Thursday, February 3, 2011

Puppetmaster or Father?

One of the frequent questions that Christians hear—and no doubt you have either had it, or heard it—is this: “How can I worship a God who creates people that He knew would go to hell?” I would like to answer this question, and then dive deeper into a real “root” issue that generally drives this concern.

Let us begin with an assumption: the Bible accurately records the character of God. From there, let us see where logic takes us.

So: we have a God who knows before He even starts creation that Adam and Eve will rebel against Him. He knows that, as a result, all men will become sinful and incapable of being adopted into His family in their natural state. He further knows that He will have to give His only begotten Son as a sacrifice, in order to receive any of His other creations as adoptive sons. He also knows that a large portion of those sons and daughters He creates will reject Him and choose Hell over submission to the Lordship of Christ.

As I see it, knowing those things, God had three options.
* First, He could have chosen not to create us and just live in eternity by His triune self.
* Second, He could have chosen to create us as puppets or automatons or robots—capable of nothing but following Him, no freedom of willpower. No one would reject Him or go to hell, as they would not be capable of denying His wishes.
* Third, He could have created us as He did—with freedom of will (and, therefore, freedom to choose to reject Him).

I cannot think of a fourth option. Either He does not create us, or creates us without free will, or creates us with free will. Either He decides to be alone, or He decides to be a puppetmaster, or He decides to be a Father.

God did the math, as it were, and decided option 3 was the best option.

I happen to agree with the decision. In my experience, real love is only possible with those who can choose to reject you; and it is worth the pain of the rejection. For example, I have the video game Little Big Planet. I can create any world I want, and a creature (Sackboy) who looks however I want him to look. He does exactly what I tell him to do, through my controller. I can make everything happen exactly to my will. Perfectly. On the other hand, I have two children—a 3 year old boy and a 5 year old boy. I can’t get them to follow my will for more than an hour at a time. And yet…I would take a bullet for my children. I won’t even bother to hit “save” on Sackboy. Why? Because the puppet I control is incapable of bringing me any love or joy or peace or happiness—only distraction. Free will, individual personality—these things are necessary for love. And yes, they sometimes cause pain and disappointment and separation; but I would not trade either one of my boys for a thousand Sackboys.


So to me, it is rather obvious that the third option of creation was the only good choice. But it isn’t up to me, is it? Or you. And that is the real, deeper question here.

You see, most people who ask this question don’t disagree with anything I say above. They agree that there are only those three options. And I have never heard any disagree with my stance that free will is the only way to have love and joy and peace and relationship.

And yet…they still are not satisfied. Why? Because their real question isn’t the one that they are asking. The real question is one layer beneath. You see, everything I said above is pretty obvious, and no one will disagree with it…as long as they accept the assumption I put forth. Remember the assumption? We assumed that the Bible accurately portrays God’s character. And that is what those asking this question are truly struggling with.

The New Testament word faith (pistis) means more than just intellectual belief. It also implies trust and loyalty. It was a legal term in ancient Rome—the court decided that it had “faith” in a witness if it accepted his testimony. If they felt he was trustworthy. And you see, many people who struggle with the above question believe in the God of the Bible (i.e., they intellectually accept His reality), but do not have faith in Him (i.e., trust that He is who the Bible says He is).

The Bible says that His judgments are more righteous than any man could possibly fathom. The Bible says that God has more mercy than all of humanity put together can muster. The Bible says that God knows everything about everything, while we know only a tiny amount about anything. So when He makes the decision to go with Creative Option #3 above, we can trust that it is the right call. Our understanding of reality is too limited to ever know it, but we can trust it because of His character. We cannot see all of time, we cannot see the other options, we cannot see people’s hearts, we cannot see sin with His holiness, we cannot see grace with His mercy. But what we can see is our relationship with Him, His tenderness and forgiveness and heart, and therefore trust that He made the right decision.

We are the blind and He is our guide with 20/20 vision. How then are we to question whether His sight is good enough to tell us when to cross the street? Do you see the absurdity of the statement, if you actually believe He is who the Bible says He is?

So, let us look at that question again. “How can I worship a God who creates people that He knew would go to hell?” If you do not believe in God, then of course this is a legitimate and honest and open question. On the other hand, if you believe that God is who the Bible says He is, and trust in Him, then you naturally accept His testimony that it was the right thing to do. There really is no question at all for you--or at least no passion or concern about the question. I submit to you that the people who ask this question are those who intellectually believe in God, but do not yet trust God’s character based upon the Bible. What they are actually asking is, “How can I trust that God made the right decision about this, or anything else?”

You see, that is the true heart of this concern. The concern is not really about free will and sin and heaven and hell at all. It is about whether God is trustworthy. That is the root question. If you honestly believe that God is trustworthy and good and merciful and only makes right judgment…well, then this is a question of intellectual curiosity, a passing fancy. It is not any more spiritually relevant than trying to solve a math problem or a logical puzzle.

Yet for many, this question becomes a spiritual crisis. And it seems to me that a spiritual crisis over this can only exist when the asker has a deeper-seeded question regarding the trustworthiness of the God presented in the Bible. And that is the real question upon which the asker should be focused. If that is resolved, the other question naturally goes away.

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