C.S. Lewis on Determinism

Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Timeline like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow’s actions in just the same way—because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him.


I came to grips with this issue years ago, and realized that the nearest temporal scenario to which I could compare it is when we read a novel. Regardless where we open the book, it is “now” to us. If we want to reprise a particularly beautiful passage, we just flip back, and that’s “now” to us as well.

One of God’s greatest gifts is free will, but it’s also one of our greatest curses. God will not overrule our will; only in this matter does he delegate his sovereignty. When someone shoots into a crowd, does fate kill people? The shooter’s free, but warped choice killed his victims. Of course, God knew in advance that he would pull that trigger, but the rules God set at creation still apply. Whether picking forbidden fruit, or killing innocent people, it’s all the same choice.

We make the mistake of limiting our concept of God to what we can conceive; our rules of cause-and-effect, sequences of events, and even obedience to physical laws. Though he created this universe with its physical laws for us, he isn’t governed by them. What seems deterministic to us is just an uninformed illusion.


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