Why doesn’t God do something? Part 2
Yesterday I began an effort to reconcile the reality of suffering with the existence of a good, loving, and all-powerful God. Please read that post before continuing on with me.
Both our parenting failures and successes can result in some suffering experienced by our children. A wise and faithful father does not rescue his son or daughter from every conflict or difficult situation. Doing so would deprive the child of opportunities to learn some important life lessons and grow in independence. And every good parent will discipline their children when they disobey, which necessarily involves something unpleasant. Still, even the wisest among us fail to consistently follow through with what we discern is probably in the best interests of our children but what we know will be painful for them. We love them, and it’s hard for us to see them suffer.
We humans may love deeply and sincerely, but we love imperfectly. God loves perfectly. His love for us is unconditional and totally selfless, unhampered by sentimentality so that he never fails to be tough when that is what we need. He is compassionate, but he is not soft. His perfect love will do everything necessary to make it possible for the beloved to be his or her very best.
We may prefer not to be so loved by God, but we have no choice in the matter. We are, however, free to choose to return his love…to obey and submit to him…or not. This is the doctrine of free will, and it is crucial to a proper understanding of suffering in the world. True love must be freely given or it is not love at all. But freedom to choose good is necessarily a freedom to choose evil as well. And God cannot restrain all evil without overriding our free will.
So if we maintain that God’s character, his goodness and love, would require that he not allow my friend’s niece to suffer at the hands of her abusive father, we must expect him to prevent all suffering of every child, at all times, everywhere. This would be a major interference in our free will and would effectively negate it.
Consider all the ways children suffer. Many children suffer emotional trauma for years because one or both parents decide they don’t love the other anymore and get a divorce. Should God intervene in all these marriages to prevent the breakup of the family? Wouldn’t that deny the spouses their free will? And if a loving God is expected to prevent all innocent suffering, why do loving parents get a pass when their personal desires for self-fulfillment or romance result in real and lasting suffering in their innocent children?
Children suffer in intact but dysfunctional families. Poor parenting sets some children on a trajectory that directly results in suffering of one kind or another for years, if not the rest of their lives. Even good parents fail their children in some way, causing them emotional pain, distress, or disappointment. For God to prevent it all would mean overriding the parents’ free will.
Children born to unwed mothers suffer. Most often the father is absent or uninvolved and the mother financially strapped and too young to handle the stresses of parenthood well. Can God prevent the two from engaging in sex and still allow them their free will? He can prevent conception, but then he is denying the child who would be born the opportunity to live and be loved by him. And if he declines to create any child who will suffer, the human race would soon die out.
Please check back tomorrow for the final installation of this attempt to apprehend God’s ways.
Constrained by natural laws and how the human mind works, sometimes we need to make unpleasant investments in our long-term happiness. I do not doubt that. In fact, I support that claim. If would be fantastic if children were born with the knowledge “the oven is hot; don’t touch it”, but they are not, and often the only way to learn is to actually touch it. Similar situations arise in discipline, a disciplined child is more likely to grow into an adult with healthy and fulfilling friendships and relationships.
But these laws and the nature of psychology are our limits, but not the limits of God; surely He could bestow us with knowledge, and save us the need to learn the hard way. Surely we could be bestowed discipline and not have to learn through punishment.
But this is all different from my biggest concern: what does it mean to say we have freewill bestowed on us, or granted to us, if the father’s will to abuse the daughter is the one that is realised and the daughter’s will to not be abuse (and to die) is not realised? This freewill is enacted by force, and that the father can abuse his daughter is a violation of her freewill, my will, your will and probably the will of all of your readers. Actualising will is circumstantial and based on force, not God’s grace.
Lastly, the will that leads to abuse is very different from the will that leads to learning and development. Moral, personal, disciplinary and educational development normally lead to a greater wellbeing; the methods are necessary investments in wellbeing and not extreme. Being abused does not foster wellbeing in the long term, in fact it is damaging in the long term. And even if it were an investment–say, in wellbeing during the afterlife–it is extreme. And why should I have to suffer so to be rewarded in Heaven? Why can Heaven not be equally (and infinitely) blissful for all?
I’m excited about the last post.
“I’m excited about the last post.” As well you should be. 😉
The possibility that God could have done something differently, and in a way that appeals more to our sensibilities, does not mean that the way he chose wasn’t the best way. We can’t really know that. If we can acknowledge that discipline in the form of suffering has in mind benefits to the one being disciplined, I think we have to allow for the probability that God uses suffering with benefits in mind. And if our benefit is his goal and desire, if there was a way that was MORE to our benefit, he would use it.
“…surely He could bestow us with knowledge, and save us the need to learn the hard way. Surely we could be bestowed discipline and not have to learn through punishment.” Consider the difference between a man who was born into a wealthy family and never worked (suffered) a day in his life, and one who began with nothing and worked hard, sacrificed (suffered) to achieve his goal of financial independence. Which of these do you think is likely to have more character and be deserving of your respect? And which do you think would be more satisfied/happy with himself? There is inherent value in hard work and struggle, not just in what they achieve.
As for free will, I think perhaps we understand it a bit differently. The way I see it is like this: we have freedom to choose – we are not preprogrammed robots. Naturally, because we are individuals, our choices are going to conflict. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain (which my post tomorrow will reference), talks about how the “fixed nature of matter” necessarily means that it will not be equally agreeable to everyone, i.e. the same hill that would be a joyful thrill for the one bicycling down it would cause great discomfort to the one bicycling up it. And he goes on to talk about our competing choices within the natural world: “If even a pebble lies where I want it to lie, it cannot, except by a coincidence, be where you want it to lie. And this is very far from being an evil: on the contrary, it furnishes occasion for all those acts of courtesy, respect, and unselfishness by which love and good humour and modesty express themselves. But it certainly leaves the way open to a great evil, that of competition and hostility. And if souls are free, they cannot be prevented from dealing with the problem by competition instead of courtesy.”
Free will “leaves the way open to” sin. It has to be that way, and unfortunately, we all take that way to one degree or another. Suffering was not God’s original design/plan for us, but sin made it a reality.
As you probably know about me, I know really know how to deal with speculation, so I’m going to have to ignore the idea that you can know God has greater wellbeing or something deeper in store for us (unless you can give some tangible idea of what you mean) except to ask, again, why we must suffer to develop.
The difference between the man born into wealth and the man who earned his wealth is the result of the way psychology works. It was not necessary for it to be that way. The same is true for any reason we may have to suffer to develop. Human have to operate within these rules and laws. God doesn’t, he wrote them.
God really doesn’t care about freewill. God simply permits, indifferently, us to battle each other. Force trumps will. If will really was the priority child abuse wouldn’t happen because the will against it is stronger than the will for it: the victim and their family wants it to stop more than the perpetrator wants to do it. It comes down to force and circumstance and to whose will matters. That looks EXACTLY like nature, not a god.
Allallt, what counts as speculation, or put another way, what kind of propositions do you work with? I’m not clear on the principle that distinguishes “you can know God has a greater wellbeing … in store for us” and “God really doesn’t care about free will.” It seems to me that either both are speculation, or both are statements amenable to conceptual analysis.
I’ve put evidence forward for my view. When I say God doesn’t care freewill I talk about the violations in freewill He permits. I talk about how there is no evidence that freewill is really fostered over force. In fact, from what we see in both the real world and in the narrative Caroline offers at the start of this series, force is favoured over freewill, hence how a child can be abused.
There is no evidence that God has a greater wellbeing in store for us, just speculation.
Though there are some offshoots in this thread now, I want to focus on one thread for clarity’s sake. What is your definition of free will? Your use in your reply to me seems unconventional. In Caroline’s example of abuse, and in your own understanding, does God have free will, and do the abuser and the victim have free will?
I don’t believe in freewill.
But within a paradigm where freewill is God’s priority, freewill would be the freedom to actualize what you will. That is why the child abuse must be allowed to happen; the father must be allowed to actualize his will. If you do not think that the freedom to make your thoughts reality is a part of freewill then there is no reason to permit the father to do what he did. The father would be allowed to think it, but not to act accordingly. But that’s where the confusion comes in, because the daughter must be equally free to reflect her will in reality, and that would be for it to not happen. In a democratic sense, more wills are reflected in the abuse not happening (because I also will child abuse not to happen).
Without God’s special priority or protection of freewill, it is the freedom and authority over what you will, and the try to make it real. And that, then, is where force and strength collide, and the father is merely more powerful than the child. (Notice: the Godless version accounts for the things we see)
You referenced humanity and asked why God couldn’t just bestow knowledge and discipline on us. My analogy was applicable to your point because of the way humans “operate,” according to their/our “psychology” or however you want to explain it. Now it seems like you’re saying, well, God shouldn’t have made us this way. But, frankly, that’s just presumptuous and kind of off-topic.
And my beliefs about God are based on how he is revealed in creation and the Bible. You are free to label it speculation if you want. And since you have, I feel it is only fair that you explain then how you know that “God really doesn’t care about freewill. God simply permits, indifferently, us to battle each other.” How is that not speculation?
I’m explaining what we see. You’re trying to explain away what we see to fit your speculation.
I answered Cogitating Duck, who made the same challenge.
Perhaps why God has made us this way–needing to suffer in order to develop–is off topic. But it does suggest wellbeing is not His priority. We have a monumental capacity to suffer, and much of it is traumatic, but not beneficial in this life. This, again, suggests out wellbeing is not God’s priority. The normal way to explain that evidence away is to posit a Heaven where it can be repaid. But that is speculation.
We can then look at the power of nature and its history of causing immense pain, and we can continue to notice that the world–as you suggest is built by a God–does not care much for our wellbeing.
The counter body of evidence is speculative, which is to say it’s a series of ideas drawn out of a story without evidence. As are the excuses, of some other thing taking priority over wellbeing–whatever it is and however it manifests and whatever it looks like or feels like.
I notice a word like “speculation” is inflammatory enough to completely derail the conversation. But the question of how our freewill can be seen as being so important when it is so often overridden is still an important one. Two wills conflict in a case like child abuse, and “force” is the issue that allows the father’s will priority. I will to know the truth, so how do you explain me still not knowing God’s existence? Is my will not being realised by a higher power? It’s not in conflict with anyone else’ will. The fact is that our wills are not actualised.
I think perhaps we can agree that “wellbeing is not God’s priority” if by wellbeing you mean happiness and comfort on earth. Not that he wouldn’t prefer that we be happy and comfortable; it’s just not as important as our eternal wellbeing. But without a belief in Heaven, it would certainly seem like God is either unloving or uninvolved.
But a belief in Heaven is not mere speculation. I can’t prove it to you, but the biblical evidence that Jesus is God and that he taught about Heaven is good enough to make it reasonable to believe.
Back to free will though…are you saying you don’t believe we have it, or that a loving God would not have given it to us, knowing that it would bring conflict? As for your “will to know the truth” but “still not knowing God’s existence,” I think we need to distinguish between “will” as in “desire” and “will” as in “choice.” You want to know the truth, as do I, but we choose what to believe is true. We both have the same evidence available to us – I choose to believe that it is evidence for God, you choose to believe it’s something else entirely. If your “will to know the truth” means expecting God to give you special revelation…well, he could if he wanted to, but chances are if you are already inclined to reject him, he won’t. And if you are not so inclined, the evidence already available to you is enough, if you are willing to accept it.
Allallt, the distinction between “explain” and “explain away” is relative, subject to assumptions and the scope of the evidence. It can be plausibly said that your explanation of Caroline’s reasoning is actually your explaining away your own strongly felt intolerance for suffering in light of naturalism.
I want to propose a helpful distinction. The negation of suffering is pleasure. These are psychological phenomena. The negation of evil is good. These are value judgments. If suffering is real, nothing follows about the logical coherence of an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent God. If evil is real, then it follows that good is real. Moral values and obligations are best explained by God as being The Good.
The question then is, is evil real and objective, or illusory and subjective?
That’s an entirely moot point, and massive distraction.
I am asking why a God who loves us would permit suffering (no mention of evil). The answer is apparently freewill, but it is preferentially granted to those who can take it by force.
The different between explaining and explaining away is not subjective, by the way. Explaining something is a suggestion as to why it is. Explaining something away is telling you why you should ignore it.
Allallt, you stated: “I am asking why a God who loves us would permit suffering (no mention of evil). The answer is apparently freewill, but it is preferentially granted to those who can take it by force.”
Have you heard about the responses to “Why is the kettle boiling?” One answer is “Heat from the flame works on the water molecules, exciting them, until at 100 degrees celsius, they tranform from a liquid to a gaseous state.” Another answer is, “I wanted to make some tea. Would you like some?”
Here’s how I understand the responses. The first interpretation of “why” is mechanistic, physical, and a model of bottom-up causation. The second interpretation is teleological, top-down, and an explication of planned effects.
The definition of free will you’re using, about actualization of desire, treats free will as an outcome, an effect. It is teleological. But the free will that defends against the logical problem of evil is a causal proposition. It is the same sense of free will that drives the libertarian/compatibilist/determinist debate. It is also irreducible; an agent necessarily has free will, because it has at least a modicum of ability to choose its intention, or focus, or mental disposition, orientation toward an object, independent of external forces. Otherwise, it is causally indistinct from whatever system dictates its decisions. In that case, persons, responsibility, and consciousness itself are fictions, because everything is mechanistically determined, or subject to chance. Free will is simply an either-or in the sense that I and I think Caroline use it.
Whether those desires are actualized or not is irrelevant to the logical problem of evil. The supposed problem for traditional theists ends up supporting the theist position: if people are real, and morality is real, then God is real. Human agents, whose very existence is good, cannot exist without being liable to commit and be subject to moral evil.
As it is, though, there is no logical problem of the compatibility of God and suffering, because suffering, independent of morality, is simply value free. It is neither good nor bad, except what God purposes it for.
For reference, see the chapter on the problem of evil, Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.
I hope this starts to clarify how free will is used to defend against the logical problem of evil, and how suffering is not logically incompatible with a God who is good and loving.
Pingback: Why doesn’t God do something? Part 3 | a reasonable faith
Al (mind if I call you Al?) – You say you don’t believe in free will, but it is apparent that it means something different to you than it does to me. So let me ask you this: do you believe that your thoughts and opinions expressed in this discussion, and the actions you took to make them known to me (and whomever else reads this), were freely chosen, in that you could have chosen to believe and do otherwise? Or do you believe that you could not have chosen to think or do anything different?