As we examine the proposed solutions to this problem we will progress from more simplistic to more nuanced approaches finally culminating in a biblical solution. The first approach we will be examining is known as “open-theism.” Open-theism maintains that “Scripture depicts God as having a perfect, immutable character but as expressing this character through his wonderfully flexible interactions with his creations.” It posits a God who is “frequently grieved, frustrated, and even amazed at how stiff-necked people are toward him.” To give an example: God, in an open-theistic system, did not know about the September 11th terrorist attacks before they happened. He was in no position therefore to prevent them from occurring, and as a result, shares in the pain and outrage felt by the American people that such an injustice would take place. In short, God is open-theism denies God’s sovereignty. This is one way to reconcile the tension between sovereignty and choice—simply deny sovereignty. The major problem with this view is that it does not correspond to the God of Scripture, a God who “turns [the king’s heart] wherever He wishes,” ordains the future of His elect, and knows what will take place in the future. Such a God would not be able to guarantee the salvation of His people or for that matter, the ultimate victory of His kingdom over the dominion of Satan. There would be no comfort in God’s plan because His plan would be subject to change as He reacts to the natural disasters and free decisions of men. Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney describes such a God this way: “If [God] could not foreknow and control [the world] He would be the most baffled, confused and harassed of all beings; and His government one of perpetual expedients.” A God who is not sovereign is no God at all.
Best Possible World’s Defense
A second proposed solution to the problem can be referred to as “the best possible world’s approach.” Many Christian apologists use this approach when attempting to answer the problem of evil (How can God be both good and sovereign if evil exists?), but it can also be used to answer the sovereignty/choice dilemma. Theologian John Frame relays the argument in his book Apologetics to the Glory of God:
The philosopher G.W. Leibniz and others have argued that this world, for all its evils, is nonetheless the best world which God could have produced. . . Certain evils are logically necessary to achieve certain good ends. . . So the best possible world will include some evil.
In other words, God chose to create a world in which bad choices were possible because it was also the only world in which love was also possible since “love cannot be programmed, it must be freely expressed.” In this world “freedom is preserved in that each person makes his own free choice to determine his destiny.” John Frame dismantles this assertion by showing that the best possible situations do not in fact require the existence of the possibility of evil. The perfect love of God himself within the Trinity does not assume the choice to rebel. The new heavens and new earth will likewise be environments of perfection in which sin will not be a possibility. A second philosophical problem with this approach is that it is only a possibility.
If God can make a whole world that is imperfect and requires renovation, surely it is possible that he can determine a whole historical sequence which is imperfect in comparison with other worlds he might have made.
In other words, we don’t know that this is the best possible world since “God is free to make things that are either imperfect or perfect.” One other problem with this approach to the sovereignty/choice conundrum is that love is merely assumed to lack any kind of compulsion without a defensible exegesis from the biblical text to prove that such a requirement is in fact a contingency. It may be that love has to be initiated (making it not a completely free choice) as 1 John 4:19 suggests.
Corridor of Time Argument
A third solution, and perhaps the most common solution (often used in conjunction with “the best possible worlds” approach) is the idea that God passively looked down the corridor of time, saw those who would choose Him, and so chose them to be His elect. This solution is specifically aimed at addressing predestination by defining it in a way that allows (seemingly) for both a sovereign God and a free mankind. In His book Calvin on the Ropes, Douglas Shearer attempts to interpret Romans 8:29-30 in such a way that God is merely sovereign in the sense that He knows what is going to take place. Shearer asks his readers:
The interpretation we give to Romans 8:29-30 is radically changed when we stand foreknowledge on its own. Why should we be surprised that God can look down the corridor of time and know that Jacob will choose to ground his relationship with God in faith—Jacob’s choice, not God’s—thereby putting him in right relationship with God and transforming him from a “vessel of wrath” into a “vessel of mercy?”
While this approach may seem very attractive, it has two major problems. One is philosophical, and the other exegetical. We will start with the philosophical problem. Those who advocate for the “corridor of time” solution believe that God is sovereign in the sense that He knows the future before it has taken place. The diagram below illustrates the point.
From the vantage point of eternity (T1) it is certain that a particular event will occur (x) at a particular time (T2). Jonathan Edwards critiques this position by affirming that it is certain in advance that what takes place will take place for the simple reason that the thing that takes place (x at T2) has a previous effect (at T1) in the mind of God. To put into a simple syllogism :
The Arminian . . . not having imbued foreknowledge with the character of foreordination, will continue to believe that God’s fore-knowledge, considered as prescience, is part of his omniscience and includes all things as certain, both good and evil, contingent and necessary, without being in itself causal
In other words, the Arminian position is that foreknowledge is a passive knowledge God has concerning future events. Unfortunately, this is not how the word is defined biblically. James White asks, “What Greek lexicon gives us this as the meaning?” Romans 8:29 states:
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified
This passage is referred to as the “golden chain of redemption.” The words foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified are all:
active verb[s] in the past tense; that is, these are actions that are, from God’s perspective, finished and certain. . .The term translated foreknow is an active verb. . . When we examine the use of this word in Scripture, we discover that three times in the New Testament God is said to “foreknow.” And what is vitally important to understand is that in none of these passages does God foreknow future events. That is, the word does not refer to looking into the future and observing events. The direct object of “foreknow” when used of God is always personal. God foreknows the elect (Romans 8:29), His people (Romans 11:2), and Christ (1 Peter 1:20).
The last view to briefly examine before providing an answer to this problem is the view of Molinism. Molinists believe that God utilizes something referred to as “middle-knowledge” to enact his decree. William Lane Craig, a major proponent of middle knowledge, maintains that God knows all possible outcomes of human decisions within all possible environments, and thereby creates the environments that will ensure His plans are carried out. The same critiques leveled at the “corridor of time” approach are applicable here. In addition, molinism maintains that God only really knows the choices that men will make after they occur which opens it up to the same critiques leveled at the open-theist position. Molinism therefore, is the worst of all worlds in attempting to resolve this dilemma. It posits a God that knows the potential choices of men without knowing them in actuality till after they occur, and trying to gain the best result by shaping the environment to constrain man into obeying the will of his creator. This view also denies what Christ said about the nature of man. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries.” Man’s decisions for evil are not motivated by environmental factors.