Does God have true free will? True enough to sin?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: Does God have free will? 

Answer: This is an interesting question... sort of a sleeper, actually. At first blush the issue of whether or not God has a free will seems like a non-starter; after all, doesn’t a Supreme Being who can do whatever he wants — by definition — have the ultimate experience of free will? That being said, I do not know exactly what’s on your mind because you did not expand upon your question. So I will address the issues that surround God’s free will in general terms.

I found a fully developed (and well-articulated!) question concerning God’s free will on a Roman Catholic forum. This might be the exact question you have in mind. But either way, my answer will respond to this on some level — and this questioner has already done quite a bit of the preliminary work in setting us up for an answer. So, let’s hijack this query.

"In my experience of Christian apologetics, I see the free will theodicy as the most popular and frequently cited argument in addressing the problem of evil and suffering in light of the existence of a benevolent God. While thinking about free will incessantly over the past few days, I found myself questioning a particular claim that is made within a standard presentation of the argument. The claim (paraphrased) is that, had God created mankind – Adam and Eve – without the capacity to choose that which is not good (i.e. to choose to disobey Him)… or, in other words, had God created Adam and Eve to where they could and would ONLY do that which is good… that it means Adam and Eve would not have had free will. 

But, if that conclusion is correct, would we – in order to be consistent – not also have to argue that God Himself does not have free will? As Christians, we maintain that God is holy, He is just, He is perfection, He has no evil to him, and cannot commit evil, as He has a nature to which He is bound to. And His nature is such that He can only do that which is good. Are we to suggest that because God is bound to this nature, and can only act in accordance to it, that therefore He does not have free will? If we are to argue that God does have free will, then in what sense can it be argued that if God had created man with a nature that could exercise only the good, man would lack free will?"

We apologists spend a lot of time defining “the nature of God” in our answers. This is usually in response to a question that is built upon the wrong idea of God. But the above questioner has a very clear picture of God as well as a clear picture of the free-will issue. So let me summarize and refine it: God cannot do anything illogical — that is, God cannot do anything that is contrary to his nature. But does obeying only his nature mean that he does not have the free will to sin? Among us humans, the option to do wrong is a necessary component of free will. Doesn’t God’s nature — the inability to do wrong — limit his options using the same criteria? And doesn’t such a limit disqualify him from having a true free will?

You would think so. But that’s because none of us are God — and God is in his own category. He alone is the Creator — infinite in all his aspects. We many are the creation — finite and sin-skewed. To say that we have a limited view of God is an understatement.

But cheer up! A limited view is still a view — and God is in the revealing business more so than in the concealing business. As such, he has given us enough information in his word, in nature and within ourselves to overcome the apparent limits of our language.

When Anselm postulated the ontological argument for the existence of God, he gave us a great working definition for God: “….a being than which no greater being can be conceived.”

This speaks to God’s infinitude, that is, he is boundless in every aspect. For example, he is not merely powerful, he is boundlessly powerful (omnipotent); he is not only knowledgeable, but he is also boundlessly knowledgeable (omniscient), etc. But the fact that he is boundlessly good, means that he cannot even countenance anything bad... let alone perform such things. But to understand the real issues here, we need to see sin for what it is… or for what it’s not, actually. You see, sin is not a thing in itself: it is behavioral darkness — and the concept of darkness cannot stand without light. Let me explain.

Some phenomena, like cold and darkness, cannot stand alone. Cold, for example, is not a thing in itself; it is the absence of heat — not the presence of cold per se. So also darkness is not a thing in itself; it is the absence of light — not the presence of darkness per se. What many people miss is that sin is just like that. We can recognize the phenomena of sin (just as we “feel” cold or “see” that we are in darkness,) but sin is not a thing in itself. It is the absence of God.

(We're just talking common observation here. I realize that dark matter exists in the universe.)

So, just as it would be illogical (silly, really) to postulate a flashlight that projects darkness rather than light, so it would be illogical to postulate a God who could project sin — let alone cause it to fall on himself or anyone else! Now, when we think of a typical flashlight, do we consider it as having an option “removed” by its inability to project darkness — which is “non-stuff” anyway? No. That is merely its nature.

God and sin work the same way. We cannot say that God has had an option “removed” by his inability to sin—which would be his doing “non-God stuff.” That is merely his nature — and God himself is subject to “the limits” of his nature because of logic. After all, God created a logical world — and he himself conforms to its logic. Why? He is the ultimate logical expression — and creation reflects his logical essence.

In closing, let’s give another nod to Anselm and to ontology. After all, the idea of free-will only makes sense where a greater being exists. Otherwise, whom would we be exercising our free will for or against? As such, the very concept of free-will can never apply to God, since he is that being “than which no greater being can be conceived.” Therefore, referencing God as one who might or might not have free will is a logical category error. Think about this.

All creation is contingent upon God… but God is contingent upon no one or no thing. This places him (and only him) in the category of “non-contingent beings.” But having free will is contingent upon having an authority — and God is subject to none. Therefore, God neither has, nor does not have free will. He is outside of the category where the application of either would be logical.

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