Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 9 June 2007 / 23 Sivan 5767

Pre-determined Free Will

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Sandra in San Diego

Dear Rabbi,

If G-d knows everything that will be, then He knows what we’ll choose before we do it, which means it’s pre-determined what we’ll choose, which means we have no free will. But created us with free will, didn’t He?

Dear Sandra,

It’s true that G-d is omniscient — all knowing — which includes His knowing the future decisions we will make. In a way, this seems to contradict our free will. As you put it, if He knows what we’ll choose, then what we choose is pre-determined.

This can be phrased on a deeper level as well. Of the vast number of possible choices or decisions we “can” make, essentially none are alternatives except for the one that G-d foresees from the outset that we’ll make. This is because as the juncture in time for us to make the decision approaches, theoretically, we’ll either decide as foreseen by G-d or not. But since G-d’s knowledge of what we’ll choose must be right, practically speaking, we have no choice but to choose what He knows we’ll choose.

However logical this may seem, it is not correct. The fact that G-d has foreknowledge about what we’ll decide does not preclude us from making the decision from our own free will. The seemingly logical difficulty your question raises is only relevant from our restricted perspective within time and space. Our notion of past, present and future misleads us to think of G-d’s past foreseeing of the future to prevent our decision-making ability in the present.

But G-d, the Creator of time and space, is independent and outside of the realm of time and space. From G-d’s perspective, then, past, present and future are simultaneously interfused in one eternal moment. G-d’s foreseeing what we’ll choose in the future is His observation of what’s taking place in His “here and now”. Therefore, His “foreknowledge” in no way dictates what we choose.

Furthermore, from this perspective, the fact that the vast number of possible choices we can make are, practically speaking, limited to the one G-d knows we’ll make, is not because He knows we’ll make it, but rather because it is we who are choosing this one decision to the exclusion of all the others. We make this decision not because G-d is right, but rather G-d is right about our future decision that He sees us making in His present.

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