Is God Playing a Game with Evil?
I have some deep theological questions for you which have been in my mind for some time, but only recently have I been able to put them in a concise, coherent format. These questions either have simple answers and I have simply overlooked them, or they've been avoided by Christian scholars for centuries and I am a lay-genius for thinking them up. I'd put my cash on the former. But they truly are bugging me and have caused some mild faltering in my faith because I can't find answers to them in scripture. Here it goes.
As Christians, we know that:
- God created the earth and all of it's inhabitants
- we humans were originally created to have been able to choose to remain perfect in the garden, but we chose to sin and damned all of humanity to be unable to achieve perfection, and this imperfection separates us from God
- The death and resurrection of Jesus, God's only son, is the only things that made it possible to have communion with God
Now, I know that there is some more to it, but those are the basics of Christianity.
Here's what I don't get; did God, being the most powerful being ever created, have any control over whether evil and Satan were created? If he did, then I have a problem: my logic tells me that if God allowed evil to be introduced into the universe, then he made it necessary for His Son to die. It then becomes difficult for me to understand John 3:16 and other verses that portray God as having made such an incredible sacrifice by sending His own Son to die for our sins. I mean, if God allowed sin to be introduced into the world and then created a system in which humans had the potential to sin, and then made it so the only way to give us a chance to keep out of hell for eternity was for His own Son to have to become a man and be murdered by us, then it would seem that He Himself created this whole "game", if you would, and actually set His Son up for murder.
Now, you may be saying this is really sounding heretical. Well, that is not my intention. My intention is to rediscover the basis for my faith that I have had almost my entire life. And, until I hear satisfactory answers to these questions, I will continue to struggle with fully understanding God's love. To set your mind at ease, please know that I fully believe in the Bible and all it's teaching and have seen the evidence of God in my life, and understand fully and have seen the benefits of following the teachings of Jesus. All of that alone is evidence enough for me to continue to believe in God. However, when I try to explain the need for Jesus' death to non-Christians, I simply can't, and that bothers me, especially when I am now embarking into the mission field as a full-time musician.
Let's look at another option. Let's say God didn't have any control over the introduction of evil. The Bible says that Satan was once an angel who fell from grace. Did God create the angels? Isn't God the most powerful being? Didn't all life, since the beginning of time, come from him? Why did he create a defective angel? And, if he didn't have any control over the creation of evil, who did?
Now, it gets more complicated. Let's say that God didn't have any control over whether or not evil existed in the universe. Why was it necessary for Jesus to die? I mean, did he strike a deal with Satan that if God allowed His own son to be killed, then Satan would...what? I mean..I don't know! Why would God, the creator of all things, have to make a deal with Satan, a being He promised would be destroyed in the end? If you have the power to destroy something and cast it into a fiery pit, then why would you have to make a deal that involved the death of your son? This baffles me.
To my way of thinking, the least worst scenario would be that God had no control over the introduction of sin, evil, and Satan. This would mean that he isn't the most powerful being in the universe. And, in spite of this fact, he decided to create a world on which he would place beings (us) who would have souls that would exist forever in either heaven or hell The future of this world was placed in the hands of two people I've never met, they being Adam and Eve. They were given the choice to sin or not to sin. If they chose not to sin, then everything's great and earth is wonderful forever. However, if these two original inhabitants chose to sin, then every human created thereafter (none of whom actually chose to be born mind you) would be given the slim chance of saving themselves from hell by being fortunate enough to hear the gospel message through all the deceptions of the evil one in this world. If they don't ever get it explained to them, they'll most-likely spend eternity in hell.
So, souls that had no control over their own creation were created and placed in bodies on an evil earth where the chances of them accepting a salvation message necessary to keep them out of eternal damnation are quite slim due to Satan's great power of distraction and persuasion. Basically, God created a bunch of souls full-well knowing that most of them would wind up in hell forever. I mean, wouldn't it have been kinder to just not create any souls at all?
These are my thoughts. Some of you will say "we, as humans, cannot fully understand god's plans or his rules of existence..." and, for some, that answer will suffice. But, for me, it doesn't. Why? Because I don't think the loving God portrayed in the Bible would purposely make it necessary for His own son to die without a really good reason beyond His control. That reason is what I am searching for.
I would appreciate any feedback any of you could give me.
Your message was forwarded to me from a mutual friend and I think it's important enough to warrant an answer. (See below for the original text). As a precursor, let me tell you that I am one who believes that no one should have to suspend their reasoning abilities to believe in the truth. The early Christian Church led the world in philosophical thought as well as spiritual guidance and moral purity. If your belief system is true, then it should stand up to scrutiny and the tough questions.
You have asked many different things in your letter, and I'll want to take them one at a time to give you a clear and easy to follow response. Still, there could twists and turns to this dialog so feel free to write back and ask me to clarify any point.
First, your basic outline of the plan of salvation is correct. This is the Gospel that Paul states so succinctly in 1 Cor 15:3-4: "for I delivered to you, in the first place, what also I had received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures; 4 and that he was buried; and that he was raised the third day, according to the scriptures." Notice that twice Paul makes reference to the Old Testament ("according to the scriptures") as a testimony of the plan of salvation, implying that these facts should be studied and understood by all seekers. Jesus even held Nicodemus accountable to understand the new birth (John 3:10) from the teachings of Jeremiah. Therefore, we should also be able to seek out the truth.
In framing your question, the first problem I see is your assessment of evil. You write, "here's what I don't get; did god, being the most powerful being ever created, have any control over whether evil and Satan were created?"
We must remember that evil is not a created object. Evil is not a "thing". It has no ontological status; that is, it does not exist on its own. Rather, evil is deviating from the will of God. It is what's left when you don't obey God's rules. It's much like a vacuum, which only exists only when everything else is removed. This is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp, but if you think for a moment, you will realize that evil cannot exist without some facet of good being incorporated into an evil action. Stealing, for example, has at its root a desire to raise one's comfort level or a pleasure in using the stolen object. These are not bad in and of themselves, but when exercised inappropriately are considered evil. Even those who steal for the thrill of getting away with it are still driven by pleasure, which is a good. I cannot think of any type of evil that is self-contained and not a wrong response to a drive or desire which could also be channeled for good. In other words, there is always some part of an evil desire that is not wrong in and of itself. Good actions, however, can exist independently. For more on this, see my web page Didn't God Create Evil, Too?
As to Satan, he was not created as such, but was initially a powerful angel doing God's will. God Himself told Satan "you were perfect in all your ways from the day you were created, until iniquity was found in you.( Ezekiel 28:18)" He was made Lucifer, the anointed cherub who covers. It was only after he was filled with pride and rebelled against God that he became the Father of Lies. God also created Adam and Eve as perfect beings capable of fellowshipping with Him and giving Him His proper glory.
This brings up your second point, "my logic tells me that if god allowed evil to be introduced into the universe, then he made it necessary for his son to die." This statement is also correct, but leans on some points you didn't mention. It also is correct because of your word choice. God allowed evil into the world, he did not create it. As we said before, evil is a deviation from God's will. It therefore can be categorized as a choice, a decision for beings with free will. Now, when God made man He gave us free will. Free will is a good thing. I would rather have the freedom to choose than be made as a robot. I see freedom as a good that God instilled in us. God blessed humanity with the ability to independently choose to follow Him or go another way. That ability is not evil, but becomes such when exercised inappropriately.
One of the reasons He created us this way is our capacity for free will also benefits God. God wishes to receive love from us. In order for love to exist, one must be free to choose to love the other. No one can compel love, for it then becomes something else entirely. Can you imagine a man holding a gun to a woman's head and demanding her to love him? She may say she does for self-preservation, but that would not be love. A free choice is mandatory for love to exist. The only other option for a Holy and Pure God would be to create automations; robots without the ability to deviate from His will. This would not be love, though, but machines acting out their computer program. There is no way He could expect love from such beings.
However, if God created us with the capacity to fall away from His will, it would not be unreasonable to expect and plan for such an occurrence. The Bible says that God had planned to save mankind from his sin since before the foundations of the world(Eph. 1:4). This does not demonstrate cruelty on the part of the Father to the Son, but rather Love for His creation. Jesus was not compelled to save us, but freely chose to do so because it pleased the Father (Isaiah 53:10), and because He Himself loved us (John 15:13). He reflected the Father's will and was obedient to the point of death on the cross because that was the only way humanity could be cured of their terminal disease known as sin. So, realize that it was not necessary for the Son to die. God could have been perfectly justified in saying, "I gave them perfection and they blew it, so now I must judge them in my righteousness." No, it was only necessary if we were to be saved from death ourselves! Remember, Jesus said, "therefore the father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. 18no one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." This is why the gospel is so precious. This truly is grace.
Now the power of the redemption becomes available to everyone. Just as you cite John 3:16, the whole world can partake of His atoning efforts and be cleansed. However, if only becomes effective for those who believe. Again, man has free will to love God and follow Him or to choose his own direction. The difference this time is that man is already in a sinful state and must want to be rescued from his current condition. God will not remove your free will at this point, because that would be diminishing man's responsibility, his culpability, and this would not be just. You later make mention of how mankind are created beings who were not asked to be created and are most likely damned to hell. This takes away form each personal transgression and misses the true nature of original sin. Each of us has willfully and flagrantly disobeyed God, fully knowing what we did was wrong. For a more complete look at the reasons for man's condemnation, please see my page What About Those Who Don't Know About Christ?
So God did not create either Lucifer or mankind as defective, but with an ability to choose to obey Him or disobey. He did not "set up" Jesus for murder, but Christ went to the cross willingly, in order to pay our debts. Yes, most of humanity will not receive salvation, but not because it is so hard to find. Rather it is because of the reason Jesus gives in John 3:18-19, "God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world; he that believeth not hath been judged already, and this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil."
Now, you ask a final question, "why go through it all? I mean, wouldn't it have been kinder to just not create any souls at all?" The answer is no, it wouldn't. I don't want to misapply your question, but I think of a parallel argument in the abortion debate. If a child was diagnosed in-utero with severe Down's Syndrome or anencephelitis, would it be kinder to abort the child? We believe that human life has incalculable worth and that every human soul is precious, whether saved or not. Man was created in the image of God, and therefore valuable just by being alive. God has His reasons for allowing some to be saved and others to be left to themselves, but He is the creator, and that is His prerogative.(Romans 9:20-21)
The amazing thing about all of this is the outcome. God creates man, one purpose of which is to receive love and fellowship with him forever. He must make man a free moral agent to accomplish this. Man then falls and must be rescued from his sinful state. Christ is imputed with the sin of mankind, but God also imputes Jesus' righteousness to man. We become born again; born of God and have a new, sinless nature that struggles in conflict with our sinful nature (the old man). When we die and go to be with Christ, our old nature dies and we will never sin again. So, in the end God has beings who of their own free will chose to love Him, and can never sin against Him again. We will dwell with Him in eternity in fellowship and His original purpose is met while death and sin are put away forever. This is a fantastic way to meet both requirements of His nature, a God of love and a God of Righteousness.
I hope this letter has been of some help to you in clearing up your thoughts. Please let me know if I can expound on anything I've written or perhaps left out. If anyone doesn't have access to the above articles I've cited, I will be happy to forward them to you. May God bless you richly in your endeavor and my prayers are with you.