One of my Lenten observances this year is to listen to Catholic Answers on the radio for one hour every week day.
I decided to divide my Lenten observances into basic and “above and beyond.” Those things on my basic list, like abstaining from chocolate, learning about and spending time with a saint, going to bed around nine and fasting one day per week, I hope to complete rigorously, while those on my “above and beyond” list, I hope to incorporate if I’m able, but am not going to be too concerned with if I don’t. Listening to Catholic Answers is on my “above and beyond” list.
Yesterday, while listening to Catholic Answers, a caller inquired about whether or not God would form someone differently in knowing that if he didn’t, that person would end up going to hell. Essentially, since God is all-knowing, if he knows that making a person a certain way will result in them going to hell, would he make them differently?
The response given to the caller was carefully thought through, highlighting God’s mercy and our free will. Unfortunately however, I wasn’t able to listen as intently as I’d hoped, at least beyond the first minute. What I did hear during that first minute gave me the impression that the answer wasn’t as clear and succinct as it could have been. Rather, I thought about a response I might have given, an analogy I’ve reflected on several times in the past when considering God’s omniscience.
When I was around seven years old my father taught me and my brothers how to play chess. Chess is a fun game. It’s not only fun, it’s addictive! Although I’m not currently suffering from an addiction, suffice to say that there have been times when abstaining from chess was a basic Lenten observance.
Chess is challenging because in order to be good at it you have to consider many options, not only those involving possible choices you might make, but those of your opponent as well.
Advances in technology have allowed us to design electronic chess games with varying levels of difficulty. At the most advanced level, the computer is able to analyze all the possible choices a person might make and all the possible choices it might make in response, right down to the last move.
This is how I consider God’s omniscience with respect to our free-will.
God doesn’t know the exact choices that we’ll make since we haven’t made them yet. Rather, he knows all the choices that are available to us and all the possible variations in outcomes that might occur in response to that choice and in relation to the choices others might make at the same time. All the factors surrounding our genetics and environment play a role, functioning as sources of influence and playing a role in the nature and extent of the outcomes.
Factors such as these, and all the options available, He is fully aware of. However, the choices we’re actually going to make, are yet unknown, even to Him. However, as consistency builds trust, so does our character suggest the likelihood we’re going to make a certain choice. Nonetheless, if this freedom to choose, even to choose in a manner contrary to His will, didn’t exist, there could be no real separation from Him, no room for transgression or reconciliation, no room for personal responsibility.
Essentially, we share in creation and are co-creators, either for good or evil. We must cooperate with His will, learning about Him and what He has revealed to us, thus helping to ensure we’re on the path of salvation towards eternal life.
When we’ve fallen, we must accept His grace, His all-encompassing mercy and love, with humility, getting up, dusting ourselves off, continuing to reach for what is good, perfect, holy and just. This is what separates us from sainthood, not that any of those who’ve gone before us haven’t fallen, but that they’ve gotten up and kept going, kept carrying the cross, accepting the difficulties of a Christ-centered life.
If everything is predetermined, there could be no sense of personal growth or perfection. Similarly, no athlete would ever feel a sense of fulfillment from winning a difficult race. Studying Scripture, receiving the Sacraments, performing good works and engaging in prayer help us to unite with His will, potentially mitigating factors related to genetics and environment so that we can more easily achieve righteousness and perfection.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:43 – 5:48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.