“Ask a Priest: Can We Reconcile God’s Mercy with His Knowledge of Those Who Will Be Lost?”

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Q: In today’s Mass homily our pastor talked about our merciful Father, and during his homily a question came to my mind. God, being eternal, is also timeless and because of that he knows everything past, present and future. For example, God knows if a baby conceived in the womb will go to heaven or hell. Can you help me to reconcile that with the mercy of God? -S.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your query touches on the notion of predestination, God’s foreknowledge of our actions, and our free will. The fact that God knows in advance what we will choose does not take away our free will in choosing it. Nor does it take away from his mercy.

A few key ideas might help here.

First, God offers us sufficient grace to overcome any temptation. “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If we sin, then it’s because we have chosen to sin. God respects the freedom he gave us.

Second, God’s foreknowledge of someone’s damnation does not mean that God causes the soul to be lost. An analogy might help here: If you see someone toss a glass vase out of a third-story window, you know that the vase will shatter when it hits the street below. Your awareness, as the vase is in its free fall, that it will soon shatter does not mean that your knowledge will cause the vase to break.

Third, God’s mercy goes hand in hand with his justice. If someone rejects God, then God will not force his friendship on that person. That person, however, will face the consequences of his decision.

Fourth, it is good to remember that God doesn’t owe us anything. Every grace he gives is an act of mercy. The response he wants from us is one of love. Love presupposes free will. And free will can be abused. That abuse is how people in effect choose hell for themselves.

In God’s perfect plan we all would make it to heaven. But he respects our free will, and the result is that some people misuse it. At any rate we can still be sure of God’s mercy. I hope this helps.

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