Free will is the ability to make our own choices in issues regarding all aspects of life. It is a power that enables us to make our own choices that are not affected by external factors such as divine will. Therefore, each one sins by his/her own will. While, divine foreknowledge is the fact that God has complete knowledge of what will happen in the future. In “On Free Choice of the Will”, St. Augustine discusses a critical issue which is the incompatibility of man’s free will and God’s foreknowledge. So the question is, do we really have free will in spite of the fact that God foreknows everything?
If God knows what must necessarily happen next, then how do have the free will to make our own choices? Augustine comes up with a series of arguments to prove that we sin by our own will with no intervention of the divine foreknowledge. Augustine first argued a characteristic of God that He has free will, and that He has foreknowledge of his own actions. Therefore, both God’s will and foreknowledge go along with each other. From this point he then assumes that man’s will and God’s foreknowledge are both compatible. But can we compare God with man? And is this argument convincing enough?
More elaboration has to be given in order to make it more convincing. Augustine then proceeds to do so. He states that people who do not believe in the compatibility of free will and divine foreknowledge are those who “are more eager to excuse than confess their sins” (p. 73). That means that people who always blame others for their own wrong doings rather than admitting it are those who claim that we have no free will and that everything is already known by God, and that nothing can be changed, which they also use as a justification for their wrong actions.
These people live their life by chance, leaving everything according to the circumstances rather than trying to take good actions. An example for that is the beggars, who always try to take money from people without giving anything in return or even having a job, although they have the ability to do so. But because of their laziness and their belief that this is what they were created to be, they leave everything to happen by luck and according to God’s foreknowledge that couldn’t be changed (p. 73). Augustine then moves to another point which is the relation between the will and the power to achieve that will.
He states that the will itself is within our power. Therefore, our desire to commit certain acts is a power that we own. But if we will something that is not within our power then it is not considered as a will because we can only will what is within our power. Augustine then discusses that if something good happens to us then it is accordance to our will, not against it. So for example, being happy, although God foreknows that you will be so, doesn’t mean that we are happy against our will. Thus, God’s foreknowledge of our happiness doesn’t take away our will to be happy (p.
76). And so, he concludes that if God foreknows our will, then definitely this will is going to occur, and so it will be a will in the future. Consequently, his foreknowledge doesn’t take away our will. And since that what we will is in our power, God foreknows our power and He will not take it away. Hence, we will have that power because God foreknows it (p. 77). So Augustine made it clear “that it is necessary that whatever God has foreknown will happen, and that he foreknows our sins in such a way that our wills remain free and are with in our power” (p.77).
However, the fact that God’s foreknowledge of our sins is consistent with our free will in sinning still stays questionable. Taking into consideration the fact that God is just, so how does He punish our sins that happen by necessity? Or is God’s foreknowledge not an obligation? The topic is still confusing so Augustine then proceeds to make it clearer. He explains that if we are certain that someone is going to sin, then we have foreknowledge with the wrongdoing that he/she is going to commit.
This foreknowledge didn’t force them to do so, but it was done by their own free will. Accordingly, their will to sin is consistent with our foreknowledge of that sin. Therefore, “God forces no one to sin, even though he foresees those who are going to sin by their own will” (p. 78). Augustine then compares foreknowledge with memory. He states that our “memory does not force the past to have happened”, and similarly God’s foreknowledge of the future doesn’t force it to occur (p. 78).
And we remember things in the past that we have done but didn’t do everything that we remember, likewise God foreknows everything that He will cause in the future, but doesn’t cause everything that is within His foreknowledge (p. 78). As a result, God punishes our sins that we do by our own will and which He did not cause, as God is known by his justice. Augustine then comes up with a good argument for all those who are still slightly confused, that if God should not punish us for our sins that He foresees then He also shouldn’t reward us for our good work that He also foresees (p. 78).
To conclude, Augustine succeeded in coming up with a good argument showing that man’s free will and God’s foreknowledge are both compatible. The sequence of his ideas made his argument understandable and convincing for any reader. As a reader, I’ve always thought about that subject but didn’t receive any answers. However, reading “On Free Choice of the Will” made everything clear for me and made me well convinced that God’s foreknowledge doesn’t intervene with our own choices that we make. Works Cited Williams, Thomas. On Free Choice of the Will. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. , 1993. 129. Print.
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