Determinism and the Nature of God

Often technical terminology can be headache-inducing, so I usually try to avoid it. But philosophical terms can be helpful if they encapsulate something profound and meaningful that relates to our lives and our understanding of reality. I believe that determinism is one such term which can provoke us to think deeply about the relationship between God and creation.

In this article I will offer some brief and simple definitions of a few different types of determinism, and hopefully they will help you to assess where you stand on the issue.

Scientific Determinism

This is the idea that events unfold in accordance with strict scientific laws, and that one event leads to another. Every event occurs due to a series of causes that preceded it. Many physicists believe that every event we experience can be traced back to a causal chain set in motion with the ‘Big Bang’, when time itself came into existence. There is no free will in this view; only cause and effect.

Theological Determinism

This is the idea that God has predestined all events to occur and that He has been responsible for every event throughout the course of history. The idea is similar to scientific determinism, except that here God is the originating cause of all events, rather than chance or purely physical processes. There are two main types of theological determinism:

Hard Determinism

People who take this position believe that God’s omniscience is not compatible with human free will. God is the cause of all events, so there is no room for free will.

Soft Determinism

In this view determinism is compatible with a specific meaning of freedom, which is that one’s behaviour is caused not only by prior events, but also acts of the will such as choices, decisions and desires.

What are we to make of all this?

I believe the most important consideration here is one that is often overlooked in theological discussions surrounding determinism, which is the nature of God. Here are a few important questions that I invite you to consider:

Did God set the universe in motion and then sit back and watch it unfold at a distance, only intervening at certain times? Or is God an omnipresent being, pervading all of creation and affecting change wherever it occurs in the single eternal moment? Is God distant or involved? Is God boundless or somehow embodied? Is God limited in any way?

Of course, for many scientific determinists, these questions about God won’t even arise, for they see no ‘evidence’ that God exists. But for the theists among us, what we understand about the nature of God will lead us to our conclusions concerning which type of determinism, if any, we embrace.

What are your thoughts on determinism? Feel free to leave a comment below. If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing and/or subscribing. Thank you for reading!


  1. Hi Steven. Good job in taking a topic which could take thousands of words to communicate, and whittling it to this “bite size” morsel. Regarding the questions to consider, I would add a third one which falls between one and two. Obviously number one is out of the question; and number two is the opposite extreme. That in-between question, according to your post, would fall in line with “Soft Determinism.” (Does this make sense to you?)

    You’re doing a nice job with these, Steven; keep them coming!

    1. Hi David! Many thanks for reading and for your encouraging comment.

      If I’m understanding you correctly, then yes, soft determinism offers the idea that God’s sovereignty and free will are compatible (which is also known as compatibilism). I think this is what you mean by an in-between position. I must admit when I was doing research for this article, I was a little confused by the fact that certain articles were saying that in the case of soft determinism all our actions are still ‘determined’, only by personal factors such as circumstance, desires, drives, etc, rather than by God. If that is the case then free will is restricted even in the soft-determinism position, but just in a different way.

      On the other hand there is also libertarian free will, where a greater amount of freedom is attributed to human beings, so much so that this position is not compatible with determinism. Perhaps I will write a post on different types of free will to complement this post, that could be helpful!

  2. You have a talent for condensing large ideas in a clear manner–something I struggle with (leading to long-winded posts!). Based on the bible, I believe that God creates all things for his purposes, that all things are upheld by God, and that our salvation completely hinges on God who is the author and finisher of our faith. However, God is also veiled from our immediate view (apart from forging a personal relationship with Jesus), therefore, from our perspective we live according to free will. As far as I can tell, it’s a matter of perspective, so I believe that there is both room for a free will perspective and understanding that God determines all things–if that makes sense.

    1. Hi Amanda!

      Great comment and thank you such much for sharing your considered thoughts. I like your use of the term ‘free will perspective’, which is something that I agree we do have. I often describe this as a ‘mode of mind’, but I do believe any sense of free will we have is still ultimately under God’s control.

      I like to use a puppet show analogy – puppets have their own characters, so much so that anyone watching the show could forget there is a puppet master behind all their actions. But when we look at the bigger picture, we see that the puppeteer is perfectly in control.

      I realise that many Christians don’t like this analogy, because they are convinced of our free will, but the analogy at least captures something of what I believe.

      Thanks again and God bless!

      1. I think we agree. I think the puppet analogy is good, but the only issue I take with it is one might forget that God is raising us up as sons who will have purpose and identity that we do not yet fully know, so though God is in control, we are individuals. I think for some, the puppet idea might make one think that there is no purpose to what we do. I don’t think that is what you are saying, I’m just pointing this out in case someone might misunderstand. Thanks again for your thought-provoking posts!

        1. Hey Amanda,

          We are still individuals, in my view, and our lives are very valuable and purposeful, it’s just that the purpose for which we live is God’s and not our own.

          But there’s no doubt that a lack of literal free will causes problems in terms of many key Christian doctrines (the fall, sin, salvation, judgment, etc), which is why I feel many Christians don’t feel comfortable with the puppet show analogy and will hang on to the notion of free will at all costs, even if it means embracing compatibilist ideas that in my view are illogical.

          We could go into details and discuss this in depth, but I have done so elsewhere on this blog (for instance in my An Almighty Predicament essay or in my post entitled God’s Grand Game). No doubt you have covered various aspects of this subject on Kindling Truth as well.

          Thank you so much for your input!


  3. Steven, What a wonderful and thought-provoking post. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity you have afforded me to examine this issue in my own heart. I pray that many others will be blessed by your excellent work.

  4. I have to be the simpleton in the group because until I started reading blogs, I truly knew none of these things existed. I thought you believed in God or you didn’t. I had no idea that things such as “Determinism” even existed, much less different kinds. No wonder there is so much confusion, and and arguments about religion, and God. Thanks for teaching me a new word, Steven :):) God bless you :):)

  5. Interesting 🤔 I believe in more of a “soft” determinism. God is aware of the past, present, and future but I don’t believe He orchestrates it all. For instance, I don’t believe He is behind any evil act but I do believe that nothing surprises Him and that He works through our circumstances to bring about His glory. I also believe in free will. Without free will why live this life on earth? What does it matter what we do if it’s all predetermined and beyond our control? It is my belief that God never wanted robots, He wanted friends. Just as we want friends who choose us on their own, who sacrifice because they value us. So God is all-knowing and aware of what we will do, but He has given us the ability to choose Him. Thanks for the post, your blog is always thought provoking 👍

  6. You should consider writing a blog post on the differences between compatibilist and libertarian understandings of free will. Your concise writing style would probably help a lot of people get their head around the two different understandings of free will; plus, free will directly relates to determinism.

    1. Hi Nicholas! Thank you, and believe it or not I have been working on a post on different understandings of free will today. I will probably publish it next Thursday. Thank you for the suggestion! God bless you and keep up the great work with your blog 🙂

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