Gavel

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, which is a key component of my philosophical worldview.

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 suffering.

Why would God cause sin and suffering? My personal understanding is that sin and suffering 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 they 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. They allow God to express and manifest His power and control in certain ways that He couldn’t otherwise.

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?

The way I tend to respond to such a suggestion is to argue 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 (see, for example, the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Christianity).

The sacred Scriptures of Christianity and Islam both 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. He causes us to suffer, but then He puts things right. This is all part of the grand game of life.

Both the Bible and the Qur’an contain descriptions of a place of hellish torment in the afterlife for those who have done wrong (or, as the Bible is interpreted in some branches of Christianity, those who have not accepted Jesus Christ 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 (it is disputed among theologians whether hell involves eternal conscious torment, annihilation after suffering, or ‘universal reconciliation’ — the idea that ultimately all human beings will receive God’s mercy. See this article for a more detailed description of these three positions).

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. Of course, God is perfectly able to make promises and keep them, so there is cause for hope for those who cling to the promises God has given in the sacred Scriptures.

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 ultimately 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 currently free as an eBook. To view a retailer choice page for the book, click here.