Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)

Why can’t God interfere with our free will?

After all, we do it all the time.

In a previous post I demonstrated that the Molinist/Arminian view of God’s character is vulnerable to vigorous criticisms. Indeed, if Molinists/Arminians are right about how we should understand God’s character, their own theology makes him look like a monster rather than a loving father, since he could do so much to prevent evil, yet stands by idly.

But a related issue is the question of why God can’t interfere with human free will. Let’s suppose Molinists/Arminians are right, and God can’t sovereignly act directly upon our wills; he can’t override what we would otherwise do. Does it follow that God cannot curtail our freedom at all?

Consider that we interfere with other people’s free will choices all the time. And in cases involving the kinds of terrible evils which Molinists/Arminians are so eager to distance God from, we don’t do it reluctantly. Rather, we consider it morally obligatory.

For example, when police became aware that Ted Bundy was the man who was going around raping and murdering dozens of women, they didn’t pause to wonder if incarcerating him was an unethical violation of his free will choices. It was those very free will choices that they wished to prevent him making—and rightly so. When people commit serious sins against other people, we recognize that we have an obligation, a moral duty, to prevent them from freely choosing to do so again. Indeed, if we could have prevented them from making that free will choice in the first place, we should have.

Why is God immune to these kinds of ethical concerns, under Molinism/Arminianism?

Why does God not physically prevent people from committing terrible crimes in the way any loving human father would? Or why does he not send angels to defend the victims of people like Ted Bundy and Joseph Kony? Doesn’t he love them?

How should we answer this question?

I’m not trying to suggest, as a Facebook friend put it, that “all theologies are equally bad”.

I agree that God could prevent evil, yet I don’t think he is complicit. In fact, I believe God brings about these terrible evils, and yet is not complicit.

I’m not trying to show that God should act to stop evil. I’m not working from some pie-in-the-sky idealized intuition about how God would act. Rather, I’m working from how God does act to assess the governing intuition behind Molinism/Arminianism—namely, that God cannot cause evil without committing evil. As I’ve shown, this intuition comes back to bite them, because he must equally be evil to permit evil. But since he does permit evil, we can infer very easily that their intuition is plain wrong.

So what I’m showing is not that God is a monster, but rather that we shouldn’t rely on our intuitions to prejudge what would do, or what Scripture can say. Rather, we should look at what he has done, and what Scripture does say, and work from there.


  1. Cary

    Great article! Doesn’t the concept of Heaven undermine the Arminian viewpoint of libertarian free will? There won’t and can’t be any sin in Heaven and yet we will be free in Heaven. Arminians would have to admit that we continue to have libertarian free will in heaven. If that’s the case, then it would indeed have been possible for God to create human being right from the beginning who did not sin and only chose God.

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Cary, I think you’re probably right, but the Arminian can defuse this objection by pointing to some fairly plausible considerations. For instance, in heaven we will be in the very presence of God, without any kind of “epistemic distance”. Even Adam was “distanced” from God compared to what we will experience in heaven, and it is reasonable to think that someone with that kind of consistent experience of God could never desire evil. Therefore, one could still be libertarianly free and remain sinless. We also have to consider the kind of nature that we have now, compared to what we will have in heaven; Paul speaks of us being a “new creation”, but being in bondage to the flesh. Once that flesh is put off, presumably we will have a very different attitude, being in bondage to righteousness without the flesh interfering. Now, I think it’s actually incoherent to speak of being a new creation under Arminianism, because regeneration (being born again) is not actually a complete and irreversible changing of our nature as it is under Calvinism. But that is the sort of argument Arminians might nonetheless muster, so to defuse it you’d have to show the inconsistencies with other points of their theology, rather than with free will per se.

    Basically, while heaven may pose a problem for Arminians, I think there are much better lines of argument we can use to demonstrate how badly their view of freedom clashes with biblical theology.

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