Why did an omniscient God create humankind knowing that people, in every generation, would reject him?
—Peggie Jones, Lowell, Arkansas
The honest answer to this question is, we don't know—at least not in a cocksure, foolproof way that takes the risk out of faith and the mystery out of revelation. The Bible says that "the secret things belong to the Lord our God" (Deut. 29:29, NIV). And yet this is a natural and reasonable question to ask. We can say four things in response:
First, everything God does, by either explicit decree or permission, has an ultimate beneficial purpose. This includes the fact of hell and God's judgment against rebellious sinners, as well as the blessings of heaven and salvation in Christ. Love and holiness are both essential attributes of God, and they are not in competition with one another. As with Job, in the face of suffering and mystery we are tempted to accuse God of wrongdoing and put him in the dock. But God's answer to Job reaches us as well: "Would you condemn me to justify yourself?" (Job 40:8).
Second, this question assumes that human beings are victims caught in the vise of an inexorable fate. But the Bible teaches that God in his goodness has created a world of moral order, one in which men and women are free moral agents. By creating Adam and Eve in his image and likeness, God gave them a quality of relationship with him that no other creature has. God's creative act was so great that he trusted them with freedom. Unfortunately, freedom includes the freedom to turn away from God, and that is what Adam and Eve did. The fact that God knew beforehand what they would do in no way abrogated their capacity to act and do as they chose. God condemns no one unjustly. God is the judge of all the earth, and he will do right by everyone. On the final day of judgment, no one will be able to stand before God and say to him, "I have been treated unfairly by you!"
Of course, exactly how the inequities of this life will be seen in the tapestry of eternity remains imponderable. But we do know that God's plan is free and purposive, that he does not compel or coerce human creatures made in his image, and that nothing can ultimately thwart his glory and grace.
Third, it may seem that we can get God off the hook by denying his absolute foreknowledge of future events, by seeing Creation as an open-ended experiment about which even God is in the dark. Rather than taking the problem of evil seriously, though, such a view of God trivializes it. We would not praise a doctor who produced horrible deformities while experimenting with human cloning.
Nor can we find solace in a disabled deity whose creative power unleashes a floodtide of suffering and evil over which he has no certain knowledge and only limited control. Such a god might deserve to be pitied—but not worshiped and adored. This is why orthodox Christians of all confessions have affirmed God's complete foreknowledge of the future, however much they may have differed on issues such as election and predestination.
Finally, Jesus Christ is the surest window into the heart of God. When Martin Luther was asked difficult questions such as the one posed here, he replied by encouraging his troubled friends to "look to the wounds of Jesus." That same advice had been given to him as a young man, when, plagued by guilt, he doubted whether he could ever be accepted by a holy God. By focusing on Christ, he discovered the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In Jesus Christ, God's grace and truth were realized in perfect equipoise. In Jesus we see that God is unspeakably generous, "abundant in goodness and truth" (Ex. 34:6, KJV), and at the same time a God of uncompromised purity and righteousness. In Jesus Christ the Creator has become our Redeemer, the Judge has received our judgment. Through his death and resurrection, the way to eternal life has been forever opened to all who turn from selfishness and sin and in simple trust commit themselves to Christ for all time and eternity.
Timothy George, a CT executive editor, is dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham.
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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Related Christianity Today articles include:
Does God Know Your Next Move? | Does God change his mind? Will God ever change his plans in response to our prayers? If God knows it all, are we truly free? What does God know—and when does he know it? Christopher A. Hall and John Sanders debate openness theology. (May 11, 2001)
Has God Been Held Hostage by Philosophy? | A forum on free-will theism, a new paradigm for understanding God. (Jan. 9, 1995)
Christianity Today articles by Timothy George include:
Big Picture Faith | From the first nanosecond to the final cry of victory, and every divine moment between—all is charged with meaning. (Oct. 19, 2000)
Why We Still Need Moody | The man who invented modern evangelicalism. (Dec. 6, 1999)
A Theology to Die For | Theologians are not freelance scholars of religion, but trustees of the deposit of faith. (Feb. 9, 1998)
Why We Still Need Luther | Four hundred fifty years after his death, Martin Luther can still inspire and guide us. (Oct. 28, 19996)
Earlier Good Question columns include:
Who are we to Judge?
Should We File Lawsuits?
Can We Expect God to Forgive Unbelievers Who 'Don't Know What They're Doing'?
Is the Stock Market Good Stewardship?
Is Satan Omnipresent?
Is Suicide Unforgivable?
Was Slavery God's Will?
A Little Wine for the Soul?
Should We All Speak in Tongues?
Did Jesus Really Descend to Hell?
Take, Eat—But How Often?
Is Christmas Pagan?
Are Christians Required to Tithe?
Is Revelation Prophecy or History?
You're Divorced—Can You Remarry?
If Grace Is Irresistible, Why Evangelize?
Does the 'Bible Code' Really Exist?
What's the Unforgivable Sin?
What Bible Version Did Jesus Read?
Did God Die on the Cross?
You Must Be Born Again—But at What Age?
Was the Revolutionary War Justified?
Can the Dead Be Converted?
What Is the Significance of the Shroud of Turin?
Is Hell Forever?
Why Are There Denominations?
Did Paul Baptize for the Dead?
Do Demons Have Zip Codes?
What Is the Gospel of Thomas?
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