Does God have free will?
Question: "Does God have free will?"
Answer: We first need to define what we mean by “free will.” For the purpose of this article, we will define free will as “the capacity of a conscious mind to make decisions and choices without any external constraints or coercion.” God has a mind and is conscious; He has the capacity to make decisions and choose (He has volition); He does not answer to any authority, is not limited by any external constraints, and cannot be coerced. Therefore, based on this definition, we can say, yes, God certainly possesses free will.
God created us with a free will, too; it’s part of what distinguishes us from rocks and animals. But the volition we possess is of a lesser sort than God’s. Free will with no external constraints is impossible for human beings to have, since we always have limitations of some kind. There are always things that we cannot choose to do, such as flap our arms and fly to the moon. At best, the above definition suggests that human beings only have mostly free will—there do exist external constraints on our choices—and not completely free will. We surmise that God has completely free will in the sense that, in His omnipotence, He is not limited by anything apart from Himself. According to Job 36:23, no one tells God what to do: “Who has appointed Him His way, And who has said, ‘You have done wrong’?” (NASB).
Another way to look at free will in human beings is that we have a certain aspect of our decision-making process that is unconstrained by natural laws. Many events are determined by natural laws: a pen falls when someone drops it (the law of gravity), and robins build nests every spring (animal instinct). But no such natural laws govern one’s choice to put on tennis shoes instead of dress shoes, for example, or to order bacon for breakfast instead of sausage. Mankind operates in a realm subsidiary to the natural world, yet he maintains a limited autonomy within that world.
God, on the other hand, has free will in every aspect. The natural world operates subsidiarily to His realm. God is unconstrained by all natural laws; He in fact established those laws and is sovereign over them. God could have created the universe in any of a number of ways, and the way it exists is due to His choice. God was not required to create at all: in Revelation 4:11 we read, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” The point is that even the act of creation itself was the result of God’s free will: His choice to create was not influenced by any necessity or obligation. God’s volition is absolute; His actions are neither deterministically constrained nor controlled by someone else.
There are certain things that God is incapable of doing because His perfect and holy nature disallows it. Titus 1:2 says that God “cannot lie” (NASB). This doesn’t suggest any kind of external control, however; the fact that God’s perfection prevents Him from lying identifies an intrinsic property of God’s own character. God cannot be unfaithful to Himself; He cannot break His Word; He cannot be less than perfect. A lesser being can choose to sin, but God cannot—or He would not be God.
Also, there are certain things that God is incapable of doing because of the very nature of reality. Can God make a triangular square? No, not if the words triangular and square have any real meaning. God does not deal in absurdities, fallacies, or farces. He deals in reality; in fact, God is the source of reality. He is the I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:14). As the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, God has defined what we call reality. The way things are is the way He chose things to be.
Human beings have some measure of free will. But God’s volition is truly free—it is maximal in both quantity and quality. God’s inability to lie or sin or be illogical does not diminish His freedom in any way, since it is the result of His own intrinsic nature; external influences have no hold on Him.
Recommended Resource: Knowing God by J.I. Packer
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