Person holding a Bible

God’s Freedom and Human Suffering

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Hello again folks. I know I’ve been posting quite frequently, but there’s a lot that’s been going through my mind and blogging helps me to process it. Also, the discussions in the comments have been really good recently and it’s helpful learning about the way other people see these issues.

I wrote yesterday about the doctrine of double predestination. I would like to share what I’ve been thinking in relation to that doctrine since I published that post.

I will preface my paragraphs with numbers, so if anyone would like to comment, they can refer to the relevant number so it’s obvious which argument or paragraph they are responding to.

1. To recap, the doctrine of double predestination seems to me to be the only way to reconcile God’s absolute sovereignty with the Christian gospel. So I can only accept the Christian worldview if double predestination is true, because I cannot accept any doctrine that compromises God’s sovereign control over the unfolding of all events. It seems to me that either double predestination is a true doctrine, or Christianity must be rejected.

2. The problem I have is understanding suffering in relation to the doctrine of double predestination. If God sends people to hell, He is doing so based not on anything that they have done freely, because there is no free will. He is, in a sense, punishing His own actions.

3. The only solution I am even moderately content with in relation to this issue is a defence of God’s total freedom to do as He wishes. God is responsible to no one. Readers will probably be familiar with the passage in Romans 9 which seems to describe this:

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. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

(Romans 9:15-24 ESV)

4. The thing I find problematic in the quoted passage is the idea that God has ‘endured with much patience’ certain events. Isn’t God in control of those events? Perhaps it’s possible for God to both be in control of events and not be happy with those events. Maybe it’s a case of, ‘I will unfold things badly for a little while, which isn’t much fun, but it will make the happy ending better when that part of my plan comes’. Is that the kind of endurance which Paul is talking about in this passage?

5. While it might seem strange that God would create vessels (humans) only to punish them, the truth is that God has no moral responsibility. He is absolutely a dictator with total power. This is terrifying, of course, but can anyone who acknowledges God’s sovereignty deny that it’s the way things really are?

6. I get really angry sometimes thinking about suffering, both my own suffering and the suffering of others. The fact that God makes me angry about suffering is evidence that God understands how horrible suffering is for the creatures which He causes to suffer. And yet, even despite the fact that God clearly understands what suffering is like, He still causes terrible suffering. Why should this be?

7. The history of humanity (at least as it’s taught in schools) is absolutely full of suffering. Just think of all the wars recorded in the Bible, and also the two world wars of the 20th century. God causes massive amounts of suffering, there’s no escaping this fact if these events happened. Why, then, should we doubt what we read in the Book of Revelation about the suffering God will inflict upon those who are not of the elect? Is there any reason to believe that God would not do these things?

8. Every part of me wants to be angry with God for causing suffering, and God does make me feel angry about the suffering He has put me through. But all I am is a puppet in God’s hands, and my arguments with God have no substance or value. I am merely a shell, a vessel for God’s spirit, as I describe in this article (the argument I make in that post is philosophical rather than Biblical).

9. Another issue that comes to mind is how all of this relates to the moral teaching of Jesus. Jesus appears to be a very loving moral teacher, and the teachings of Jesus contrast radically with the vision of God I have presented in this article. It seems that God-as-Jesus tells people to love one another, to ‘turn the other cheek’, to help the poor, to forgive others, etc. But then God-as-Father causes tremendous amounts of suffering and punishes people / beings. How are these two personalities to be reconciled?

10. Perhaps the solution is that evil must exist in order for us to understand good.

11. If I am one of the elect, can I be content in paradise knowing that others are suffering terribly under the judgement of God? In reality, it would depend what God causes me to feel. Perhaps in the afterlife the saints aren’t made to experience any kind of worry, regret, fear, or remorse, in relation to the suffering of the damned. So those in paradise will feel no sympathy for the damned; they will enjoy their time in paradise blissfully untroubled by the torments of those elsewhere. That may seem like a harsh reality, but can anyone deny that it is absolutely possible?

12. Maybe these considerations could be seen to depict God as cruel. But does it even make sense to call God cruel when God has no accountability and no moral responsibility? By what standards can a person judge God’s actions when God has absolute power and authority?

I invite your comments, but I’d be grateful if you would keep comments concise, polite, and relevant. Blessings to you all.

10 comments

  1. I don’t have much to rebut your points with–your posts challenge me and cause my brain to chew. This may seem minor, but with point 9, I will say that God is fairly consistent in the OT with similar sentiments to Jesus, and a lot of Christians buy into a “God=bad cop, Jesus=good cop” idea due to lack of biblical literacy. Back in Leviticus, when the Law of Moses is being detailed, the 19th chapter alludes to caring for the poor, needy, foreigners, etc. When the Babylonian Exile is prophesied in multiple books like Jeremiah and Isaiah, people’s greed, injustice, and arrogance–and their neglect of the poor and needy–is condemned repeatedly as a major sign of their falling away from God (and the reason they are being punished). From your viewpoint, perhaps you would say that while God the Father orchestrates some horrific things in the OT, He is more consistent throughout the whole Bible with expecting His followers to treat each other with generosity and kindness. For me, it’s hard to reconcile that consistency with books like Joshua where many people are killed (and I still have a lot to learn), but nonetheless, God the Father’s commands to care for others should be noted.

    BTW–did you try changing the scripture blocks from “paragraph” to “quote”? I think that would fix the first issue. It would be clearly marked as a quote and you can do multiple paragraphs in one quote. Regarding the second note at the bottom–I’ll have to try indenting and get back to you. A way around that might be doing ten or fifteen spaces instead of an indent. I have a different blogging-related post for tomorrow, but in light of people being forced to use gutenburg, I’m putting a note at the bottom that my next blogging-related post will be a deep dive into gutenburg. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might have to become my remote Gutenberg consultant, Lily, that would be handy! I searched everywhere to try and find a way to change ‘paragraph’ to ‘quote’ but couldn’t find a way to do it. Another thing I hate is that the floating menus get it the way when I’m trying to type. It’s just so much more convenient having everything in a toolbar where all the options are on display and nothing is hidden.

      Thanks for your input regarding Point 9 as well. God bless you and thanks for commenting, I hoped you would!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jennifer, a very thoughtful and considerate suggestion, however I don’t think I’m on the same wavelength as C.S. Lewis from the books I’ve read of his, so I’m resisting your suggestion, despite appreciating it. Thank you and blessings and peace in return.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even without being on the same wavelength, it has some very good points that are relevent to your processing, that could be helpful, even if you don’t share his overall approach. But obviously completely up to you. I receive your blessings gratefully and wish you wholeness in your journey and satisfaction in what you are seeking. 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Steven,
    I am glad that you are working through these knotty problems in a way that allows others of us to process with you. I come at these issues as a student of Scripture, which (I’m not sure) might lead me to ask different questions from those someone might ask who approaches these issues as a student of philosophy.

    I agree with Lily that God is not the bad cop and Jesus the good cop. Jesus is the image of the invisible God (see Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1, John 10, etc.). In other words, Jesus shows us what God is like (John 1: 14-18). This means that Jesus is the hermeneutical key to understanding Scripture and the nature of God. This is something that theologians have insisted on – and rightly so.

    Also, I believe that we can be too close to an issue to see the big picture. Our family use to play a game (can’t think of the name of it now – perhaps “Cranium”) in which one of the tasks was to guess what a picture magnified a hundred times or so represented. The magnification brought the viewer in so close that identification was nearly impossible. I am inclined to believe that we are much too close to our pains and sins to identify them accurately. Again, this is why Jesus must be the hermeneutical key to understanding God and Scripture.

    Also, we not only do not know what to do with the information we do have, there is (I suspect) much more information that we don’t have than what we do. We know very little about the “damned” (an unfortunate word, perhaps). Theologians believe that one aspect of salvation is glorification. (Others include justification and sanctification.) In glorification (described in part in places like 1 John 3 and in Romans 8), we are transformed into the image of the Son (Romans 8:28ff). That is, we become what we were always intended to be – fully human. To date, Jesus has been the only truly human. (How ironic that it took God to be human.) In glorification, we will be able to understand and do things that are not even thinkable now. We will “know even as we are known” (St. Paul). We will be elevated to a new kind of existence.

    I believe that something similar happens in “damnation.” A person becomes less than he or she was; is diminished, with a corresponding diminution in thoughts and feelings. If this is true, we cannot begin to imagine what a person (though “person” may, in damnation, be inaccurate language) might experience.

    All this to say, I believe there is good reason to doubt our doubts about God and embrace the hope that Jesus, the Revealer, brings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Shayne. I understand about Jesus being the visible image of the invisible God, and this is important, so I’m glad you emphasised that. I have been reading the Old Testament recently rather than the New (because I have a new ESV Bible and I want to read it in it’s entirety) so my thinking at the moment is coloured quite a lot by the Old Testament (although I’m working through Romans again as well).

      I haven’t come across your theory regarding the ‘diminution’ of people who are damned before, but I am familiar with the passages about glorification. I find your perspective quite unusual, but also interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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