A: “If God gave man free will, how can everything be part of God’s plan?
B: “If everything is part of God’s plan, how can we have free will?”
These questions were raised by my cousin’s friend. Although I didn’t know how he (my cousin’s friend) understood “God’s plan” and “free will/freedom,” nevertheless, for the sake of this blog, we can somehow lay out its common understanding.
When questions like these are being raised, it is important to understand what it says and what it doesn’t say but already assumed. For example, the two questions recognize that we have free will. It also say that everything is part of God’s plan. But what it doesn’t say but already assumed is that man’s freedom is absolute. Given those, the conclusion then is assumed: God’s plan and man’s free will or freedom are incompatible.
Fair enough. But we have three things to consider here. So let’s take it one by one.
Do we have free will?
Of course! Whether you’ll continue reading this blog is all about your choice. However, you still have the freedom to close this page. But we’re not done here yet.
Now, let’s go to the second one.
Is everything part of God’s plan?
The answer is no. There’s so much evil in the world. There are people getting murdered, exploited and raped. Bad guys exist. Satan and demons exist (c.f., 1 Pet. 5:8; Matt. 12:12; Mk. 9:38; Lk. 11:14; 1 Cor. 10:20; Jam. 2:19). Creatures by their own free will have the ability perform evil acts. Bottom line, God is not the one responsible for the evil things in this world. His free creatures are. Sin is not God’s fault. It’s ours.
Now, does that mean that God’s plan is imperfect? Of course not. That doesn’t follow. For the only way to prevent evil is not to create creatures with free will, but to create mere puppets! But God knows that puppets don’t have freedom. God knows that without freedom, there is no love. Since love requires freedom. Since love is not enforced. And God knows that a world with free creatures that have the capability to love, is better than a world with mere puppets. Therefore, being a good and generous God, he “will seek to give us great responsibility for ourselves, each other, and the world, and thus a share in his own creative activity of determining what sort of world it is to be.” However, “God cannot give us these goods in full measure without allowing much evil on the way.”
But what his plan was: to create creatures that are free to love and enjoy him for eternity (even though some would freely reject him). This, of course, is evident in the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV). And that’s a perfect plan, given the creatures.
Finally, let’s go to the last one.
Is man’s freedom absolute?
To say that man’s freedom is absolute is to mean something like this: I can do whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want. Unfortunately, that is an inadequate understanding of freedom. Freedom is not absolute. It will never be. We cannot do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want. That’s not freedom. That’s anarchy.
Freedom cannot exist without boundaries. Freedom only makes sense with boundaries. To ask differently, can we really freely play basketball without rules and regulations? Of course not. The same way that we don’t have the freedom to change our parents or our birthplace. Or as what Augustine (354-430 A.D.) said, “We are not free with respect to anything that we do not have in our power.” In short, freedom by definition is limited. If it’s absolute, it’s not freedom.
We have shown that everything is not part of God’s plan. In short, the two questions were wrong. We have also shown that freedom is not absolute but limited. And all these prove is that – there’s no incompatibility with God’s plan and man’s freedom.
 Richard Swinburne, Is There a God? (Oxford University Press, 2010), 51.
 See Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (2010).