In a comment posted here, a reader named Daniel F. writes:
I grew up in a devout very loving Christian family. I love my family, but the Christanity stuff fortunately did not stick. As I grew up, I noticed a lot of Christians were definite in their conviction, but confused on the details. I appreciate your courage in being open to sharing your thoughts. In today’s world, that definitely takes a lot of courage. And so… help me understand this.
How would we think of someone who decided to slaughter a larger portion of a class of preschoolers? That is, take a gun out and shoot execution style a portion of them? We would consider this person good? Should we praise this person and seek his approval?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t. I would consider that outright evil. How would you feel if that story broke on the news? I hope really upset because it went against your moral fabric.
The problem with Christianity and other religions like Islam is that they very much promote moral corruption. You said, “God has chosen the elect and will draw them to Himself.” For what reason does God not choose everyone to draw to himself? Why would God create people only to torture them? By the way, who invented evil? If God is all powerful and created the universe, then He did. My dad says hell is the absence of God. Why define an absence? Why define evil?
In this context, is he no different than the murderous, evil human who slaughters the preschoolers?
I’ve e-mailed my response to Daniel, but I thought that I would make my response public since I think that it will help many of my readers who might not have had the courage to write in with the same problems or concerns.
The comment itself is comparing God to a murderer who executed preschoolers. This is, of course, argument by outrage. The underlying presupposition is that God is not good because He doesn’t save everyone, only the elect.
We were blessed with a free will. Logically speaking, it is impossible to exercise that free will if we only may do good. It is, therefore, logically necessary to create a world in which both good and evil exist. Read the Genesis creation story again–the universe is being defined by opposites: light from dark (Gen 1:4), heaven from earth (1:7), land from water (1:9). In the second account (Gen 2), the same separating of opposites occurs. The point is that from the very beginning, God defines things in terms of their opposite–in order that good may exist, evil is necessary.
St. Augustine said, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist.” I’ve made a longer and similar argument here. Your argument is typical of many atheists that I encounter: an all-good, all-knowing God would never allow evil to exist. That argument presumes that we, finite creatures, would know more than an infinite God. God, of course, knows not only all that is, but all that could be. If anyone is in a position to make a judgment call on whether evil should exist in this world, it is Him.
Evil has its purpose in God’s plan, therefore.
Now, on to the specific questions:
For what reason does God not choose to draw everyone to Himself? I have no reason to offer, except that Ephesians 1:11 says “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” and Romans 9:14-18 anticipates the obvious objection:
Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (emphasis added)
God has a plan in not drawing everyone to Himself. Because that plan is not revealed to us, that might make some people think that it isn’t there or that He chooses at random. As I have argued in a previous post, predestination is anything but arbitrary. It is done according to God’s will and the plan that He is working in humanity right now, even as I type these words.
Why would God create people only to torture them? Hell is physical separation from God, which could be a form of torture. But this is a view of what Hell is more likely to be based on the honor and shame principles of the Hebrew culture. Hell is not torture, but rather eternal shame–like I’ve always said, knowing that you’ve missed out on the greatest party in the world and everyone else knows that you did, too, and you can’t hide from the eternal humiliation. Everything is laid bare for you to see and dwell on, always and forever.
But why would God create people for this eternal humiliation? Well, as cited above, it is “the counsel of His will.” By faith we trust that this is part of a larger plan that we can’t see or conceive of with our earthly minds.
Who invented evil? You say it’s God, and I’m very glad that you said that. Whenever I hear that, I know that this saying of the Bible has been proven correct yet again: “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord” (Prov 19:3). It is man that is the author of evil, not God.
It’s very funny to me how people will readily embrace Armenian theology and require that man come to God by man’s own choice with no input from God whatsoever, but when it comes to evil, people blame God because He is sovereign over all. Therefore, He must be the author of evil because it can’t be me! Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that. Mankind is the author of sin and evil and God is allowing it to exist only to serve His purpose.
My dad says that hell is the absence of God. Why define an absence? I’ve heard many atheists say that they would much rather spend an eternity in hell than to spend an eternity with the God of the Bible. Hell–the absence of God–is therefore more merciful than forcing these people against their will to spend eternity where they would generally feel extremely uncomfortable, unwelcome, and unwanted.