Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I just finished my first read of Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy.

There was a lot in there, and a lot I haven't digested or that I disagree with on first blush. The last of the five books discusses the endless debate over free will versus Divine foreknowledge. The orthodox position is to believe in both: free will and foreknowledge, and the almost equally orthodox struggle is trying to figure out how the two of them can possibly be compatible (especially as foreknowledge, in some positions (such as Calvin's, I believe) is equated with predestination).

Boethius (in the voice of Lady Philosophy) gives a very interesting and frankly compelling argument as to why Divine foreknowledge is not the same as predestination. He points out that our earthly knowledge or foreknowledge of an event doesn't mean that it is inevitable. He asks us to consider a person watching a man walking as the sun rises. Because we see both things, we know that they are happening, but the sun rising is inevitable while the man walking is not. Since God comprehends everything in the Eternal Present (Boethius argues), his foreknowledge of our actions no more compels us to act than our present knowledge of the man walking compels him to act.

I enjoyed this analogy (even if I'm not sure I agree, I still like it very much) and considered another one:

I know my best friend as well as I know anyone. I can reliably predict whether or not he'll like a book, what will make him laugh, and where he'll sit around a restaurant table. He can predict the same things about me (actually, he's rather better at it). No one on the outside looking in, however, would suggest that when we're around each other we lose our free will, no matter how good we get at predicting each other. Almost the reverse: being around someone who knows you and cares for you deeply can be remarkably freeing. I am given more choices because I trust that no matter what I do or say I will still be loved.

All respects to my best friend, the God of my faith loves and knows me infinitely more, and is also infinitely more wise. Is it too much of a stretch to conjecture that He has that much more foreknowledge of my actions, and that I am simultaneously even more freed?

1 comment:

Chester said...