I’ve been discussing different god and the bible with an atheist friend of mine and there were two points which I felt really unsure of.
1. The first was the problem of suffering; I explained the idea that creation was corrupted at the fall of man, but he pointed out that this in no way diminishes God’s control over and responsibility for creation- he chose the consequence of Adam’s sin and that consequence brought immense suffering to so many; God can therefore not be omnibenevolent.
2. The second point which I found hard to answer was that of determinism and free will. If the universe is entirely deterministic, then we have cannot be held in any way as morally responsible for our actions. Even if you take the view of quantum theory that everything is probabilistic, this still gives our minds no direct control over our actions- they are merely the result of chemical reactions, etc.
3. Lastly, there is one question which I’ve been pondering and have had difficulty with: surely the truest form of free will would be where we have perfect information- for example two doors, one to heaven one to hell, and we can make the decision of which door to go through with full knowledge of the result. Or alternatively we all exist in hevaen and can make the decision whether we want to stay. Each of these scenarios seem entirely fair and do not, in my opinion, compromise our free-will. I guess my biggest problem is with the fact that God does not make himself fully evident.
You can say that there is lots of evidence for God, but a reasonable person could still fully believe that he does not exist while living on earth. Thus, when we describe of free will on earth to choose whether or not to be with god, it seems a little unfair to me that we have to make a decision without much evidence a) that we even have to make a decision in the first place! and b) that God, heaven, etc. exists. It seems to me that it is less of a choice between being with god or not and more a choice over which arguments to
believe- and consequently seems unfair that people should be judged and in many cases tortured based on that decision. I hope this problem makes sense.
Many Thanks for any light you can shed on any of these 3 questions!
I believe that your friend has a good point about suffering, but I think he does not completely understand the Christian view of suffering and evil. The Christian view is that God gave us a choice. In fact, if we begin with the presupposition that God loves us and wants us to love Him, then we are inevitably forced to the conclusion that he therefore has given us a choice whether or not to love him. You cannot force someone to love you. God’s love requires free will. The choice needed to be a real one, not just a sham choice. The reason for evil in the world, and for most (but not all!) the suffering in the world is that God, in his love, gave us the choice of whether to do his will, to obey him and to respond to his love by loving him. Most of us have clearly chosen to not take God up on his offer, and thus all kinds of evil have come into the world.
What is the alternative? God could have made us into automatons. He could have made us like a tree or a cockroach–doing exactly what we were made to do, but incapable of choosing whether we would glorify God or not. The Christian answer to suffering and evil is that God has created a world with choice, but also with responsibility for that choice. We can “blame” God for giving us freedom and responsibility, but, personally, I am thankful for that. The alternatives are 1. To not exist at all or 2. To have no choice. I prefer the first option, which is to have a world with free will. Of course, my opinion has no effect on reality, but reality agrees with the biblical description of the nature of evil and suffering.
The atheist certainly does not have a better explanation. Everything is random. There is no purpose. There is no reason to live. When we die we are dead all over, dead like Rover. There is no meaning. Evil is not real. There is no moral truth.
The Christian view is that God knows what we will do, but he does not determine what we will do. We can say that in an indirect sense God is “responsible” for the suffering in the universe because if he had not created us with free will then there would be no suffering. True, but I personally will not blame God for my evil actions. My child could blame me for creating him or her when he or she does evil. I am responsible for my child existing and even for creating some of the factors in his/her life. However, each individual is responsible for their own behavior and we do not blame the parents for the sins of the children. This applies to the supposed dilemma above. God is loving and God is caring, but his love implies free will and God generally does not steal our freedom in order to prevent suffering. God’s benevolence gave us freedom and the existence of suffering does not change the fact that he is benevolent.
About determinism, atheism supports a kind of determinism (perhaps partially mitigated by quantum mechanics, but that is debatable), but Christianity definitely does not. God determined that we have free will. His will is that we have free will. Using analogies from quantum mechanics about the existence of probability in nature is not relevant as far as I know to the question of free will. God has choice and he has the ability to put his choices into effect. We are made in God’s image according to the Bible (Genesis 1:26). Part of our God-likeness is found in the fact that we have our own private sphere of sovereignty. God submits his sovereignty to this extent. It is his will that we have our own free will. Some Christians teach a strict sort of Calvinistic predestination, but this doctrine is not biblical. We are morally responsible because God gives us free will and sovereignty within our own sphere. If we are given real choice, then we are given real responsibility for that choice. I have thought about this quite a bit and I see no reason that allowing for a quantum view, with its probabilistic description of certain physical events has no impact on our theology of whether or not God determines our actions. Biblically, God does NOT choose our actions. Atheism may say that our actions are determined by the levels of certain neurotransmitters and the imprint in our brains of certain neural connections. Atheism does not allow for any kind of real choice. We are simply bags of chemicals with certain tendencies found in our neural networks, governed by certain hormone levels. This, however, is not the sum total of what a human is. A human exists separate and apart from their body. We have a body. We are not our bodies. We have a soul. We are self-aware. These things we have because God gave them to us, not because they “evolved.” This is the Christian view and I believe it is consistent with everything we know about the human reality.
I am rambling a bit here, but I hope it is helping.
On your third question, it is hard for me to give a clear response. At some level, faith is required. Like it says in Romans 1:18-20 that God has given mankind sufficient evidence that if we do not believe in him, we are “without excuse.” God has given us sufficient information that his existence is obvious, but not so absolutely overwhelmingly obvious so as to remove the element of choice. He does not drop notes out of the sky and he does not produce clouds that say “I love you Isabelle.” Again, there is the requirement of faith here. I cannot prove that God has given us the absolute Goldilocks amount of information–perfectly balancing making it clear what we should do without giving us so much that we have lost our ability to choose. I believe this is true, but I cannot prove it. God has not given us all information (our brains would burst!), but he has given us everything we need for godliness (2 Tim 3:17). Again, I cannot prove this. I accept it on faith, but not on blind faith, given that it is obvious that the Bible is inspired and given that Jesus chose to die for me and was raised, it is not blind faith, but, by faith, I believe that God has given us the Goldilocks amount of reason to believe and to obey him.
This is one of those questions which you will never be able to answer for absolute certain. There will remain room for doubt, but that is the point. If there was no room for doubt then freedom would not be real. Sorry, but the evidence supports but does not prove that God’s information-giving process is at the Goldilocks level. I can see from your question that if it were up to you, you would have given less choice and would have made it more obvious. Amen. In understand your feeling there. I am tempted to feel the same thing, but in the past 36 years I have learned to trust God on this one.