Did God Foresee This: How Can a Holy God Allow Evil?
So to pray on in the face of outrageous suffering, it seems to me, is at heart a choice of courage and hope, even if the prayers sound like blasphemies to observers.
So we shout, “No, no—I will not reject God! But no, no, no—neither will I deny my questions either! No, I will not cave in to despair, but no, neither will I be pacified with unsatisfying answers or superficial comfort. No!”— Brian D. McLaren
This is part II of a challenging topic, where we look to unravel the seeming paradox of an Almighty Holy God and the existence and prevalence of "evil".
In Part One, I presented two considerations
By way of an analogy consider the following scenario:
A soldier is shot and begs his comrade morphine to relieve the pain. His companion declines. In the face of this inaction, and in unremitting agony, the soldier shouts abuse at his companion, who, fully present and aware of the soldiers suffering, continues to withhold relief.
At this point we might feel justified in judging the companion as cruelly uncaring. After all, it is within his power to help and, if he truly cared, he would do as the soldier asked, surely. However, we would be making such a judgement based upon our limited perception of the situation; i.e. we don't know what the companion knows.
You see the companion is a medic. As such he knows that the very pain agonising the soldier, also keeps him alive. If not for the pain, the horrific extent of the soldiers injuries would have him slipping into an unconscious coma of unlikely return.
Of course, as with all analogies, this one has a scope beyond which it begins to fall apart. The point being that God knows what we don't, and what may seem cruelly unnecessary to us has good reason to God; or, at the very least, is acceptable or necessary or unavoidable from his viewpoint (which, as points of view go, stands unmatched in its authority).
"...the critic of religion, scornful of any and every kind of theodicy, must be forced to face the question of the validity of making any kind of moral judgements on the basis of an atheistic world-view. Perhaps, as the critic faces this issue, he may begin to see that the problem of morality for atheism may well be a greater problem than the problem of evil for religion."— Charles Cameron
What are Your Thoughts
Do you believe
The real question, however, is not the problem posed in the existence of those 'evils' as defined by man; for men assign evil to much that God as likely wouldn't. However, what of that which is evil in God eyes? Why does he allow it to blight his creation, or to exist at all for that matter?
A good question. However, in asking it we will bring into quandary our very existence; why did God create us? For that which God identifies as evil (at least in Christian theology), is the very thing we are guilty of choosing to commit...
And there is the conundrum. For evil was not the result of God's choice to create, but of his creations choice to rebel. Therefore, though not His invention, it remains an impossibility without him, for it is His antithesis; and freewill the crossroads by which we decide to trust & obey the one or the other.
Yes, here we get to that amazing topic of free will (admit it, most of you knew I was going to raise this).
It's an odd concept, a creator offended by their creation; after all, why create something if you know it will offend you? Although most parents may relate to this :)
Man faces the problem of evil existentially and practically, since man is evil. The problem of evil is a thoroughly existential problem which confronts man at the very centre of his being. The problem of evil confronts man by the very fact of who he is - man the sinner— Charles M. Cameron [A Biblical Approach to Theodicy - 1992]
Is it fair to give a creature free will and then punish the creature for not surrendering that will to you?
Such questions suggest an incomprehension of God's sovereignty
God is the supreme authority. He is not subject to any person, power or law which could be conceived as superior to or other than Himself.
Often, it seems, God, or his decisions, are put on trial by men. Yet what could be more ludicrous; the Absolutely Sovereign, all-powerful Creator, having his authority questioned by those whom, in their own words, are "insignificant specks" in the immense breadth of the natural universe.
To argue from the existence of evil to the non-existence of God, assumes the existence of an absolute moral law. But if there is such a law, there must be such a God, since only He could give us such a law. And if there is such a God to give us this law, then the argument itself is flawed, since you have had to assume Gods existence to argue that He doesn't exist. To invoke the existence of an absolute moral law without invoking the existence of an absolute moral law giver, cannot be done.— Michael Ramsden
As Sovereign Creator, God has every right to demand of us whatever he will; and who are we to say he shouldn't or can't. That said, we have the free-will to say that very thing; it's just not good-sense to say it.
'But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" [Romans 9:20]
All the people of the earth are nothing compared to Him. He does as He pleases among the people of heaven and among the people of earth. No one can stop Him or say to Him, 'What do you mean by doing these things?'— King Nebuchadnezzar ~ Daniel 4:35
As with most things concerning God and his purposes, the reasons are likely far deeper than man can fully fathom. However, maybe aspects are far simpler then some care to admit - For example: God cannot do the intrinsically impossible.
If you choose to say, “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,” you have not succeeded in saying anything about God:
...God cannot do the intrinsically impossible, not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when discussed with God in context. (C.S.Lewis)
It is intrinsically impossible to bestow free will without also unlocking the gate of wrong choice -- that leads to evil.
God chose to make man with no locked-in obedience mechanism that acts instinctively and without question. Instead, man stands upon this earth with the power to choose whether to move toward God or away from him.
In other words, implicit in 'free will' is the exclusion of any bound limitation from God; however, that exclusion does not extend to freedom from consequence. In fact, God's sovereignty over all is the ultimate supernatural law, and, like any law, there are consequence to both heeding and/or ignoring it; such is also true with any natural law.
And this is where natural disaster and the like link into this discussion, for according to scripture they are, as a whole, the result of evils influence and the brokenness such evil manifests not just upon man, but his habitation also. We'll reserve this for another hub, a part 3 maybe.
What would it take to create a loving world void of evil? A world in which love is capable of meaningful expression implies a world in which there is choice. The words 'I love you' are meaningful because they are freely given. To be compelled to say them is to destroy their meaningfulness. So if we want to speak of a loving world, we must speak of one in which choices are exercised. And in such a world, there is also the possibility of choosing actions that are not loving, i.e. evil.— Michael Ramsden
Within God's will, man has immense freedom to speak, act and live their lives in spiritual safety.
Outside God's will, man has immense freedom to speak, act and live their lives in spiritual danger.
Both are free, and both will experience the fruit of their chosen course of freedom.
But only one group should expect their choices receive Gods blessing.
Free will, then, is a position of most serious responsibility, for it carries with it the reality of consequence.
Of those truths God desires man to live by, most pragmatic of all is that their choices will reap consequence; therefore, choose wisely, choose God.
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment.— The Bible ~ Ecclesiastes 11:9
So, it would seem that in God's creative plan was incorporated a designed risk factor that allowed for things discordant to his will [even offensive], but not unprovided for...
An overarching plan, anticipatory & resolving of all contingencies
To quote again from Charles Cameron:
The message of reconciliation must be at the heart of any biblical approach to theodicy.— Charles Cameron
Theodicy is not popular in a culture of complacency. When complacent modern man hears of the problem of evil, he shrugs apathetically―‘So what. I’m getting on well enough’.
Instead it gets dismissed as a problem for Christianity. Others confront Christians with such statements as, ‘You mean to say you believe in God. Look at the state of the world’. Then, complacently, they set about acquiring a lifestyle; little further thought given to the state of the world.
And there is the heart of the problem; so many failing to acknowledge that the greatest evil is the one they perpetuate upon themselves in failing to come to God humbly seeking reconciliation.
In God's mind this is the most serious evil and threat to His creation; all else pale in comparison. Therefore into this problem He has emptied Himself to provide a remedy.
A theodicy which treats the problem of evil with genuine seriousness will concern itself with bringing man into a real experience of the divine grace and mercy by which sin is forgiven and the sinner is restored to fellowship with God.
‘Having received forgiveness, man cannot possibly speak of God and the world in abstract categories. Theodicy has usually run around in the shallowness of the human endeavor to find an explanation where only justification and forgiveness can provide a perspective’. ~ G. C. Berkouwer
And the means of our reconciliation: God taking upon himself the suffering due us!
The pain of God is a theme that pervades the Bible. God's agonizing over us, suffering with us and for us, is constantly reflected in the Bible. God is not passionless, incapable of sharing our delights and our pain.
I have never been asked questions about God and suffering when I am travelling in countries riddled with the realities of it. In fact, when I visit churches in parts of the world where they are faced daily with horrific affliction, I normally leave inspired. They trust God in everything, even when things are going well. When times are hard, they cling to God because they have already learned to trust Him. They have learned that God does not change, even when our circumstances have.— Michael Ramsden - European director of RZIM
Rather, God is capable of suffering. Not due to any lack or need outside himself, but because of the extent of His compassion and desire for our eternal well-being; we, whose existence in the world is but a blink in time.
O Lord, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow
Suffering, then, serves to demonstrate the consequences of sin (whether or not it was our own sin) and is focal to Gods means in redeeming his creation.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word... It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees [Psalm 119: 67 & 71]
Watch out for Part 3...
Before you leave
Something for fellow Christians to chew on.
I want to bounce a thought off wiser heads. I'd like you all to critique it from several angles:
- Does it align with biblical teaching?
- Does it present logically?
- What are the ramifications?
I have presented my thoughts more poetically nearer the end of this hub, but in a nutshell it expresses the following:
God, in giving angels and men free will, gave them almost unlimited choice. For if by 'Free-will' we mean freedom to choose, then that leads to a hugely diverse range of possibilities and therefore subsequent consequences.
Now, for God to have truly given free choice to man would require:
- That God surrender any enforced control over the will of man
- That God surrender any control over the immediate consequence of man's choices
Such surrender implies God divorced himself from any decision making process of his creation to which he was not invited, and, unless part of his plan, allowed only the natural consequences of those choices to play out without any 'special intervention'. This is a profound concept, that there is a place God, by His own design, would not intrude upon.*
* We read of another such place in scripture where God will not intrude: Hell. The sufferings represented by such a domain find definition not in deliberately placed tortures, but in the fact that it is a place devoid of God; where God has withdrawn his influence and power and presence. Such a place, absent of the source of good, has therefore become devoid of anything good. All that man cherishes as a blessing are absent in hell; light, warmth, hope, sight, sound, touch.
It always struck me as interesting that in the Garden of Eden, God seems to address Adam and Eve not as a mind-reading deity, but as a friend, asking questions, enjoying their company, seeking their input; which led me to wonder: Before the fall, when Adam and Eve were PERFECT, did God know their thoughts, or did the freedom inherent in their gift of free-will also mean they were free to think their thoughts alone - like God does?
With that in mind, does accepting Gods omniscience, necessarily mean he knew the exact choice's his creation would make? (I realise there is a ‘God is outside of time argument’ that gets regularly brought up at this point, but it frazzles my brain just thinking about it).
What if, and in my mind this is equally amazing, God knew EVERY choice angels and men could have made, and EVERY consequence those choices could have led to, and in knowing He prepared a SOLUTION (if necessary) for EVERY possible contingency.
Therefore, Satan's pride, Adam and Eve's rebellion and mankind’s subsequent brokenness were just ONE of the many FORESEEN possibilities that God prepared for – but not necessarily the one that WOULD occur. (This is where I expect the most discussion)
Therefore, in creating men and angels, God was God in that he foresaw, understood and prepared for all eventualities. But he remained true to his intended design of men and angels by distancing himself from any unrequested impetus over their will.
Put Another Way
In the beginning was God.
He has always inhabited eternity.
He is self-existent and knows nothing of need.
Dwelling in a realm beyond our comprehension, he is outside our imagining.
He is the Creator and all else is existent because of him; all that is seen and unseen.
Infinitely wise, he foresaw every ramification of what could result from his creativeness.
Incomprehensibly purposeful, he accepted all costs this would entail; and their payment.
Thus the incontestable will of God unfolded, being held to his purposes by this:
God is unconditionally powerful, infinitely wise and divinely good.
Created eternal in the image of God, men and angels are free will beings
In this freedom is found diversity of choice and therefore many, many possibilities
Being God, He foresaw the manifold possibilities his creations choices might result in,
Yet he allows men & angels full right over their will. A God given gift, God-like freedom
To choose to lay ones will at the Makers feet, or offer it elsewhere, or not at all.
However such is the omniscience of God, that in foreseeing all, he also prepared for all.
Of these possibilities was one. That an Angel would rebel and that humans would follow
That man would use his freedom to make a choice independent of Gods wisdom, will or glory
And thus by their own sinful choices, find themselves separated from their life giver & the one who gave them the power of choice.
© 2011 Richard Parr