A reader encouraged me to check out “Molinism,” which Wikipedia describes in this way:
Molinism, named after 16th Century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, is a religious doctrine which attempts to reconcile the providence of God with human free will. William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga are some of its best known advocates today, though other important Molinists include Alfred Freddoso and Thomas Flint. In basic terms, Molinists hold that in addition to knowing everything that does or will happen, God also knows what His creatures would freely choose if placed in any circumstance.
William Lane Craig calls Molinism “one of the most fruitful theological ideas ever conceived. For it would serve to explain not only God’s knowledge of the future, but divine providence and predestination as well”. Under it, God retains a measure of divine providence without hindering humanity’s freedom. Because God has middle knowledge, He knows what an agent would freely do in a particular situation. So, agent A, if placed in circumstance C, would freely choose option X over option Y. Thus, if God wanted to accomplish X, all God would do is, using his middle knowledge, actualize the world in which A was placed in C, and A would freely choose X. God retains an element of providence without nullifying A’s choice and God’s purpose (the actualization of X) is fulfilled.
Molinists also believe it can aid one’s understanding of salvation. Ever since Augustine and Pelagius there has been debate over the issue of salvation; more specifically how can God elect believers and believers still come to God freely? Protestants who lean more towards God’s election and sovereignty are usually Calvinists while those who lean more towards humanity’s free choice follow Arminianism. However, the Molinist can embrace both God’s sovereignty and human free choice.
Take the salvation of Agent A. God knows that if He were to place A in circumstances C, then A would freely choose to believe in Christ. So God actualizes the world where C occurs, and then A freely believes. God still retains a measure of His divine providence because He actualizes the world in which A freely chooses. But, A still retains freedom in the sense of being able to choose either option. It is important to note that Molinism does not affirm two contradictory propositions when it affirms both God’s providence and humanity’s freedom. God’s providence extends to the actualization of the world in which an agent may believe upon Christ.
Yes, this discussion of Molinism is by far the closest I have seen to my own attempts to reconcile God’s sovereignty with humanity’s free will. (To be clear, I don’t remember ever hearing of Molinism before.) Here’s an excerpt of a post I wrote back in 2012 on this:
From our perspective, it appears that we can influence the material world. For example, I can use my “mind powers” to control my right hand. We take it for granted because we can all do it, but if I could move a rock the way I can move my hand, it would be astonishing. Yes, we can trace the cause-and-effect from the muscles in my hand up to my brain, but nonetheless it sure seems like I am “freely choosing” to open and close my hand. It really looks like I control a small part of the events in the universe, and the only way a strict materialist can really deny that, is to ultimately deny that the term “I” means anything. (That’s why going down the path of materialism, leads to nihilism and drunken Facebook sessions.)
Now the tricky part: I think what happens is that God anticipated what everybody would subjectively want to do, and then designed the laws of the material universe such that it sure looks like we are controlling atoms with our thoughts, when “really” we are just watching a movie unfold before our eyes.
Here’s an analogy: Suppose that a filmmaker could perfectly anticipate where every moviegoer’s eyes would look on the screen. Then he put up each of our names on the screen, and they started moving around. In other words, when the movie started, I would see “Bob Murphy” moving around the screen at the theater, no matter where I looked on the screen. But the guy to my right would see his name up there too, and no matter where he looked on the screen, the letters of his name would perfectly track his line of sight.
If we watched this movie for 10 minutes, and there was never a hitch, we would all be absolutely convinced that we were controlling the movement of the letters. We would think the movie theater had employed some new technology, and that there were sensors in the theater that took our muscle movements as input, and then translated that into commands for the projector, so it would “know” where to shoot the letters for us to see. This, we would convince ourselves, was the only explanation for our apparent control over the letters.
But no, suppose it really were a regular movie, put onto the film months previously. The way it works is that the filmmaker somehow knew exactly who would be watching the film that day, where we’d be sitting, and exactly where we’d be looking, down to the 10th of a second, for the whole film.
A word of warning: If you go back and read my full 2012 post, note that I claim C.S. Lewis wrote, “You don’t have a soul–you are a soul. You have a body.” Apparently C.S. Lewis never said that, even though people often attribute it to him.