Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Gersonides & Ecclesiastes on Free Will vs. Godly Omniscience: A Short Essay

I recall Gersonides, Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (1288-1344). He resolved the paradox between human free will and God's omniscience by stating that God knows generalities, not particulars. For example, I will go to teach college English during the week. God knows, and my income and profession require, that I wear chinos, long-sleeved dress shirt, and tie to my job.

But God does not know whether I will go with the blue ensemble, the tan/brown, the grey, the black, or some blend of the several. Hence, He has omniscience (to a degree), while I have free will (regarding the details).
Kohelet/Ecclesiastes, whom we read this weekend, adds a further element: that of Chance, Fate, Kismet, or the Universe. Will I arrive safely? Will another person's free will override mine? What about weather conditions, mechanical failure, floods, fire, or famine? The element of Happenstance adds a further layer of insecurity to my human existence, the fate of humanity, and the survival of both our planet and the universe.

There is a risk in existence, in Life, but I would not trade it for any alternative. "O LIfe, I cannot hold thee close enough!" sang Edna St. Vincent Millay.

She was right.