Divine Justice in the Absence of Free Will

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In this article, I would like to write about justice from the perspective that God is in control of everything that happens.

God’s sovereignty over all events means that when a human being does something that is considered by a person or organisation to be wrong, it is not only considered wrong, but is also the will of God. Expanding this point outwards, we can logically say that if God causes all events, God causes all sin and evil.

Why would God cause sin and evil? My personal understanding is that sin and evil are part of the way God unfolds the story of the universe (potentially, multiverse) as the vast aeons of eternity go by. I believe that sin and suffering allow God to create storylines within creation that are more interesting and fulfilling for Him than if the universe contained no sin and no suffering. For example, sin and suffering have allowed God to unfold the story of Christianity over the last two thousand years.

An immediate response to this point from some readers will be the thought that if God causes all suffering, this would make God very cruel. After all, isn’t some of the suffering we experience horrendous?

There are several ways I tend to respond to such a suggestion. One is that in relative terms, God causes very little suffering. If we bear in mind that God could make every creature suffer agonising torment without a break for billions of years, we can see that God chooses to be very much more merciful. Most people, if they are honest, will acknowledge that their lives consist of good times (sometimes very good) as well as bad times.

I believe even people who experience great troubles, such as those with long-term health conditions, or who are homeless, or who are slaves, also experience joy and happiness. An important point related to this is that our lives on Earth are just a moment in eternity, so we can consider that those who suffer greatly during life on Earth may experience great rewards in the afterlife.

The sacred Scriptures of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, all contain the central idea that human beings will encounter a day of judgement in the future. So we can imagine that judgement day is God’s way of administering justice to all human beings. One of the main points I wish to make here is that divine judgement does not necessitate free will — God can administer justice for the wrongs that have been committed in accordance with His sovereign will. This is all part of the grand game of life.

The Scriptures of the major Abrahamic religions all describe a place of hellish torment in the afterlife for those who have done wrong (or, in some branches of Christianity, those who have not accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour). The torments of hell do not necessarily last forever; indeed, in my understanding there is very little Scriptural support for the idea of everlasting torment. There is the idea of everlasting punishment in Scripture, but the evidence seems to me to suggest that torment will not go on indefinitely. Punishment in hell, I believe, may mean suffering followed by the cessation of individual awareness — the end of personhood (for a discussion of the relevant theological position known as ‘annihilationism’ see this post).

God is infinitely wise and also has total freedom. There are no restrictions in relation to how God should or will administer justice. He is free to do as He pleases; He might even change the rules at any time. I don’t know how anyone who believes in the true sovereignty of God could deny this.

We might ask: Is an infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God likely to be merciful? If God does not suffer, and if God is complete within Himself, then it could be the case that He has no reason to be truly angry. He introduces ideas like sin, evil, and judgement into existence as part of His grand game, but the whole time He is really just entertaining Himself. It is logical to me that if God doesn’t suffer Himself, He will probably be merciful to all sentient beings. At least, that is my hope, for suffering can be a truly terrible thing.

My book God’s Grand Game goes into more depth in relation to the themes of this article. The book is available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover editions from a wide range of retailers. To view a retailer choice page, click here.