Faith and the Challenge of Suffering: Is God to Blame?

Power, Control and God’s Creation – Models for Understanding Evil

What kind of world did God choose to create? While a number of models have been proposed in response to this question, many of which deserve attention, I’ll briefly outline two of the most popular viewpoints, those that exist on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Determinism Model

In this view, God is seen as the sole cause of everything that happens in the world, in your life and mine. The primary feature of determinism is that of unilateral control and meticulous sovereignty. Blueprint model – God ordains, decrees and brings to pass everything that happens and nothing outside of God has any say-so.

As it relates to the problem of evil and suffering, as the sole cause of all that happens, God is seen as the author of both the good and bad. We can attribute murder, suicide, war, genocide, rape, etc, all to God’s controlling power in the world.

Popular Slogans of the determinism model are — – “God has a plan for everything” — “Everything happens for a reason” — “It was meant to be”

Problems with the Determinism Model

1. It attributes evil to God as the source of everything that happens. He is directly responsible for everything.
2. It doesn’t take into account the decisions and actions of other agents – human and otherwise.
3. It makes any idea of freedom an illusion.
4. It renders any form of judgment meaningless.

Love/Free Will Model

Love is at the center of this model. God created a world in which human and non-human agents would decide to freely love and obey him, while freely loving others. In order for love to be genuine, it has to be established on the idea of freedom. If love is in any way forced, coerced or manipulated, it no longer is love.

In this model, people can freely choose to love God and others, or not. God cannot manipulate or determine that a person will love him because to do so would mean that it isn’t love at all. Love has to be free in order for it to be real. However, in choosing to create this kind of world, God also ran the risk that people could choose not to love him. God ran the risk that people could choose evil over good, because love demands the freedom to choose. And, God cannot revoke this freedom just because we may choose to use it in evil ways. God respects the integrity of freedom. In this model, love is at the center and freedom is the natural result of love.

Evil and Suffering in the Love/Free Will Model

God decided to create a world where human beings, and other agents, have the capacity and freedom both to freely love God in return and obey him, or choose not to love God and obey him. Such a model also entailed the risk that people could choose evil rather than good, and many have. Therefore, while God is indirectly responsible for evil in that he created a world where the possibility for evil existed, he is not to be blamed for the actual existence of evil. That responsibility rests on our shoulders (and Satan).

“We have no more reason to hold God morally responsible for the evil his creatures bring about than we do to hold parents morally responsible for the evil of their adult children…God cannot therefore be blamed for what free agents do, even though he is the one who gave them freedom” (Greg Boyd, Is God to Blame? pg. 117).

“To grant human beings real freedom was to grant us the awful dignity of making real choices with real consequences” (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? pg. 72).

Love involves freedom and freedom involves choice and choice involves the risk that people can sometimes choose to act in unloving ways, resulting in a plethora of negative consequences.

Why does God not just intervene and change things? This question can only be answered adequately by referring back to the original question – what kind of world did God choose to create? If God decided to create a world where love is possible, he thereby ruled out a world in which his will is always done. In this kind of world, God cannot guarantee that his will is always done. Not because he lacks the power to change things, but because of the kind of world he chose to create.

Jesus’ most famous prayer includes these words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” To pray for God’s will to be done means that there will be times when God’s will will not done because love involves choice. This means that God will not revoke our freedom even when we act in unloving ways. If God were to revoke our freedom every time we used it in evil ways, we wouldn’t be truly free. But God respects the integrity of our freedom, even when we use it in unloving ways.

“Were God to compel us to make only good choices, then we would not be making choices at all, but merely following God’s directions as a computer executes a program. Were God to allow us to make choices but then constantly intervene to prevent anything bad from resulting from those choices, it is difficult to see how those choices would have integrity and significance” (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? Pg. 72).

True freedom entails risk because love entails risk (a parent and a child). But, God did intervene – in Christ.

Christ suffered on the cross as though he were responsible for evil. He identified with our sin and took the consequences of our sin upon himself, so that we might be free from its consequences. And, his resurrection and victory over death ensures our victory as well.

So, God did intervene.

And, one day his victory will be fully realized. In that day, Jesus will completely eradicate evil and make all things new. The consequences of sin will be done away with and the new creation will be unveiled before our eyes. And there will be no more suffering, crying or pain. God will make all things new and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Until then, we hold on to hope.

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Jeff K. Clarke is a blogger and an award-winning writer of articles and book reviews in a variety of faith-based publications. Blog: http://jeffkclarke.com/, Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeffkclarke, Facebook: www.facebook.com/jeffkclarke

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Story, Structure and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the 21st Century
  • http://twitter.com/superrustyfly superrustyfly

    Great post. I would contend, however, that love or sovereignty does not have to be over and against the other. You can balance the two and still have a free will model.

  • http://revtrev.com/ RevTrev

    I’ve chosen to say, “I cannot give God credit for the works of one who comes to steal, kill and destroy.” It’s helped me to live unoffended at Him.

  • Marshall

    Not clear how you are defining Evil, shall we say unnecessary pain & suffering? So not all evil is a result of human choice … mudslides, plagues, drought, birth defects. How do these fit into your model?

    Much more evil is not due to individual choice, that is, some choose, others suffer … wars, racial intolerance, economic collapse. Climate change, if you objected to drought in the first category. How about these?

  • Shaun Clarke

    45:7 ”
    I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” God makes it pretty clear on the doings of evil. Theres not much of a human choice or free will in the christian paradigm when God creates the evil and supposeably already predetermined the outcome.

    • Shaun Clarke

      Isaiah 45:7 ”
      I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.trotter.18 Rebecca Trotter

    I’ve thought a lot about this and have come to the conclusion that we’ve made a mistake in how we conceived of God’s original purposes in creation. We have this idea that we were made to live in a world where everything was perfect when there is no evidence of that biblically or historically. God said the earth and all that was on it was “good”. Man and women are “very good”. That’s not perfection.
    I wrote more about it here:
    http://theupsidedownworld.com/2012/08/02/its-the-prime-directive/
    But I think the whole issue makes more sense when we understand that God’s original purposes involved us learning from and coping with difficulties which came our way. Evil wasn’t introduced by man at the fall. As Shaun Clarke says below, God lays claim to that.
    There are deep issues here. It goes to the core of what is wrong with us and how we might fix it, imo.


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