If you are a Christian, how many times have you heard that, “God has a plan for us all”? Or perhaps if something you desired didn’t turn out the way you want, “…I guess it was just not in His plan”. Maybe you’ve heard that, “we must trust His plan”, or the non-religious version, “there’s a reason for everything.” These phrases and derivatives of these phrases float about in the Christian world all the time. Simply hang out after a church service and you are likely to hear several forms of them.
For me however, I have always had difficulty accepting this line of thought. If God gave us free will and also has an individual plan for us, how are we suppose to know which one of our free willed choices (in any certain scenario) is following His plan ? Can we screw up His plan by making incorrect choices? If we are simply following His script, do we really have any free will at all? Furthermore, one reason why I hate this thought, is how offensive it sounds in the wake of tragedy. Was 9-11 part of God’s script? If you suddenly lost a loved one in an accident, would you be comforted in knowing that it was part of His plan? Or what if you made a terrible mistake of driving while drunk and killed somebody? I don’t think anyone wants to believe that killing somebody would be part of their creator’s plan for their life. And chances are that you’d actually probably be pretty pissed off at God too. (Why me, God?!) Not to mention I find it difficult for such a loving and merciful God to create a plan in which people are tragically killed for the sole purpose of carrying out said plan.
So – How does one still believe in the Truth of God, while rejecting that we are all on a pre-destined script, ala Calvinism. Enter: Molinism. I first heard of Molinism in my History of Economic Thought class. Molinism was created by Luis de Molina – a theologian/economist that lived in the 1500s. Funny enough, many early economists were also deeply religious and wrote religious books (including Adam Smith, the “father of economics”). Molinism provides a solution that allows for God’s sovereignty while also allowing for human beings to have self-determined freedom. In a very basic sense, God knows how you would react in any given circumstance. To further break it down, there are three variations in God’s knowledge. I have quoted theopedia.com below, but just Google Molinism, and you’ll get basically the same thing.
“The most famous distinctive in Molinism is its affirmation that God has middle knowledge (scienta media). Molinism holds that Gods knowledge consists of three logical moments. These moments of knowledge are not to be thought of as chronological; rather they are to be understood as logical. In other words, one moment does not come before another moment in time, rather one moment is logically prior to the other moments. The Molinist differentiates between three different moments of knowledge which are respectively called natural knowledge, middle knowledge and free knowledge.”
- Natural Knowledge This is Gods knowledge of all necessary and all possible truths. In this moment God knows every possible combination of causes and effects. He also knows all the truths of logic and all moral truths.
- Middle Knowledge This is Gods knowledge of what any free creature would do in any given circumstance, also known as counterfactual knowledge. It is also sometimes stated as God’s knowledge of the truth of subjunctive conditionals.
- Free Knowledge This is Gods knowledge of what He freely decided to create. Gods free knowledge is His knowledge of the actual world as it is.
God knows how his creatures would react if placed in any circumstance. Think of this as potential “If….then” statements. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 11:23, “And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today. (NLT)” This is in line with God’s Middle Knowledge – Jesus is says that if he had performed miracles in Sodom, they would have repented.
A slight derivative of Molinism (and this is how it was explained to me in economics) is that instead of God knowing exactly how one would react in a given situation, is that God knows the probability of how would would react given the choices present. Given a certain situation, God knows that there is a certain chance you would choose option ‘A’ and a certain chance you would choose option ‘B’. This would be as if all your life actions were laid out on a probability tree. I like the idea of the probability tree the most. Because God is timeless, He still knows the ultimate outcome of every situation, but it seems to line up with how humans with freedom make choices everyday. Given any situation, there are certain probabilities that we choose one path or another. I also think the probabilities line up with how Jesus talks about prayer and faith. Jesus talks a lot about being consistent with prayer (Luke 11:5-13, Luke 18:1-8). I like to think prayer actually makes a difference. If we believe that Molinism is true – praying, but more importantly – being consistent with prayer could increase/decrease the probabilities of what path you go down. Now I cannot think of any scripture where Jesus talks explicitly about probabilities to cite them, however Molinism can be cited in many other verses other than Matthew 11:23 I listed above, and Molinism has the backing of William Lane Craig. I think prayer, free will, and pre-destination are one of the most interesting topics in Christianity. I have a hard time with pre-destination/Calvinism, and Molinism seems to provide a lot of good answers and not create many problems.