Free Will and God’s Goodness

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Ever since cradle roll, many of us have been given a conception of God that is big, grand, splendiferous and unimaginable. He is the God of the universe, and He has designed it just to His liking, and He has a special plan for you. Unless, of course, we’re talking about anything bad. Then the conversation devolves into “Free Will.”

A common question that the religious get is, “Why would an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving God create a world where He knew there was going to be so much suffering and death?” The response is often something along the lines of Him not being able to not create us, because that would make our choice for us and ruin true love, which requires choice. I disagree.

Christians often fawn over how awesome God is for having the plan of salvation set since before the beginning of the world because He loved us so much, but I think I could’ve also settled for A) a better world, or B) Not making a world you knew was going to be crap. (Sidenote: I hear a deep vacillation among Christians between life being really important to God and/or death being conquered by Jesus’s sacrifice. If God is in complete and total control of life and death, why would He ever worry about saving yours?)

I could’ve settled for a better world.

I’ve had people tell me point blank that I wouldn’t want that non-existence, but they’re totally wrong. I would want that, and I wouldn’t care because I wouldn’t exist. We could be fine never existing and knowing the tragedies, the rapes, the murders, the lies, the starvation and famine, the lack of empathy that causes people to treat each other in despicable ways, and the absolute despair that life affords each and every one of us at one time or another. If, as Christians are suggesting, this God’s got the whole world in His hands, then He’s got the whole world, not simply the good portions of it. He bears the ultimate responsibility for our existence.

And if I were that same God, I could’ve either created a better world, or not created beings that I knew would suffer. I have no idea how you can get God off the hook for being entirely responsible for His creation, when He’s supposedly in entire control of everything in the universe ever, and He knows exactly the product of His work before He makes it.

If I had a shot for every time that I heard a Christian whipping out Free Will in a discussion about God, I’d take it and give it to an anti-vaxxer’s kid instead.

It seems to me that Free Will is one of the cash cows of the Christian faith, a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for God, if you will. If you’re ever taking a test about Christianity, just remember some of the other cash cows, including sin, God, love, Jesus, and of course, Satan.

So the Christian explanation for the problem of evil is a mixture of Free Will and sin. That was what we chose when we first walked away from God in the garden and look at what has happened in the intervening years. The problem with this view is that it takes all the responsibility from the Creator and puts it on the creation. I’ve heard Free Will and sin used to attribute blame to the human species for the worldwide Flood that God explicitly sent in the days of Noah. I don’t know a single person that controls the weather except Storm from X-Men, but somehow, we’re to blame for that catastrophe.

I think such a heavy reliance is placed on Free Will in the Christian paradigm because of the acceptance of the initial proposition that God is good. As my friend Stephen says:

How can you understand, supposing He’s real, that the One who made you and then died to rescue you has a vendetta against you? Why doesn’t that help you work through any confusion about God’s goodness that you have when you read some parts of the Bible?

I think that he’s right, and this is exactly why many of the atrocities ordered and committed by God’s own hand slip right past many Christians. Once you accept the initial proposition that God is the one and only good, the fabrication of new devices to protect that idea will be endless (apologetics), and you’ll get into some pretty absurd stuff to defend His goodness – including blaming people for floods – and Free Will is just one of those permutations.

This isn’t to denigrate Christians in any way, but it is to say that the Emerald City isn’t always green – you could just be wearing green glasses. If you weren’t, you might be able to see why things like sending two bears to maul 42 boys for making fun of a prophet might seem a bit harsh to those of us on the outside. Maybe.

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