Playing the Cards God’s Been Dealt



(The FreeThinking Theist)


January 29, 2018


Dear Tim,

William Lane Craig suggests that God “has to play with the cards he’s dealt.” Tim, do you agree with that sentiment? If so, doesn’t that imply that there’s a “dealer” dealing God the cards which He must work with?


Tim’s Response

It amazes me how a single off-hand remark can be made and Calvinists take it out of context, and run with it as their foundational attack against Molinism! What is really sad is that many of these folks do not even try to understand the proper context in which Craig’s comment was made, or what exactly was meant by his comment. For those claiming to know how to interpret Scripture properly, this is a horrible example of hermeneutics (arriving at the correct meaning in context).

William Lane Craig is using a façon de parler (figure of speech) that many Calvinists or “anti-Molinists” incorrectly take literally. Dr. Craig is not implying that there is a literal “cosmic card dealer” who God is waiting for to issue Him a cosmic hand of playing cards. In a podcast entitled, “Is Molinism Biblical?, Craig clarified his remark:

The import of this metaphor of playing the hand you’ve been dealt is to say that God doesn’t determine unilaterally everything that happens, that there are truths about how people would freely choose under different situations. The image here is of a deck of cards in which different counterfactuals are on these cards, and God has a hand of the cards that are the true counterfactuals of freedom. This is contingent because different counterfactuals of freedom could have been different. Creatures could choose differently in the same circumstances. They are not unilaterally determined by God. Were they to choose differently in these different circumstances then God would be holding a different set of cards. So God now plays with the cards that he’s been dealt. *But in no way is this meant to imply that there are actual entities or things outside of God that he has to deal with.* This is simply an illustration of the fact that the truth value of these counterfactuals of freedom is not unilaterally determined by God, that libertarian freedom is truly possible.

Allow me to attempt to bring these cookies down to a lower shelf: What Craig means is that if God were to create creatures whom He would not always causally determine — which would be logically possible for an omnipotent God to do — then these non-determined and libertarian free creatures would make some choices that God would not causally determine. Thus, these choices would be free in a libertarian sense.

There is no logical contradiction found in the proposition, “God has the power to create creatures who are libertarianly free to think, choose, and act.” Thus, if one claims that God cannot create libertarian free creatures, then he or she implicitly rejects the omnipotence of God.

Now, for the sake of argument, even if humans do not possess libertarian free will (LFW) in this world, it is at least possible for God to create worlds where creatures do possess LFW and can freely choose one way or another. With this in mind, free creatures — even if they were not actually created — would be free to choose one way or another. If God really is omniscient and knows the truth-value to all propositions eternally (without beginning), then God knows how these free creatures — if they were to be created — would freely choose. (I have argued that God would want to create beings with LFW so that they could be in a true love relationship with Him.)

The Cards of Calvinism 

I have offered a tu quoque objection against Calvinists who insist that this “card-dealer” view is heretical. That is to say, I have previously demonstrated that Calvinism has some “card dealing problems” of its own (See The Petals Drop: Piper’s Problems).

This is the case as many Calvinists (like John Piper) affirm that God does desire the salvation of all people as the Bible makes clear, but not really! Not when you consider the philosophy of God’s “competing desires!”[1] This raises the question: What in the world does it mean to state that God has competing desires?

As a limited, weak, and finite human, I know what it means to have “competing desires.” I desire to have six-pack abs. I also desire to eat pizza every day. The desire to stay physically fit is greater than my desire to eat pizza on a daily basis; therefore, I freely choose not to eat pizza often (although it is logically possible for me to eat pizza every day). If I had the power to eat pizza every day and simultaneously have six-pack abs, you had better believe I would be freely choosing to eat pizza constantly! Since I am not omnipotent I do not possess this power because there are restrictions and limitations external to me that do not allow me to have both of my competing desires. That is to say, I cannot eat pizza every day and have six pack abs (even though I want both). This is because pizza is high in calories, carbs, and fat, and my metabolism is slowing with age. These things are not up to me; therefore, after rational deliberation I choose fitness over my desire to eat pizza every day. After rational deliberation (which requires LFW), these factors have a major influence regarding my dietary decisions.

With this in mind, now consider God and His so-called “competing desires.” 1 Timothy 2:4 clearly states God “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” This seems to be in concurrence with the famous passage of John 3:16, “that God so-loved the WORLD,” and that “WHOEVER believes…” Moreover, 1 Timothy 2:4 is in harmony with 2 Peter 3:9 which states that God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” and also with the pronouncement that “Christ died for all,” made in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. According to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “Salvation has been provided for all, but only those who accept it are saved.”[2]

If we are to take these scriptures seriously we must affirm that it is, in fact, God’s desire for universal salvation. Not only is this Biblically obvious, but when simply thinking logically about a Maximally Great Being, this would be the intuitively obvious conclusion to reach as well (See The Omnibenevolence of God). A maximally loving being would legitimately desire all people to flourish[3] and avoid eternal hell (which makes Hitler’s Holocaust look like a picnic)!

Since most Christians (including Calvinists) would affirm that at least one person will experience eternal hell, we are left scratching our heads as to why God’s desire for universal salvation is not achieved. The Molinist answers because of human libertarian free will (which also allows true love, morality, and rationality to be attained), but the Calvinist responds to this problem by stating God has a greater desire than His desire for universal salvation. What is this greater competing desire? His own glory! The Calvinist contends that indeed, God does have a “mini” desire for universal salvation, but it is dwarfed by His greater desire for His own glory.

According to (at least some) Calvinists, God is glorified by sending people to suffer the horrors of eternal hell for so-called “choices” they could not make; “choices” they were powerless to make! They also contend that God is glorified by saving some to avoid hell and experience paradise for eternity. God’s competing desires are his glory and universal salvation, God wants both but he cannot have His cake and eat it too, so one desire must give way to the other. Thus, this seems to be something that is not up to God or determined by God — just as if God were to create free creatures, then their free choices would not be up to God either. Thus, it seems that the Calvinist is left contending that, “God must play the cards He’s been dealt!”[4] If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander!


It is vital to ask oneself two questions: 1- Is God powerful enough to create free creatures who can (so-to-speak) “freely deal some cards?” Unless one can demonstrate some hidden logical contradiction, if they deny this then they deny God’s omnipotence! 2- If God is powerful enough to create free creatures, is He intelligent enough to know how these free creatures would freely choose (“what cards they would freely deal”) if God creates them? Again, there is no logical contradiction in stating “God knows the truth-value to counterfactual propositions.” It might be a mystery as to HOW God knows these things, but it is also a mystery as to HOW God created the universe from nothing (See The Grounding Objection Against The Maximally Great God and Dangerous Grounds). We know God is omnipotent, and thus can create the universe from nothing; we know God is omniscient, and therefore knows the truth value to all propositions — including counterfactual propositions!

Bottom Line: Calvinists need to drop their petty attacks against William Lane Craig and Molinism based on taking one off-handed remark out of context. Please be charitable and make a sincere attempt to properly understand what is meant when one offers a metaphor in order to make a hard subject easier to understand for the lay person.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton


[1] John Piper:

[2] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1981, P. 358

[3] Jerry Walls, Why No Classical Theist, Let alone Orthodox Christian, should ever be a Compatibilist, Philosophia Christi, Volume 13, No 1,

[4] James White often quotes William Lane Craig out of context in this regard (click here). Craig means that if an omnipotent God used His power to create beings with libertarian freedom, then God could not do the logically impossible by forcing people to freely love Him. An omniscient God also possesses perfect knowledge of how all of the free creatures (who are within God’s power to create) would freely choose logically prior to God’s act of creation — or if God never created at all. To deny this is to reject either God’s omnipotence or His omniscience (or both).


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About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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