Mount Ranier in the background
Snow capped peaks in the Olympic Mountains
Sea Shore on West Coast of Vancouver Island
Olympic Mountains at Sunset
Deer by small lake in Olympic Mountains
Small alpine lake in the Olympic Mountains
Near the small town of Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada
Olympic Mountains with fresh snow
Olympic Mountains in the early summer
Shoreline near Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada
Snow capped peaks in the Olympic Mountains

Should God have limited Free Will?

Arminians claim that the reason why all are not saved is that God wills to preserve the free will of man more than he wills to save everyone. But is this not making a distinction in two aspects of the will of God? On the one hand God wills that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:5-6; 2 Peter 3:9). But on the other had he wills to preserve man’s absolutely free choice. In fact, he wills the second thing more than the first.1 — Dr. Wayne Grudem

The objection above takes what is so precious to the heart of any Christian who believes in the infinite love of God, and uses it against one who believe in the free choice of the human will. Essentially, Professor Wayne Grudem asks, "Wouldn’t it have been better for God to have limited human free will, so more people would be eternally blessed?" In other words, God seems to have cherished free will more than He cherished the salvation of millions of souls who will be lost. It seems to be a potent argument against the free choice of the will.

Free will is rational choice

However, we need to ask ourselves just what is entailed in limiting the free choice of the human will. The human will is free because the human mind is a rational mind. By contrast, the will of brute animals is not free because they lack rational capabilities. Their wills are under the control of their instinctive natures. John of Damascus in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith affirms the connection between free will and rationality.

We hold, therefore, that free-will comes on the scene at the same moment as reason .... And if this is so, free-will must necessarily be very closely related to reason. For either man is an irrational being, or, if he is rational, he is master of his acts and endowed with free-will. Hence, also creatures without reason do not enjoy free-will: for nature leads them rather than they nature, and so they do not oppose the natural appetite, but as soon as their appetite longs after anything they rush headlong after it. But man, being rational, leads nature rather than nature him, and so when he desires aught he has the power to curb his appetite or to indulge as he pleases. Hence also creatures devoid of reason are the subjects neither of praise nor blame, while man is the subject of both praise and blame.2


There are millions of animals whose wills are limited with respect to their freedom. And, it is true that none of these creatures will be in hell. All of these creatures obey God instinctively. They have wills, but they don't have free wills. So, in a very real sense, it was possible for God to create a world with limited free will where no one would be punished. If God had chosen this option, it would have answered the objection, "Why didn't God limit free will, so no one would go to hell?" However, if there were to be rational creatures, such as angels and humans, then there would have to be creatures who could make mental choices. And, a mental or intellectual choice is, by definition, a free-willed choice.


King Nebuchadnezzar is an example of a person whose free will was limited for a period of time. The account is given in the book of Daniel Chapter four. Nebuchadnezzar’s reason was taken away and, as a consequent, he lost his free will. He became like a wild animal, growing bird-like claws, long hair like eagle’s feathers, and eating grass.

"Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagles' {feathers} and his nails like birds' {claws}

"But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom {endures} from generation to generation. Daniel 4:33-34 (NAS)

Like all animals, he did not have the intellectual capacity to reason; and, so he lost his ability to make a free-willed choice. He is a perfect example of the kind of human creature that would result, if human beings lost their free will. He would have been at home with Australopithecus. The insane and idiots have diminished mental capacity which causes them to have very limited free will capacity. God could have created all human beings as idiots with limited free will, but it’s doubtful they would survive the rigors of the natural environment.


St. Augustine responded centuries ago to the theologian's objection. Most of God’s good gifts can be used for evil purposes. For example, our hands are wonderful gifts from our Creator. Should God have created human beings without hands, because they can commit crimes with their hands? Should God have created human beings blind, because they lust after things they see? Should God have made humans without reason, so they could not make reasoned choices? Augustine thought that it was best to praise God for his goodness and condemn those who make evil use of his blessings. Augustine wrote, in Latin of course,

You said you thought that free choice of the will ought not to have been given because through it man sins. To this opinion I replied that no righteous act could be performed except by free choice of the will, and I asserted that God gave it for this reason. ...

If, therefore, we find among the goods of the body some that a man can use wrongly, but that we cannot say ought not to have been given to man, since we have agreed that they are goods, why should we wonder if there are in the spirit certain goods, of which we can make wrong use, but which, because they are goods, could not have been given by anyone but Him from whom all good things proceed?

Indeed, you see how great a good is wanting to any body that has no hands; yet he who works cruel or shameful deeds with his hands uses them for evil. Should you see someone without feet, you would acknowledge what an important good was lacking to make his body complete. Yet you would not deny that the man who made evil use of his feet, either for injuring another or for dishonoring himself, was using his feet wrongfully.


Just as you approve those goods of the body and, disregarding the people who make evil use of them, you praise Him who gave them, so you should admit that free will, without which no one can live rightly, is good and divinely given; and you should grant that those who make evil use of free will ought to be condemned, rather than saying that He who gave it ought not to have given it.3

If God had created human beings without free will, no human would have ever known the love of God or wondered at His wisdom, majesty, and glory. This is true of all the animals that lack free will. So, it is not granted that limitations on free will would increase the numbers in glory.  Just the opposite might well be the case.

1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1994), pp. 683-684.

2 John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, In: A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol IX, St. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1989, p. 40.

3 Saint Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, NY, 1964, Book II, Chap. XVIII, p. 78-79.