Questions on Free Will, Prayers, and God's Plan


#1

Ok this question has puzzled me for a few weeks now.

Quick Background: I am a catholic and attend church regularly. I went to catholic schools through high school, kinda took a break during college and now starting to reexamine everything. I have enjoyed looking on this website now and again.

My question is about free will. How can God be all knowing, ie. know what we are going to do in the future, if we have free will? Wouldn’t that mean that we have no way of determining our outcomes in life, which means God wouldn’t know what they are at this point? If he did know, wouldn’t that be predestination?

On the other side, when it comes to prayers. I know there are many ways to pray, thanksgiving and worship for example. But when you pray for someone is when I am a little confused. If we pray for someone to get better, be happy, etc., isn’t that asking God to intervene with people? Is that a direct violation of free will? I am not say I don’t want God to help me when I am sick or anything. I know Jesus himself said “according to your will” but consider this example. If you look at someone who is very ill, and pray for them, but realize that its according to God’s will to determine their fate, isn’t that against free will? Also, if it is God’s will that the person should die at this point in time, isn’t that predestination? I guess God could be on-the-spot determining fates, but does our prayer affect what he wants to do?

I’m sorry about the rambling, but I am confused a little. Its frustrating, you know? If anyone can help shed some light on this topic that would be much appreciated. Thanks!


#2

In what way does foreknowledge equate to “pre-causing”?

If I am standing in a window on the 10th story of a building and I look out and I see two cars approaching an intersection at the same exact speed, rather than one slowing down as it apporaches the presumed red light, I know in advance about the impending crash. Doesn’t mean I had anything to do with causing it. Same thing with God. Just because He knows the future doesn’t mean he directly generated all of the acts He sees there.

On the other side, when it comes to prayers. I know there are many ways to pray, thanksgiving and worship for example. But when you pray for someone is when I am a little confused. If we pray for someone to get better, be happy, etc., isn’t that asking God to intervene with people? Is that a direct violation of free will? I am not say I don’t want God to help me when I am sick or anything. I know Jesus himself said “according to your will” but consider this example. If you look at someone who is very ill, and pray for them, but realize that its according to God’s will to determine their fate, isn’t that against free will? Also, if it is God’s will that the person should die at this point in time, isn’t that predestination? I guess God could be on-the-spot determining fates, but does our prayer affect what he wants to do?

In many cases, yes. In some, no.

The “affects” (and “effects”) of prayer are somewhat of a mystery. We do the best we can to discern God’s will for someone in advance and then shape our prayer accordingly. Sometimes, we bullseye. Other times, we tank out. But even then, as long as our prayer is sincere, we are advancing in some manner or another. God may take the grace from the prayer and apply it to someone else whose “fate” is more open at the time, for example.

Grace, whether obtained by prayer or participation in the Sacraments or in good works never violates free will because grace never forces action. It only paves the way for a person to arrive in a certain set of circumstances, or removes harmful influences from the person’s life or something of that nature. We can pray for someone to, say, keep their baby and not get an abortion, for example. This will never translate into God “getting inside their free will” and making the decision for them. What it will translate into is maybe material complications in getting to the clinic, or in the simple grace of “unclouded” thinking about the matter, or the grace of a compassionate person coming along and peforming some kind act for the woman. In the end, the decision to have the abortion or not remains hers and hers alone.

I’m sorry about the rambling, but I am confused a little. Its frustrating, you know? If anyone can help shed some light on this topic that would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Not a problem at all. Sincere questions are always welcome. I hope my answers have been helpful.

SK


#3

Thank you for the insight, I understand your points.

I guess the free will concept is a mystery as well, in regards to how God knows all. Let me illustrate:

If God knows I will someday die of falling off a mountain, then that would mean that I would eventually die by falling off a mountain, because God cannot be wrong. If I have to eventually fall off a mountain, then no matter what I do, I will still die by falling off a mountain. But I currently don’t like the mountains. I eventually take up skiing which causes me to be close to mountains. Which causes me to eventually fall off the mountains. If I didn’t like skiing I wouldn’t be near the mountains. And if I still died by falling off a mountain without taking up skiing that would be God making me be in that place at that time.

Oh no I think I am confusing myself. What I am trying to say is…if God knows it is going to happen, then it will happen. Then that would mean that we have a fate. Fate (in my opinion) is the “destiny” that is laid out in advance. But that contridicts free will. And yes, I could predict what some people will do based on the information given at this time, but God knows all for all our human history and future.

Does this mean that free will only applies to daily tasks? I hope not because that wouldn’t make any sense.

Again, I am just looking for answers from my fellow catholics, I’m not trying to divide the faithful. :slight_smile:


#4

It’s easy for me to understand this concept because I play The Sims.

If God was an all-powerful being and He can see the “game” that He created, He knows that there’s a beginning to it, a middle and an end. He can control every factor of the game, from how long it is to what choices can be made to what and how many possible endings it can have. He can jump to any point in the “game” to see what’s happening and He can even jump to the very end to see how it all ends up, given the parameters of the game.

He creates beings with free will to run in the “game”. These Sims are human beings. They can act however they want within the confines of the rules that God created for the “game”. That is free will. At any given instance He can interfere with free will and make the Sim (human) do whatever He wants them to do. He doesn’t like to do this though because He wants each one to make their own choices, but in certain special instances He does and for reasons all His own. And for every single Sim, He can see what will happen to the human given the free will choices he’s making (because God set up the parameters and he can see the outcomes of every single one, plus He can jump to the very end whenever He likes) and He can influence the Sim whenever He chooses or doesn’t choose to.

Who would have thought a computer game would provide so much insight into theological matters?


#5

Ok, slow down. :slight_smile:

You’re going from point A to point B to point D to point F to point C here. How about A, B, C, D, E, F instead?

Step by step:

If God knows I will someday die of falling off a mountain, then that would mean that I would eventually die by falling off a mountain, because God cannot be wrong.

…I can go with that. Yeah. If God knows you will die by falling off a mountain some day then you will die by falling off a mountain. Not because God predetermined that He was going to make you go to a mountain and then push you off of it, but because - to use human language for a moment - God can “see into the future” and can see that you like skiiing and that one day, five years from now, you go skiing and you act recklessly when you do (because you choose to do so, not because God made you act recklessly) and, as a consequence, fell off one of the cliffs on the mountain.

If I have to eventually fall off a mountain, then no matter what I do, I will still die by falling off a mountain.

If you have to, yes. But who says you have to? In the example above, God didn’t say that you had to. He simply saw that you would be reckless and fall off the cliff as a result.

But I currently don’t like the mountains. I eventually take up skiing which causes me to be close to mountains. Which causes me to eventually fall off the mountains. If I didn’t like skiing I wouldn’t be near the mountains. And if I still died by falling off a mountain without taking up skiing that would be God making me be in that place at that time.

No. Wrong. Stop. :slight_smile:

Oh no I think I am confusing myself.

You are. :wink:

What I am trying to say is…if God knows it is going to happen, then it will happen.

…Yes.

Then that would mean that we have a fate.

No. It doesn’t. It means that God, like us in the example I provided last post about being in the 10th story window, can “see the future” with perfect accuracy.

You might think of it like a psychic that has flawless abilities. The psychic sees everything in the future perfectly - making none of what he sees happen. He’s just “watching” it unfold. The difference between him and God, of course, is that while the psychic cannot do anything about what he sees, God can. But to take that to the next step and say that it means God causes all things to happen is to make a peanut butter sandwich always have to include jelly. It doesn’t. Honey, for example, goes quite nicely with the condiment. (As do bananas in some… “creative” minds. Then, of course, there is always just plain peanut butter.)

…yes, I could predict what some people will do based on the information given at this time, but God knows all for all our human history and future.

Right. And because you can predict certain future events, does that mean that you caused them to happen?

Again, I am just looking for answers from my fellow catholics, I’m not trying to divide the faithful.

I know.

Are we straight now?

SK


#6
  1. Christ is eternally begotten of the Father.
  2. Christ’s purpose is to redeem mankind.
  3. God clearly must have known mankind would need to be redeemed from the beginning.
  4. God is omnipotent, meaning He has infinite power to work His will.
  5. Christ is one in being with God.
  6. Christ possesses free will.
  7. Christ is perfect man and perfect God.

If all of the above are true. then free will and predestination clearly coexist, for otherwise Christ would not be Redeemer or Christ would lack free will.

All heresy boils down to the nature of Christ, perfect man and perfect God.


#7

Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident. Clearly, he was predestined to die in that accident—God being omniscient and eternal knew that he would.

Did Sonny Bono choose to go skiing that fateful day?

Yes, of course he did. Predestination does not preclude free will any more than our watching a movie negates the choices screenwriters, directors, and actors made in making it.


#8

I think* I* know what you mean by “predestination” in this case, but for the benefit of our readers, it wold probably help for you to define the word as you mean it here…

Typically when the word “predestination” is used, what’s really meant is “predetermination” essentially. I don’t think that’s how you mean it here.

SK


#9

Good point—I’m using it in the sense of “God knows what the outcome of history is; history being every decision made by man within Time”.

I am not using it to claim that God predetermines everything which happens, as though we were puppets on strings performing for the puppet master alone (there being no other audience).

Per the Catechism:

“Jesus handed over according to the definite plan of God”

599 Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: "This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God."393 This Biblical language does not mean that those who handed him over were merely passive players in a scenario written in advance by God.394

600 To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of “predestination”, he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."395 For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.396


#10

The way I’ve always thought of it is that God is outside of time so He sees all things as happening in a sort of eternal now. Like for God, my death is happening right now just as much as this moment is happening right now. So of course He knows what will happen because it’s happening in His “now”. I don’t really know if that’s a good way to explain it, but it makes sense to me.

Another way I have thought of it is that God knows the things that will happen in the future just as we know the things that happened in the past. For example I know that I watched “Batman Begins” yesterday but knowing that information today in no way affects the free choice I had to watch it yesterday. If God knows the future like we know the past, Him knowing what will happen to us in no way affects the free choices we make in our lives. It’s just that He’s already at the end and knows what happens. I don’t know if that’s a good way to understand it either, but oh well…I try.


#11

#12

Indeed, that is how the Catechism describes it in the short excerpt posted above.

For an especially chilling example, here’s Exodus 20 contraposed with Genesis 3:

1: And God spake all these words, saying,
2: I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6: And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7: Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9: Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12: Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
13: Thou shalt not kill.
14: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15: Thou shalt not steal.
16: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ***, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
18: And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
19: And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
20: And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
21: And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.
22: And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
23: Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.
24: An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.
25: And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
**26: Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon. **

Genesis 3:

1: Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 

2: And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4: And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6: And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
**7: And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. **
8: And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
9: And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
10: And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
**11: And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? **
12: And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
13: And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
14: And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
15: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
16: Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
17: And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18: Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
20: And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
21: Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
22: And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24: So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Sure sounds like the Lord was alluding back to The Fall in a most arch fashion when handing down his Commandments.

For another example of such contraposition and how it favors the notion that God experiences Creation in one great simultaneity, compare Numbers 11 with Matthew 17 and note what God promises in the former and how it is fulfilled in the latter, although ages have passed between.


#13

Maybe this will help, Okay we are put here to do Gods work. Now if God made us like a computer we would do what he wanted us to do and we would be perfect. IMO the whole purpose of us being here, is really, do we choose God or the devil. Good or evil. Now we know right from wrong. What are we going to choose. See God does not make that choice for us he lets us make it, if not he took away our free will. Yes God does have a plan for us, but will we follow it. Thats up to us, he wont force us to do what he wants. Now to pray for eachother is just keeping the devil away. Now if someone prays for someone to stay on the right track it just helps them and makes it easier to do the right thing. But even though Jesus knows all, and does know the outcome its still up to us. We still have that shot to do the right thing. Does that make any sense?


#14

Okay, I am starting to grasp the concept of “reading” into the future, rather than determining it.

The way some have responded indicate that God, as a timeless entity, can watch the whole human history in any given moment. So we are just “the actors” in the movie that God is watching. Again, that makes me feel like it is predetermined. But, thats part of God’s nature over ours. We don’t have that capability to read into the future. I think you guys/gals have helped me out a bit. I am going to continue to pray on this issue, and hopefully it will all be clear someday. Plus God knows I am confused right now, and has known this event would happen since forever. :thumbsup:


#15

:slight_smile:

That’s right…Just remember that God didn’t make you that way (confused), He just saw from all eternity that, at this moment, you would be.

:wink:

:thumbsup:

SK


#16

You have to remember God did not determine the outcome though you did. He has given you every chance possible to do what is right, Its what you do with it that makes the final outcome. But being that he is God and knows the day you come into this world and knows the day you go out, You could say yes he is ahead of time. Just think of Jesus being hung on the cross, what did he say these are not my People if they were they would not let this happen to me. See God knew Jesus was going to be killed but we also could have stopped it but we didnt.


#17

Reality is deterministic. Since God apparently created the universe, and set off all of its particles, wouldn’t that mean that he set it in motion knowing exactly what would happen? It reminds me of writing a computer program to play a certain sequence of moves in chess, then claiming that it had free will.


#18

Well I cant say I agree exactly with what you are saying, here is why, If I am to understand you correct. If you write a program in chess you goal is to beat the other person, would you agree with that? Now in life God gave us every opportunity to what is right and wrong, Just because he knows what we will choose does not determine the outcome. You must remember that God has given us every weapon to win at life, Prayer being the most powerful thing. He also came down and died for us, suffered for our sins, and showed us how hard life was going to be. No one really knows why life is so hard, and at other times seem so easy. All we know is that this is not the world we are looking for. Jesus told us that in the bible. It is like you and I talking here, God is not going to make me write this, and God did not make you write what you wrote, he gave us the choice to write what we wanted, No one pushed either of us to say what we just said, we had free will. We also could have not answered at all. See what I am saying. Like right now, you and I may never talk again, on the other hand we may. Now God knows if we will, but its up to us now. Now we have free will to talk again, or to never talk again. That makes more sense to me. God will not take that off of us. Could he, oh yes, but he wont. Because he wont take away our free will.


#19

Isn’t there a creative impulse inherent in the universe whereby things just ‘happen’?


#20

So I can choose to do right or wrong, and God will know which I choose. I can understand that. But does God still reserve the right to intervene? Since He can read the future, He would know when He is going to intervene? That would mean that all the Old Testament prophecies would simply be a prediction, not a forced upon action. God doesn’t force us to make these decisions, we decide that for ourselves, but God can basically “see through our cards” so to speak.

But again, does God reserve the right to intervene? Would that violate free will at all? What does praying for someone do?

I can see the benefits for prayer, personally. But how much do they do for other people? If I pray for the Middle East to stop fighting, is that going to help anyone?


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