Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Freedom of God
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will. Ephesians 1:11NKJV
Question 14 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How doth God execute his decrees? It gives the answer, “God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will.” Last time we examined the sovereign nature of God’s decrees, with particular respect to the election and reprobation of angels and men. We saw that God has ordained some to eternal life and glory, and some to everlasting wrath and dishonor. Those whom God has chosen for life will forever glorify His great mercy, grace, and compassion. While those He predestines to wrath will forever show forth the glory of His justice, righteousness, and hatred of evil. But all will glorify God forever and ever!
Today’s question focuses more broadly on how God brings all of His decrees to pass, not merely those decrees concerning the eternal destinies of angels and men. Our topic is: how does God accomplish His perfect plan for all things? The Catechism’s answer summarizes all of God’s work under two heads: creation and providence. The work of creation is that work that is described for us in Genesis chapter one, where God made all things from nothing, in six days, and all of it was very good. The work of providence is God’s ruling and governing all His creatures and all of their actions ever since the completion of the work of creation. Moreover, our question does not give us any details of God’s individual works of creation and providence (which comes later in the Catechism), but merely the general way in which God has created and continues to care for all things.
God executes His decrees “according to his infallible foreknowledge.” Because God is omniscient, He knows all things absolutely and nothing contingently. That is, there is nothing in God’s knowledge that is not certain. God knows with absolute certainty everything that will happen and everything that will not happen. His knowledge is “infallible.” Infallible means not able to fail. Not even in the tiniest detail for the briefest duration is God’s knowledge anything less than 100% accurate. Additionally, when the Catechism speaks of God’s foreknowledge we should not understand it as speaking of God knowing a future apart from His sovereignly ordaining and willing that future. Because God is the total power behind the sum total of all existence; including every creature’s beginning, duration, and end; there simply would and could be no future for God to foreknow apart from His intentional activity to bring about that future. That is, the universe, or any part of it, would simply blink out of existence the moment God decided to not will its continued existence.
Furthermore, in all of His work of creation and providence, there is nothing outside of God that constrained or compelled Him. God determines all that He does by the counsel of His own will, His own character. This means that no created being, to which God does not owe another moment of existence, can lay a claim on God for anything. God owes nothing to any creature. His actions are determined entirely by Himself, by who He is. “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places” (Ps. 135:6). Almost nothing is more basic to being God than to be free to do as you please. And this is what God always has: perfect freedom to accomplish all of His will. Even if we wanted to reduce God’s sovereign ordination of all things to a bare permission, such would still be the case. For if we ask regarding any event, “Did God have perfect knowledge of that event from all eternity?” The answer must be “Yes.” Then, “Did God have the power and authority to prevent it?” To which again the answer must be “Yes.” Therefore, we must conclude that if something happens it must be because in some way and for some reason God wanted that event to happen. Now what that means concerning evil deeds we will look at in a future article, but at this point, let every theist affirm that whatsoever is, is because of the (at the very least, the permissive) will of God. God freely chose to create everything that exists for His good pleasure.