Does God Move When We Pray? A Radical Free Will Theists Response

prayerWhat happens when we pray?  Does it change us? (Classical Theism) Does it move God from within a framework of his general providence and foreknowledge? (Free Will Theism)  If prayer merely changes us, as CT holds, then we accept the premise that God has determined all before time, raising the problem of evil.  If prayer merely moves God within a framework of his general providence (not ordaining all things specifically) then God is only moved one step back from the problem of evil and his foreknowledge only seems like a softer version of determinism it seeks to escape. So now what?  Radical Free Will Theism.

Recall that Free Will Theists operate with a definition of human freedom that is best described as a libertarian freedom.  They suggest that freedom of choice is only true and real when humans have the power of contrary choice, unrestrained choice.  They make this claim because they believe that God is love, and he chose, in his freedom, to limit his energies in relation to creation so that humans could lovingly, relationally chose God.  To understand this version of freedom it may be helpful to understand Classical Theism’s understanding of human freedom, dating back to Augustine.

Augustine, and a host of others after him, suggested that true autonomous, libertarian freedom does not exist for humans.  We are free in our will in that we are free to choose according to our desire, according to our nature.  This version of human freedom is seen as compatible with divine determinism as God allows us to choose according to our nature, and it is in Christ that we receive a new nature and true freedom to choose God’s will as ours.

FWT respond by insisting that version of freedom is no freedom at all.  God, in his freedom, chose to limit himself in his interaction with creation out of love.  For love he allowed humans to have autonomous, libertarian freedom because only this version of freedom can yield a genuinely loving relationship chosen by both parties.  However, FWT want to retain softer versions of immutability and impassibility.  God will not change in his essential character, but he does change in response to human choosing, retaining general providence or determining of the “big moments” in salvation history.  God will experience emotion in response to his creation, but he is not overwhelmed, surprised or internally altered by them.  This way, they can claim God is immutable and impassible, but humans are free creatures interacting with God in a real relationship.

The challenge with FWT is that God still foreknows all.  Yet, if God knows all and he cannot be wrong then is this not just a different version of determinism?  Is there really libertarian freedom for humans as FWT suppose?  Thus the Radical Free Will Theistic (RFWT) position.

RFWT are essentially the same as FWT except they believe differently on two significant points:  the relationship between God and time, and relatedly, a variation on the definition of omniscience.  I am going to make this simple to understand; and, as a result, I will be engaging in some reductionism.  Let’s tackle the issue of time first.

CT and FWT believe as a logical necessity that God is outside of time (timeless) or that he is related to all time at once.  This way God can either determine or foreknow the future.  Either way, all time (past, present and future) is real in that all three truly exist in the same way for God.  Think of time as a block of wood with lines distinguishing the past, present and future parts of the block.  RFWT sees the nature of time differently.

The future, being what it is, does not truly exist; it is not, while the past and future are.  Think of a block of wood that can continue to grow as the future unfolds.  Here is the pay off.  For RFWT, God is related in time; and he experiences temporality.  Yet, he does so not as humans for he has perfect, definitive knowledge of the past and present, but the future does not exist, leaving him awaiting it somewhat like us.  Because of his perfect, definitive knowledge of the past and present he can anticipate and prepare for the future in ways we cannot.  So he is not necessarily surprised by the future.  This helps the RFWT escape the problem of foreknowledge, making humans free in a libertarian sense.  God on this account does not have definitive knowledge of the future because there is nothing to know; it has no ontology.

That first difference leads to an inevitable second difference.  God is still omniscient, according to RFWT, because he knows all there is (ontologically) to know, but he does not know the future.  Or to put it a better way he knows all that is, hence his omniscience, but the future is not, hence his omniscience is dynamic.  His omniscience is dynamic in the sense that it is not static, much like his interaction with creation.  Remember, this was God’s free choice of love to interact with his creation in this way.  This does not speak to any limitation in God’s essence but only in his free choice to relate to finite creatures with freedom.

This position seems to solve a number of problems.  Evil is now clearly the responsibility of humans that have true libertarian freedom, and our prayers are meaningful interactions with our heavenly Father that can respond to our prayers the way we tend to believe.  But wait!  If God does not know and control the future and humans can chose in a way that thwarts God’s intentions then what hope do we have given the evil we have wrought.  If Jesus promised to return as a conquering King at his second advent why should we rest upon this promise?  Can he really pull it off?  Or could we collectively choose in our freedom to thwart his desire to deal finally with the evil we brought into his creation?

It seems we may have given up our birthright, the hope that God’s sovereignty offers, for a bowl of soup, a mythical, libertarian freedom.  Maybe we should ask Esau if it was worth it?

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4 Responses to Does God Move When We Pray? A Radical Free Will Theists Response

  1. Richard Armour says:

    “The future, being what it is, does not truly exist; it is not, while the past and future are.”
    I think you meant to say present rather than future in the end of this sentence.

    I have become a bit fatalistic about some difficult things that have entered my life leading to a lack of enthusiasm in my prayers. After all, God knew and allowed these things to happen to those I love. Why would He change these situations now when He could of before they happened? I should just suck it up and deal with it knowing that God will one day reconcile all things in a just way. RFWT view of a God who is outside of time yet who has limited Himself to perfect knowledge of past and present, with a somewhat unpredictable future (that does not yet exist) would be liberating and energizing to my prayers. I see the Son while clothed in human flesh in this way but have never thought of the Father limiting Himself in this way. It does seem like a proper way to approach God in prayer believing in a God who changes not, but who can change my “fluid” situation and lovingly put me and those I love on a different course. As far as thwarting God from dealing with our evil once and for all…….Our chances are infinitely less than a monkey beating Bobby Fischer at a game of chess. We are all Esau indeed.

  2. rnieman says:

    Hi Ryan you stated:

    “The challenge with FWT is that God still foreknows all. Yet, if God knows all and he cannot be wrong then is this not just a different version of determinism? Is there really libertarian freedom for humans as FWT suppose? Thus the Radical Free Will Theistic (RFWT) position.”

    To answer your question, NO it’s not at all another version of determinism. Because God foreknows what we will pray absolutely does NOT mean he determined what/when/how we would pray. The following is a quote from a brother in regards to what LFW is:
    “What LFW Is
    Choice is the action of the will selecting one alternative over another. The will is the faculty within man’s soul that’s able to choose either alternative. Being able to choose either option implies both options are possible, which implies neither option is necessary. When we say the will is free, it’s free from necessity, and it’s free to choose either alternative. With respect to time, the ability of the will precedes the will’s choosing. At one moment we have a choice, the next moment we actually choose.”

    Russ

    • Rnieman,

      Thanks for coming back and engaging here. I did not mean to suggest that God has determined (ordered) things because he know what we will pray, but I was keeping God a step removed from the event. Rather than ordering, God knows perfectly what will take place (prayer or no), according to FWT. His foreknowledge is perfect; he cannot be wrong, regardless of the issue of prayer. So then is our choosing free as your definition suggests? Can I really choose something that God knows I will not? If not then libertarian freedom, the definition you provided, cannot be the best understanding of human freedom, according to CT. Or, as RFWT argue, you get to keep your definition of freedom, but you need to then amend the kind of knowledge that God has of the future to make sure your choice is absolutely free from any influence.

      Does that makes sense? I am not trying to argue for one position over another here; I am just trying to describe each position on its own terms. Given the definition you use for human freedom, God’s perfect, definitive foreknowledge is a problem. Middle knowledge has been offered up as a way through for the FWT without having to resort to RFWT, but they need to argue for middle knowledge is recognition that perfect, definitive foreknowledge and libertarian free will have a hard time getting along.

      • rnieman says:

        Hi Ryan,
        You asked:
        “His foreknowledge is perfect; he cannot be wrong, regardless of the issue of prayer. So then is our choosing free as your definition suggests? Can I really choose something that God knows I will not?”

        Can I choose something that God knows I will not? no because I chose not to choose it, because God foreknows that doesn’t have a determining effect on it.

        Bless you,

        Russ

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