The other day, someone asked me, “If God knows everything already, how can we truly have free will? He already knows the choices that we’re going to make ahead of time, so is it really our choice?”
Great question. This is simply my opinion. I don’t know if there is any scriptural basis to back this up, but this is the way in which I’ve always seen it:
He Already Knows Us
Imagine your closest friend, or perhaps the person that you’ve known the longest. It could be your spouse, neighbor, brother, sister, father, mother, whoever. You’ve been around these people for long enough that you know their likes and their dislikes. You know their preferences, and interests. And likely, you even know how they would act in specific situations.
I believe this is the same way in which God works with us. Before this life, we lived with Him for all of eternity. And after this life, we’re going to return to live with Him for all of eternity (if we behave well). While we were living with Him before, He knew us. He created us. Because we were with Him for so long, He got to know each and every one of us individually. Even though we’ve come to Earth, our personalities are the same. Our interests are the same. God knows us just as well as He did then, even though sometimes we feel so distant from Him.
Because He knows us so well, He knows how we’re going to react to certain situations and circumstances. He still gives us the choice, but He already knows what the outcome is going to be. Does that mean that we can really choose? Absolutely. God gives us our agency, and we can do what we want with it, but He never impedes or prohibits us from doing what we want.
When I was a High School Freshmen, one evening I had intended to go spend time with some friends, but my Mom had told me “No”. Frustrated, I stormed up to my room, waited for everyone to fall asleep, and then snuck out the back door. Guess who was waiting for me in the backyard? The thing is that my Mother knew me so well, that she already knew the decision that I was going to make ahead of time. But does her already knowing that I was going to sneak out affect my ability to choose for myself to do it in the first place? No. Not one bit. She gave me the choice. I could have snuck out, or I could have stayed in my room. But she knew me well enough to have the foresight of what I was going to do ahead of time.
Adam and Eve
And because no discussion on agency and free will is complete without Adam and Eve: God placed them into the Garden of Eden. They had their free will, but at the same time, they were innocent. God gave them two conflicting commandments. They were to 1) multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28) and 2) to eat of everything but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).
Because they were immortal, they could not complete the first commandment. They were innocent and had no idea how to create children. And the only way to become mortal and have children, was to eat of the fruit of the tree. Both of these contradicted each other, yet they were commandments from God to do both. God himself based the foundation of the world on man’s agency. He knew Adam and Eve so well that He knew they would disobey Him and partake of the fruit. But because He knew this already, He created the plan based on this disobedience.
Because God knows which decisions we will and won’t make, we can’t frustrate His plan. Whether we decide to be good or bad, it doesn’t matter. God’s designs will be carried out no matter what, because He’s already taken into effect our choices. But if we use our free agency to do good, God will be much happier that we did what He had asked us to do.
But what about Satan? Does Satan’s temptations impose on our agency? Actually, no. It’s the thing that creates agency. If we had no temptation, we wouldn’t have a choice between good and evil. It’s what balances everything out. Without it, we would always choose good.
If I come up to you and hold a Snickers candy bar in your face and ask you, “Which candy bar would you like?”, what are you going to say? Your only option is Snickers, so that’s what you’re going to have to take. But what if I come up to you holding a Snickers in one hand and a Butterfinger in the other? You now have to choose for yourself, whereas before, you had no option. The same goes for Satan and his temptations. Without Satan’s influence, we wouldn’t have our agency nor our ability to choose.