Posted by: Phil Anderson | March 24, 2014

Who Really Has Free Will?

It’s been a while since I’ve expounded on my analogy that being a writer is like being God, but I haven’t forgotten about it. In fact, the analogy changes and expands all the time as I learn and experience more about writing and as I grow in my relationship with God. One place where I’ve always thought the analogy breaks down is free will: when I write, my characters do what I intend them to do; God gives his creations free will to make choices. But lately I’ve been thinking about the nature of “free will” and I’m not so sure that the analogy doesn’t still hold.

Free will is basically the ability to make independent choices. However, there are limits to free will. I cannot choose to fly; if I jump off the roof, I cannot choose not to fall. So my independent choices must fit within certain parameters. Those parameters are set for my characters by me, the writer who created them. They are set for me and my fellow humans by the God who created us. But I believe those parameters are much more specific than just the force of gravity.

When I write, sometimes a character tries to thwart my sovereignty with his “free will.” I may have plans for him to choose one course of action, but because of the personality and tendencies I have described in him, I realize that it only makes sense for him to choose differently in that circumstance. To maintain a strong, consistent characterization I have to change his circumstances, his perspective and point-of-view, or even his whole mindset so that when he’s faced with the decision he makes the choice I want him to.

In the same way, God has given his creations free will, but he also chooses and predestines our fates. From my writer’s perspective, I can imagine that he established my personality, my experiences, and my circumstances so that I would exercise my free will to make the choice he predestined for me.

So the existence of free will really depends on one’s viewpoint. Abraham Lincoln made many choices throughout his life, but as I read his historical biography those are no longer choices, they are events. I may wish that he would choose not to go to the theater, but from my viewpoint he no longer has the free will to choose. What’s done is done. He has to go to the theater.

My characters agonize over choices that effect their futures, but from outside the narrative I know the beginning and the end of their story and the result of the choices they have made. When the story is finished, their choices aren’t choices anymore, they are established events.

I believe I am making independent decisions every day, but God is omniscient and outside of time. He knows the choices I have made and will make. To him, because he already knows the future, these decisions have already happened and he’s not surprised by them. I exercise my free will, but he already knows what I have chosen.

What do you think? Is free will just an illusion? Is it possible to change your destiny? Please leave a comment below and share this blog with someone who might enjoy it.

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Responses

  1. […] few weeks ago I wrote about free will vs. predestination. Do we chose our own path, or is it already established? It depends on your perspective. But where […]


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