Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #34 – If Krishna Knows What We Will Do in the Future, Does That Mean We Don’t Have Free Will?

August 23rd, 2021

Questions like this are challenging, for a theist naturally believes both in God and our free will to choose God. The problem is that if God knows past, present, and future then what we choose in the future is already known. But, if our choices are known, and thus apparently predetermined, then how do we have the free will to choose? To me the question comes in a certain genre of inquiries that to answer require an understanding that God has inconceivable potency and is therefore not restricted by the binary choices in this world governed by His own laws. That fundamental principle rests at the foundation of Upanishadic philosophy:

 

“The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away, but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.” (Iso. 2)

 

I thought of a simple example to demonstrate that the metaphysical realm operates under a will that is beyond set laws, one that we can’t logically quantify. Let’s look at the origin of reality. There are basically two choices: either reality began at a particular time, and there was nothing before that, or reality has no beginning. Do we have the capacity to conceive that no matter how far back we go, reality can always go further back ad infinitum, or that there was nothing and then there was something? Of course, theists believe that reality, or God, has no beginning, but the point here is that one way or another the ultimate reality must be inconceivable, because the mutually exclusive alternatives of its origins are both beyond our experience of how things operate under the physical laws of this world.

 

Another puzzling feature of the ultimate reality that is relevant to our inquiry is that it is not subject to the authority of time. Of course, that is inconceivable to us in a world where time is absolute. But if the ultimate reality, or God, is subjected to time, then He is no longer absolute. In other words, if you believe in God, time is relative.

 

Now, based on our preliminary discussion, let’s tackle our original inquiry—“If Krishna knows what we will do in the future, does that mean we don’t have free will?” If we bear in mind our discussion above, then the root of the quandary created by the seeming contradiction between an omniscient God and free will is a problem we created ourselves by the false assumption that God must function under the same laws that rule this world. In other words, it is reasonable to assume that God, having inconceivable powers and being beyond time, can know everything, even the future, and still allow the living being to have full choice. If we deny that possibility, then we are embracing the untenable position that God lacks inconceivable potency.

 

I like how Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura dealt with a similar type of inquiry as we are discussing here, but in relation to the oft asked question concerning the origin of the conditioned soul in this world. He questioned the validity of even answering a question of “when” when it refers to an “event” that ultimately cannot be traced in mundane time by replying, “You can’t understand such things by the dirt of words.”[1]

 

Of course, words have meaning. This itself is hopefully a reasonable discussion through words, but if we are talking about quantifying the ultimately reality through words when it comes to expressing how transcendence intersects with the mundane, they will certainly fall short, as they will when we try to logically conceive how God knows the future and grants us free will at the same time.

 

 

Can God do everything? Yes. Then can he make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it? Yes, and then he will lift it. (A classic theistic answer to the Omnipotence Paradox that Śrīla Prabhupāda also used when confronted with this very same question.)

 

 

 


[1] I couldn’t find the exact reference in Jaiva Dharma. If anyone does find it, please send it to me. If any correction is needed, I will make it. I did find a statement similar in Chapter fifteen and will share a short excerpt here: “Our words always have some māyika defects. My dear son, you should always endeavor to realize the pure truths. Logic and arguments cannot help at all in this regard, so it is futile to use them to try to understand inconceivable subject matters. (Jaiva Dharma, Chapter 15)

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