person can be saved and then fall away, does that infringe upon God’s sovereignty; if God is absolutely sovereign and omniscient, how do human’s exercise free will if God is in total control and knows all that is possible to be known? Additionally, is Karl Barth’s explanation of the predestined elect singularly as Jesus Christ who chose to reconcile the world to God a better doctrine of predestination?
My quest is to find an explanation which agrees with all the biblical information. It does not have to be strictly “logical” if we define logical as something which makes sense from the human perspective. I say this because it seems that God’s perspective is not the same as our perspective. If I understand theology correctly, God exists outside of time and space. He is not affected by the passage of time or by distance. I could supply biblical passages to support this conclusion if needed, but unless I hear from you, I will assume that you accept this presupposition.
Anyway, as I see it, there are a couple of biblical truths which must be justified to make sense of all this. First of all, we have one of the clearest and most obvious of biblical teaching, which is that God has given to man–created in his image–a choice. He allows us to choose whether or not we will serve and obey him. There are literally hundreds of passages which will support this conclusion, but I will use Deuteronomy 30:19 as it is my favorite. “… now choose life, so that you and your children may live…” Second, it is apparent, both from what I already said about God (that he exists outside of time) and from scripture that God foreknows things. This is clear from the vast number of prophecies in the Bible which have been fulfilled in detail. It is also clear from Romans 8:29 that he foreknows those who will be saved. This is a very significant passage, in my opinion.
How is it that God an foreknow without predetermining who will be saved? This is the problem. I believe this is a “problem” primarily because we view this question from a human perspective, which views time as a linear thing. To us, at first glance, it appears impossible that an all-powerful God can, on the one hand, know who will choose to serve him, but, on the other hand, not be the one determining who will choose to serve him. If he already knows what choice we will make, is that not equivalent to him making that choice? Humanly, this is a quandry, but for God it is not, at least as I see it. Those God foreknew would be saved, he also called, justified and glorified. Either way, he predestined all of us for salvation, but the problem is that many (actually most) of us choose to reject this predestined home in heaven.
The bottom line is this: either we were given free will by God–with the choice of whether we will return his love– we have not been given that choice. I believe we have been given this choice. My favorite statement explaining how God’s sovereign will and our free will can both exist without a contradiction is that of Thomas Aquinas: “God, therefore, is the first cause, who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their actions from being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary; but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them, for He operates in each thing according to his own nature.” In other words, it is God’s sovereign will that we humans have free will–it is his will that we have our own local sovereignty over our own will. It is not a violation of God’s sovereignty for us to have free will, despite Augustine’s and Calvin’s claim that there is a conflict here. That is how I see it. God knows who will be saved–he foreknows without predetermining.
As for Karl Barth, I have looked at his doctrine of predestination and I will have to say it seems to be quite similar to what I am saying here. I cannot testify for sure that his understanding is identical to what I have expressed here, but it is at the very least quite similar. I think Barth has it on pretty much straight on this one.