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Will You Give Up Your Free Will to Rid the World of Evil?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most common objections to belief in God is the problem of evil.  One form of the problem of evil sounds like this: “I can’t believe in a God who allows children to be sexually molested.  If there was a God, He wouldn’t allow such things to occur.”

I can understand the objection, and it’s an objection that all Christians have struggled with one time or another.  However, there is a response to this challenge.

The sexual molester has free will and has chosen to exercise that free will to commit an act of evil against another person.  In fact, every human being has free will and makes choices every day to do good or evil.  God has given each of us this power of choice.

The objector wants God to take away the power of free choice from the molester to prevent him from doing evil.  Even though this crime is particularly heinous, the objector must surely want God to stop a variety of other acts of evil as well.  After all, why stop with child molestation when genocide, rape, and torture go on every day?

The only way for God to stop all of these crimes, these acts of evil, is to remove the power of free will from every person.  Some of you might say, “Wait a minute!  I don’t commit these horrible crimes.  Why do I have to lose my free will?”  You may not commit these kinds of crimes, but you commit acts of evil every day, most likely.  They are just more subtle.

Do you lie?  Do you steal?  Do you gossip about other people?  Are you committing adultery? If you don’t think that you ever do evil, just ask your spouse or a sibling.  I’m sure they can provide some examples to you.  The truth is that we all do bad things and that we are all capable of horrible crimes.

So, if God is going to rid the world of moral evil he is going to have to take away every person’s free will first.  Would you be willing to lose your power of free will to rid the world of evil?  If not, then you can hardly blame God for the evil in the world.  You must blame yourself.  After all, when given the chance to rid the world of evil, you declined!

If you would give up your free will, your ability to choose between good and evil, then I encourage you to become a Christian, because that’s exactly what Christians, in a sense, are doing.  Christians acknowledge that the world would be a much better place if we would follow the one man who consistently chose good for his entire human life, Jesus Christ.

When we submit to him, we are submitting our power of free choice to his direction and instruction.  We are saying to Jesus, “We want to do what you did.  We want to choose the way you chose, because you always chose good and never chose evil!”  Instead of every day demanding that our own choices be paramount, we strive to subject our free will to him, and he gives us the power to live as he did.

Our reward for submitting our free will to Jesus results in our spending eternity in heaven.  In heaven, our free will is perfected, as we will always and forever only choose the good.


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Comments

  • Boz

    Firstly, free will doesn’t exist if causal determinism is true. If causal determinism is shown to be false by the random effects of the quantum mechanical world, then our decisions are based upon random movements of subatomic particles, which is not free will either.

    Of course, we all intuitively feel that we have free will, yet human intuition is woefully poor at correctly estimating scientific facts.

    Secondly, this explanation does not solve the problem of evil for natural disasters.

    Thirdly, I’m unsure about the existence of “Good” and “Evil”. However, a lot of nice things and bad things do occur. When a bad thing occurs, is that an act by the force of evil, or it is just a bad thing?

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Boz,
    As always, blog posts are limited in what they can address, but you raised some good issues.

    With regard to the existence of free will, I believe that only a small clique of academics argue over its existence. To the vast majority of people, free will does exist, as you say, because it is intuitively obvious. Our intuition can be wrong, but I think in this case it is not. Human decisions, choices, morality, punishment, and justice all become totally meaningless if there is no free will. In fact, writing on a blog post is meaningless because you and I would just be programmed to say all this by the chemicals in our bodies.

    With regard to natural disasters, you are right to say that I did not address it. I was specifically answering the objection cited in the post. Perhaps another time I will take on the objection to natural evil.

    I wrote a post a while back on the nature of evil that might interest you. Take a look.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  • http://www.TrinityTheology.org Dr. Johnson C. Philip

    I enjoyed reading this refreshing way of looking at the subject!

    Johnson C. Philip
    http://www.TrinityTheology.org

  • Adrian Nielsen

    I think the person above is confusing material determinism with predestination. The difference between the two is consciousness. In the former, consciousness, truth, logic, God, to name just a few are merely illusions of chemical reactions. This is not the case in the latter case.

    “Free will” seems to produce more problems than it solves. First of all, where in the Bible is this mystical “free will”? Also, it would be good to define what “free will” is? Isn’t God the only one who has free will? Actually, even He is not totally free as God cannot do evil. Next, according to Jeremiah 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, … Read Moreor the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” should we correct Jeremiah and tell him, “Hey Jeremiah, the Ethiopian *can* change his skin and the leopard *can* change his spots, they just have to use their “free will.” Even worse, if we can actually choose good, then we are not justified by grace, we are justified by grace or reward. Ultimately, if man has this so called “free will” what is to be made of God’s sovereignty?

  • Ronnie J

    I think, if you made this case to a studied person in Christianity, they would ask accusing God “But in the beginning God allowed sin, why would He do that?” What then would you say?

  • Bill Pratt

    I would say that sin is the price for the existence of free and finite creatures. Clearly God believes that allowing sin in the world was worth the greater good of a world where free beings could choose to love him and share in his good nature forever. As an infinite being, God has the ability to bring enormous good out of all the bad things that we do. In fact, if God were not infinite in power, knowledge, wisdom, and love, then he would be grossly negligent in creating this world, because the evil in it could and would eventually get completely out of his control. Thank God that God is God!

  • Ronnie J

    Hey Bill,

    Couple of things, first, the first sin was from an angel, not a human, so he couldn’t have allowed it for the end that some would choose Him because of how free they are. He didn’t choose to save any of the angels that fell with Lucifer, in fact allowing sin to exist only condemned them to eventual hell.

    Secondly, you said “God believes that allowing sin in the world was worth the greater good of a world where free beings could choose to love him”, that is interesting in light of 1 John 4:10 where it explicitly says we don’t love Him.

    Thirdly, If you believe that in the future there will be no evil (as the bible teaches), how do you suppose that will happen in the context of angels? If Lucifer chose to sin by his completely “free will” as you say, why will Michael not do the same in say 10 million years? I think the answer is that God will not allow sin, in which case He allowed and yet didn’t cause it in the first sin. I say that because it seems that you are saying God kind of takes and “hands off” approach in the area of evil.

    Thanks for the good discussion.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Ronnie,
    The classical view on angels is that they chose to love God or reject God the moment they were created and that once their choice was made, the decision was permanent. In a sense, they knew all they would ever know when they were created and no amount of new information will sway them the opposite direction. God doesn’t evangelize angels because it is pointless. They are what they are. So, Michael will never choose against God, for his decision was confirmed at his creation. The angels that chose to reject God will have to be completely quarantined when the new heaven and new earth are created.

    I’m not sure why you say I’m implying God takes a hands off attitude toward evil. He provides institutions like the family, the church, and government to curtail it. He provides the Holy Spirit to convict all people of their sins. Ultimately he provided Jesus’ sacrifice to defeat evil. He will finally destroy evil so that all of his children will live without the presence of evil forever.

    Before that time, the elect submit their free will to Christ who, through his grace, helps them to become more like him.

    With regard to 1 John 4:10, John is referring to the fact that God first loved us by sacrificing his Son. It does not say that man doesn’t love God. Keep reading 1 John 4 and then 5 and you will see several verses where John says that we can love God and he even tells us what this love looks like.

    God bless,
    Bill

  • Ronnie J

    That is interesting on angels, I’ve never heard that side. Can you tell me where you’ve read that? I would like to follow-up more on that further. I don’t think the bible explicitly tells us either way.

    On the “hands off” comment, I should have been more emphatic to stressed that it SEEMED that way to me. In your statements like “The only way for God to stop all of these crimes, these acts of evil, is to remove the power of free will from every person.” Seems to me that you are saying that God has no sovereign rule over our “free will” decisions, and I think the bible is clear that God does! To apply it to your scenario, the only way God could stop the person from the atrocious act of molesting a child, is to make the child molester a robot, remove their will. I think the problem with the skeptic would be that if God is all powerful He could stop the molester by His sovereign power, not just changing the free will of the person. That lead me to think you were saying the “power” of the molesters free will is over the sovereign power of God to govern his choice. Like God couldn’t stop the action, only change the will. I am probably not understanding you well, and I understand that in this medium it is hard to discuss more weighty matters!

    On the 1 John 4:10, we may disagree on this, but I think based on several earlier verses that it is clear that John is writing to regenerate people in this epistle. So that would make sense to talk about “us” as the children of God loving God. But I think the point of 4:10 is the same thing Romans 3:9-18 and 8:7 says that we in our natural state will not, and even cannot love God. I believe that we are free in the sense that we are free to do what we want, but God has to change our wants before we will chose Him, or love Him. i.e. Our wills are only “free” to a certain extent limited by our sinfulness (that Adam before the fall didn’t have, but that is another discussion!)

    Thanks for your patience with me and faithfulness to reply back.

    In Christ,
    Ronnie

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Ronnie,
    Thanks for your response. A couple points. First, about 1 John, you are correct that John is writing to believers, so we agree that believers can love God. But the way we love God is to choose to obey him and submit to his will every day. He, of course, has made that possible by his grace, but we are still participating. The unbeliever is also convicted by the Holy Spirit and offered the gift of faith, but he may choose to reject or accept that gift. I do not hold to the hyper-Calvinist view that man is regenerated against or without his will. Maybe you do, and that could be where the friction is with the concept of man loving God.

    On another point, you said God could just stop the molester without taking away his free will. But if the molester is physically stopped every time he attempts to molest, in what sense does he have free will? This kind of free will is a sham because nothing the molester decides to do is allowed to occur. So I think that in either case, taking away his free will or physically stopping him, we are talking about loss of free will.

    Thanks for the discussion!
    Bill

  • http://rericsawyer.wordpress.com R. Eric Sawyer

    Exactly what is “Free Will” and why is it allowed is a very interesting topic!
    Just to add my two cents, I think contemplating why God would allow such a thing leads us to understand at least some small part of what He is about in creating humans at all.
    First, I think that free will often is illusory in our life. What we think of as free, is as often as not very conditioned by what people around us are doing; what the crowd is doing, our bondage to or reaction against “peer pressure”, our identification with or reaction-formation against our parents, etc. Sometimes our choices seem as predictable and as unavoidable as a ball on a pool table when struck by the cue ball.

    But even in secular mental health, health and wholeness is often seen as a movement away from all these overbearing psychological forces towards an ability to choose freely what one wants, and then to make that choice efficacious. I think it is the same for spiritual health – as we grow in grace, become more “sanctified” in the reformation sense of that word, we become more able to choose what we will do. One could (and perhaps should) make the case that my sin is worse than that of a non-Christian, because I am committing my sin with a higher degree of personal freedom, with less bondage involved.

    So it would seem that, if growth involves movement into more freedom, that a totally efficacious free will is at least part of what our creator intends for us. As a race, we lost it, and fell into all sorts of bondage (just talk to anyone in dire need of psychotherapy, and he will either confirm that fact, or demonstrate it! I’ve walked down that road some myself.); and He intends to restore it.

    But in the meantime, why are our choices still effective? Why do our bad choices still bear bad fruit, and are not simply revoked by Divine fiat? Well, would you have *all* bad choices revoked, or simply those choices above a certain level of evil? What level? If our evil choices are simply undone, how do we recognize them as evil? If all the bullets of all the murderers simply miss, how do we know that it is wrong to shoot people? Worse yet, if God were to stop the evil even further back, He would have to intervene in my brain so that an evil thought could not be thought. Remember the story of the Garden of Eden. Whether History or Divinely guided story-telling, central to the story is the fact that the garden was perfect, and that it contained a tree of “the knowledge of good and evil.” There is something in God’s plan that insists that our choices have real power – that, if we choose to, we will know evil as well as good. We have so chosen.

    “Well,” we may say, “it isn’t worth it! The supposed ‘gift’ of free will does not justify the presence of such great evil. The price is too high.” A worthy argument and the subject of this thread. Unfortunately, to make the argument requires that one have the very free will which we wish to lay down. Obviously, one who so wishes, secretly wishes it only for some. Or perhaps I wish it for me, but only when I am screwing up. But that leads me back into being able to act in any depraved way I wish, knowing that God will step in and clean up the mess before anything breaks. I can do what I want, think what I want. I will become more depraved. If I mean that I want God to transform my mind and heart so that I don’t screw up, He is offering to do that. But it is not a magic wand fix. I have to submit to it, and let my mind be renewed, my heart changed.

    Also, when I say “it’s not worth it!” I don’t really know what “it” is. I do not see fully what God is creating, only that “we shall be like Him” How can I know if it is worth it?

    Finally, though, what of the horrible price for all this “free will” going wild? If God really does “see the end from the beginning” none of this is a surprise to Him. He knew from the start, saw the price, and decided it was worth it. Christians further believe that He decided to take the ultimate price upon himself, that He would take on a body, so that He could be tortured to death. If there was a price to pay, then He would pay it Himself. I don’t know how this works out for the victims of the horrible things that have been done in this world, I don’t think we can see it from this side. But we are told that “every tear will be wiped away” and that all who come to Him will be healed. One of the Christian mystics, Dame Julian of Norwich said, in contemplation of these things, that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” I think she is right.

    Blessings!
    -R. Eric Sawyer

  • http://combatingcalvinism.blogspot.com a helmet

    Adrian,

    “Free will” seems to produce more problems than it solves. First of all, where in the Bible is this mystical “free will”?

    Perhaps it is comparable to the relationship between “forest” and “tree”. Suppose someone talks alot about a forest. But he never mentions the word “tree”. Would we doubt the existence of trees in that forest? Hardly, because it goes without saying that when a forest is spoken of, trees are implicitly meant. Likewise, many things in the bible wouldn’t make any sense without free agency. The idea of a covenant presupposes free agency, so do the concepts of responsibility and culpability. These concepts simply assume free agency, wouldn’t make any sense without it and make it needless to explicitly mention this matter of course.

    —-

    Bill Pratt,

    What about the abused child’s free will? I mean, doesn’t the child have the free will NOT to be molested? Why is the child’s will NOT to be harmed regarded inferior to the criminal’s will to harm the child?

    -a helmet

  • Bill Pratt

    Good question. You are confusing two kinds of freedom: the freedom to choose and the freedom to act. Whenever theologians speak of free will, they are almost always speaking of freedom to choose, not freedom to act. God never gave human beings the complete power of freedom to act. Our physical environment often dictates whether we are free to act or not.

    Example: I may choose to jump off a roof and fly, but when I jump I will fall to the ground without flying. So I exercised my freedom to choose, but I was unable to exercise my freedom to act, because humans cannot fly.

    A person may choose to not be harmed, and they are exercising their freedom of choice when they do this. But this does not guarantee their ability to prevent the harm. Their ability to prevent harm rests on other factors, such as their physical strength, the strength of their attacker, the presence of someone to protect them, their ability to use a weapon to defend themselves, and so on.

    So the child’s power of free choice is not inferior in any way to the adult abuser. The child is just unable to act on his choice because of some of the reasons listed above.

  • Raquel

    i find this article very true because most can judge God for allowing evil to happen but they cannot change themselves to stop producing evil! in other sense, God allows evil but humans take part which is worst! we should keep apart from theses things and be the light of the world and the followers of evil! we should stand out and make a change and with god help we can avoid taking part with the evilness in the world!

  • Fladabosco

    This is the most interesting article I have read on this site but the conclusion that the world would be a better place if people followed the teachings of Jesus is pretty far fetched.

    The earth is littered with the remains of those who were murdered or mistreated in the name of Jesus and we all know this. There have been millenia of people wearing funny hats in Rome who claim to speak for god (the arrogance!) and have done plenty to harm people. Even their own people.

  • Ben

    I believe you would have to follow His teachings to the letter. It is obvious that those who would use God’s name in vain do not. If all christians in the world did followed the bible to the letter, at least to a certain large extent, then the world probably would be a better place.

  • schlaflosig

    I agree to give up my freedom to murder people. In fact, I never used it. Alas, this won’t help to stop genocides and atrocities in the world.

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