Predestination, foreknowledge, and free choice. Is it really free?

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2013
Predestination means that God determines the end from the beginning. He knows in advance exactly how things are going to go. God determines something has to happen but we also have the freedom to make the choices in life, including whether we want to accept Him or reject Him.

Predestination, foreknowledge, and free choice. Is it really free?

Predestination means that God determines the end from the beginning. He knows in advance exactly how things are going to go. God determines something has to happen but we also have the freedom to make the choices in life, including whether we want to accept Him or reject Him.

However, there was one unique individual to whom the term “Messiah” applied in a special sense. God spoke about a future Ruler of Israel who would sit on the throne of David and usher in an age of righteousness and peace. He would simultaneously hold all three offices of prophet (authoritative proclamation), priest (spiritual duties) and king (political ruler). He would be the reality and ultimate fulfillment to which all other usages of the term “Messiah” would be but shadowy pre-figures.

Dr. John Ankerberg:: Let me throw in, people are really free–they get to make these big choices. Okay? Sideline: predestination, foreknowledge, and free choice. Is it really free? People want to know. Define those for us.
Dr. Norman Geisler: Well, predestination means that God simply determines the end from the beginning, as Isaiah said. He knows in advance exactly how things are going to go. He knows exactly who is going to be in Heaven; exactly who’s going to be in Hell and everything in between.
Free will means that they had the ability to do otherwise. They made a free choice. They could have done otherwise. They weren’t forced to do it. It was an uncoerced act. Can they be reconciled? Yes, because God knew for sure. That means it’s determined, because if He knows something for sure, it has to happen. If it didn’t happen, He would have been wrong and then He wouldn’t have been all knowing. But if He is all knowing and He knows it’s going to happen, it has to happen. So it’s determined. But He knew for sure that they were freely going to do it. So, it was determined from the standpoint of His foreknowledge; free from the standpoint of their choice.
For example, my wife tapes my favorite football team when I’m on the road. On Sunday I come home and the game is all taped. Now, everything in that game is determined. The score is determined. Every time I play the video it comes out the same–score is the same; every play is the same. See, everything is determined. But, every play was freely chosen. They chose to be on that team. They chose that play. They chose to go around, over, tackle. So it’s determined, but it’s free.
You say, “Well, that’s looking backwards.” But God can look forward with the same ability we look backward. So, He can see free choices in the future. They are determined from the standpoint of His knowledge, free from the standpoint of our choice.
1 Peter 1:2: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God.”
Romans 8:29: “Whom he foreknew, he did predestine.”
Ankerberg: Yeah. Use Judas. You use Judas as an illustration.
Geisler: Good illustration. God knew that Judas was going to betray Christ. So, if you take the logic this way: God knew Judas would betray Christ. True.
If God knew Judas was going to betray Christ, then Judas must betray Christ. True. Otherwise, God would have been wrong.
Therefore, Judas wasn’t free. False. Because He knew that Judas would freely betray Christ. Even the Westminster Confession–Calvinistic confession–says that there are secondary causes, and that all things do not follow from necessary order of causes, some are free.
So, if God knew for sure that Judas would freely betray Christ, Judas was responsible for his free choice; God is responsible for His foreknowledge.
Ankerberg: Yeah. That necessary choices that you just flipped through so easy, you know, freezes the rest of us lay people that don’t know what you philosophers are talking about. You have this great illustration with dominoes about “necessary choices.” Talk about that.
Geisler: Well, if you push the first domino, it is necessary that the last one is going to fall.
Ankerberg: Necessary cause.
Geisler: Because one necessarily falls on the other and they fall. There’s no free will. But if you put a human being in the middle and put, say, a hundred dominoes up to him and you push the first one, and then there’s a hundred dominoes after that free being, then you don’t know for sure whether he’s going to nudge the next domino or not. You know for sure the first hundred are going to fall, but you don’t know for sure if this free being is going to choose to push the next domino.
So, there’s the difference between freedom. God, however, knows not only necessary causes–that all hundred will fall; He knows whether that person is going to push the next one and the next hundred are going to fall.
Ankerberg: Why is it possible for God to be able to do that?
Geisler: It is possible for God to be able to do that because He is outside of time. He’s not in time; He’s eternal.
Here’s a tunnel. There’s somebody in the cave. They’re looking up and train is going by. There are three cars in the train. He’s looking at one car. That’s all he can see. He’s got “tunnel vision”–time. He doesn’t see the one that’s gone past; he doesn’t see the one yet coming. If there is somebody standing on top of that mountain over that cave, he sees all three cars at the same time–past, present and future. So God, from the pinnacle of eternity, is looking down on the whole course of time. He see past, present, and future all in His present. We see only the present moment–not the past one, not the future one.
Ankerberg: Not only that, but even we as people, we could be on a mountain and we could see a collision that was going to happen between two cars, and we can know it even in advance. But that doesn’t mean that we’re making it happen.
Geisler: Sure. If you were standing on top of a skyscraper and there were roads on each side, and you could foresee a head-on collision coming–car coming this way and a car coming that way and foresee they’re going to collide–you didn’t cause the accident. You just foresaw it.
Ankerberg: Now, the reason I made you go through all of that–because that’s important to a whole lot of people, to say, “Am I really free in choosing what God is offering?”–so let’s get down to, “How big a freedom, how important a freedom, has God given to us people?”
Geisler: Scary, radical freedom–such freedom that He will allow us to say “No” to Him forever. It’s a pretty scary freedom. Such freedom that He will allow us to have our own way eternally. Nietzsche is the classic example in his last line of Genealogy of Morals. He said, “I would rather will nothingness than not to will at all.” So if Nietzsche were to stand before God someday and God would say to him, “Fred,”–that was his first name–“Fred, I’ll give you three choices: 1. I’m going to wipe you out of existence, snuff you out of existence; 2. You can repent of all those evil things you said”–he said, “God is dead. Christ is an idiot and Christians are nincompoops,” for example–“repent of all those evil things you said, or 3. I’ll let you go on thinking and willing what you want to think and will forever,” which one would he choose? He told us. The third one. Because to snuff him out of existence would be like me saying to my son, “I want you to grow up and be a doctor” and he grew up and became a plumber so I shoot him. No. God is not that kind of Father. I mean, He is a loving Father and He will give us space; He will give us the freedom to make our own choices.
Jesus said in Matthew 23: “How oft I would have gathered you together as a mother hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing.” He didn’t force them.
2 Peter 3:9: “God is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repent”–change their mind.
So God gives us the freedom, it’s a radical freedom and He allows us to make a choice to thumb our nose at Him forever, and He just says, “Thy will be done.”
Ankerberg: Yeah. I think we’ve got to…people have to understand what you’re saying and it’s so true, and it blows my mind that God brought us into existence, gave us absolute freedom to choose whether we’re going to accept Him or reject Him; and He is going to live with our decision. He is not going to force us, even though He could. That’s how free we are and that’s how important it is that we understand this information.


  1. Taridzo on June 8, 2018 at 5:08 am

    Personally, I refuse to believe God is just an “independent” observer with foreknowledge but no participation. Otherwise life is just a sequence of random events that God knows about – what would be the point of prayer? If we pray and we believe God answers the prayers, then God has intervened and is no longer just an “observer”, and that affects free-will and destiny. In the hilltop analogy, if the drivers had prayed for a safe journey (or maybe even if they had not prayed), then maybe God would have sent rain, and slow down all the drivers and they safely pass each other, or God might put in the heart of one of the drivers to stop and take pictures of the scenery…or a million other ways.

    • Jesse Hornok on December 15, 2022 at 12:58 pm

      I agree, God is not an independent observer. He is transcendent, true, but He is also immanent. So He not only has foreknowledge and sovereignty but He also intervenes and responds.

  2. […] “Predestination, Foreknowledge, and Free Choice. Is it Really Free?” by John Ankerberg & Norman Geisler (short video on this also) […]

    • Mike colombo on October 15, 2021 at 4:07 pm

      What was Walter martins views on Calvinism and predestination? Did R.C. Sproul and Walters views agree?

  3. Michael Phillippe on July 4, 2023 at 9:33 am

    I have personally been in Christian Science, sadly for 25 years, and it ruined lots of time, joy, friendships. I am back to being a Presbyterian kinda, Most churche’s too liberal methidost ie: Either we believe the Bible or not. Everything thing in there is inspired from the word of God. I trust it from Genesis to Revelations. All of Jesus Christs predictions even in the old testament came to fruition.

    Sadly lots of folks, use their emotions and opinions. The Bible takes a lot of discipline, but it is the Truth of who we are , always were, and will free will is a choice but its to use the right free will. I got deceived by Christian Science, and so did thousands of others . It denys the entire Bible, and Free Will , is from God.
    Michael Phillippe

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