The Chess Master of Free Will
Free will gets kicked around often in theological and philosophical circles. What is free will? Are our wills truly free to choose? Given the same circumstances and the same unfathomably complex chain of causes and effects leading up to something, are we bound to make the same choice every time? If God really knows all things and pre-exists the material universe and humanity, then does his foreknowledge determine our choices? With just those few debated questions before us, perhaps you can see how one might arrive at a view of our wills that could be called deterministic, or fated. In other words, our free will is just an illusion. These kinds of argument (in my opinion) focus too much on us and not nearly enough on God. We have a narrow view of God’s greatness and thus we end up with a rather unimpressive view of free will. But what if God’s foreknowledge is more dynamic, more impressive, more awesome and majestic – rather like that of a grand chess master’s knowledge of the game of chess. The best chess masters in the world are so many moves ahead of average folks like me, that they pretty much have the game mapped out before it even begins. No matter what I do, they know exactly what they will do next. And the outcome is always the same: they win. More often than not, once we are a few moves into the game they have a pretty good idea of what I will do next. If we have played a few times, then they almost always know what I will do next. Now it’s true – occasionally I will surprise them. “Didn’t see that coming,” they might say, but it is generally said with something of amusement that I would make such a blunder. And then they checkmate me. If God is relational (which the Church affirms), if mankind is made in His image (which the Church affirms), and if the relationship with God is truly dynamic and free on both sides (which is not always affirmed), then something more than a deterministic view of our free will is called for. What if God, before He ever made the heavens and the earth, could trace out all the possible outcomes of all possible decisions and events in all possible universes? What if He chose to fashion this particular universe because it allowed the greatest possible freedom to its creatures? What if he truly doesn’t know – in an absolute sense – what any of us will do at any given point in time, but he knows exactly what he will do with whatever choice we make and how he will always work His moves to bring about the satisfaction of His will? What if we occasionally surprise him (When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. Matt 8:10), but yet this by no means throws off his plan and purposes? The story always ends the same. God, and His love for the world in Christ, wins. Make your choices as you will. The Divine Grand Chess Master will always win. But if the preceding more approximates the freedom God gives us, then we can no longer excuse ourselves that we really didn’t have a choice. And like all other relationships, the relationship with God may change based on the choices we make. So – choose wisely, my friends.