I have heard repeatedly that the reason God doesn't use His omnipotence to prevent people from doing evil is that He wants people to freely choose not to. This doesn't make sense to me though, because it implies that He doesn't have true omnipotence, He's limited by the definition of the term "free will". I mean, if He really is omnipotent, why doesn't He just change the definition of free will so we can have free will without being able to do evil? It seems to me like the "God wanted us to have free will" argument just kicks the can, it doesn't actually answer anything. What am I missing?

  • why do you think He doesn't want us to be able to do evil? This is answered here.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/48085/… and here
    – steveowen
    Jul 11 at 23:03
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    That's more a philosophical question than anything else. Good changing the definition of something doesn't change that thing, it just changes what we call it. It seems you're asking something along the lines of "Why must free will entail our ability to choose evil?" But this is a purely philosophical question, and it's a question of how we define things. It's not a Christian question in particular. Jul 12 at 1:56

I'll answer from what I hope is a Catholic perspective. God cares a lot more about reality than about words. If He were to change the definition of "free will" and give us that newly defined sort of free will, then He could indeed say, just as He now can, "I gave you free will." But His intention is not primarily to be able to say those words; His intention is to give us the real faculty described by the old definition of "free will", regardless of what words (or perhaps no words at all) are available to name that. So, after your proposed redefinition, if God fulfills His intention in this matter, the real situation would be exactly as it is now; only the English description of it has changed. In particular, sin would still happen.

  • This is a good answer. Someone might similarly say, "Why can't God create a square circle? Why doesn't he just change the definition of 'square' and the definition of 'circle'?" You don't need to be God to change definitions. Humans can do that. What matters are the realities. A different definition refers to a different reality.
    – zippy2006
    Jul 11 at 23:06

Free will and omnipotence

The question is: "God doesn't use His omnipotence to prevent people from doing evil ... He wants people to freely choose not to ... [but] it implies that He doesn't have true omnipotence"

But is this a valid understanding of omnipotence? If you have the power, which one is harder: to force people with the threat of punishment (or deny the choice completely), or to be vulnerable and self-restrict yourself from utilizing the power you have?

Therefore, God's giving us free will is consistent with his omnipotence.

Christian speculation on why God give us free will

The standard analogy is that of a father to a child, an analogy that is valid to use, since Jesus Himself used it (cf. The Lord's prayer: "Our Father who Art in Heaven", or "How much more willing your Father who is in heaven ..." Matt 7:9-11).

Compared to a 5 year old child, we are "omnipotent", but don't we as parents want our kids to obey our commandments freely? Or would you rather have robot kids who always obey (like Dreykov who modified women to become black widows in the 2021 film)? So we train our kids from toddler to childhood, through teenage period, even to young adults. We model, we reason, we appeal, we threaten, we punish, we reward, we love, hoping that in the long run they choose good more or less consistently, not evil. In other words, we parents do moral formation through spiritual formation so the child's will is more and more conformed to how Jesus obeys his Father voluntarily.

Therefore, it makes sense to see God as restraining His omnipotence and to give us a certain type of "free will" in order to obey the commandments He put in our conscience (which is part of our human nature). Even after this "free will" is damaged by the Fall, this "free will" can be restored gradually through the grace of the Holy Spirit, part of the new life we receive when we come to faith in Jesus Christ.

  • This doesn't answer the question. Why doesn't God just change the definition of free will to not allow evil?
    – Ryan_L
    Jul 11 at 19:09
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    @Ryan_L Let's ask ourselves step by step, who created the definition? It's us ! We only have ourselves as "data". Then we try to reconstruct our designer's motivation in giving us this "Free will" that we perceive in our heart, through the discipline of philosophy. Now Christianity "chips in" in the investigation, it has its own contribution to giving us insights on how this "free will" works, and speculates on WHY God designs "free will" as it is. So my answer is the Christian contribution. Jul 11 at 19:15
  • In other words, if you have access to God directly, please ask and I want to know the answer too. But I suspect you don't have it, so we are left to speculation. But my answer's speculation is based on Biblical data, which is God's self revelation to us, revealing some of his character. So my answer is based on His character that he wouldn't use power but love. Jul 11 at 19:17
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    @Ryan_L I updated the answer. The unresolvable problem of evil though, is not between omnipotence and free will, but between the existence of evil and the triad of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and omniscience. Jul 11 at 19:28

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