God Controls Everything–Good and Bad

by Max Andrews

If everything God does is GOOD, and if God controls EVERYTHING, then it would be BAD had one less child been gassed in Auschwitz. -Greg Boyd’s Twitter Status

I read Dr. Boyd’s status and was very intrigued.  I believe open theists deserve a seat at the table of discussion and despite my view that I think they’re wrong, their arguments are stronger than many give them credit for.  Let’s look at this.

  1. If everything God does is Good [and]
  2. If God controls everything [by weak and strong actualization]
  3. Then, it would be bad had one less child been gassed in Auschwitz.
  4. It would have been good had one less child been gassed in Auschwitz.
  5. Therefore, either not everything God does is good or God does not control everything.
  6. God is good and everything he does is good.
  7. Therefore, God does not control everything.
It seems like Boyd has posed an interesting dilemma (at least for the Molinist who affirms that God’s means of providence is not exclusively causal, but that he controls all things).  To avoid a dilemma you must either deny a horn or add another premise.  I would add the premise that God has good reasons for his control (control will encompass permission and causality, or, weak and strong actualization).  Control and goodness aren’t mutually exclusive and the dilemma isn’t as clear-cut as the open theist wants it to be [granted they only have to make one case against it to make their point]). A problem with Boyd’s position is that only immediate consequences seem to have the perspectival role.  The temporally distant consequences seem to be ignored, which are many. (i.e. Permitting that one child to live may cause more children to be gassed).  With such a counterfactual it may be the case that the allowance of such an undesirable event actually bring about a greater event in the course of history.  We are not in a spatiotemporally privileged position to make such an assessment, but if God possesses such knowledge then it may be the case that permitting such an action is the choice which enables the most good to come about.  Had that bad not occurred then the greater good could not have come about any other way given the previous counterfactuals of human freedom.  This isn’t to say that God is dependent on the bad to bring about good; it’s to say that God uses bad to bring about good [and perhaps even a greater good]. Whether or not God has such knowledge is the more fundamental grounds for such a discussion.

Auschwitz Gas Chamber

There’s also a distinction between the suffering aspect [of being gassed] and the death aspect because if God merely permits someone to die either by weak or strong actualization that’s God’s prerogative.  God is not morally obligated to extend anyone’s life, the issue is suffering.  If the bad is death and not suffering then I’d merely need an argument for why God is morally obligated to extend one’s life; thus, I’ll assume we agree the bad is suffering.  In the end, it doesn’t seem to be the case that Boyd’s dilemma is a true dilemma.  As long as God has a morally sufficient reason to allow the bad to occur, then God’s control is still good.  For more information, see Boyd’s contribution to Four Views on Divine Providence.

5 Responses to “God Controls Everything–Good and Bad”

  1. Oh Greg, Greg, Greg. :) His argument should be “If everything God does is good, and God does everything, then it would be bad…etc.” He’s trading on an ambiguity without defending “control” being synonymous with “does.”

    Even on your (quite charitable, I’m pleased to report) account of the dilemma, we can simply deny (3). For instance, take Christ’s death on the cross. The book of Acts makes it plain those who actually performed this act were committing a sin–the ultimate one, as it turns out–yet the results of that sin were ultimately good! In the same way, it would be good (or at least not bad) were one less person gassed (or even that none of them were) even though God weakly actualized this world. God didn’t do and therefore is not directly causally responsible for these reprehensible acts, and Boyd has no way of knowing what would happen by changing counterfactually these events (after all, if one less death is good, per strict assessment of each death, all of them are even better, so that the real question is what prevents God from actualizing a world in which no such suffering exists). Very thought-provoking. Thanks Max!

    • Thanks, and that’s a point that I draw out. There’s no way for Boyd’s understanding of omniscience whether or not even worse things may come about, as in more suffering. Counterfactuals are gone, which delimits the scope of criticism to that spatiotemporal moment only.

  2. One of the ideas I have been toying with lately is that God has a utilitarian morality. Such a moral system is irrational for us limited beings, but makes sense for a being that knows the end from the beginning. I think there are certain things that God finds important, and that he puts us in places to fulfill his ultimate goals. A few assumptions I make:

    1) God does not only know everything that will happen, he knows everything that would happen in any potential situation (Molinism).
    2) God has given us the ability to make free will choices
    3) God’s plan for humans is that everyone who would come to him under any circumstance will find himself in a circumstance that will draw that person to God
    If these assumptions are correct, it may be that God knows the actions that will bring about the greatest good and will condone these actions even if such actions taken by themselves are evil. If for instance a person will only freely come to Christ by seeing a Christian suffering horrible loss with grace, there will be a Christian suffering such a loss for this person to observe. It is more important that this person be saved than that the Christian have a happy, easy life.

    Some people will only freely come to Christ when suffering a great evil, others only while helping those who are suffering through great evils. If eternal life is the ultimate good however, a Good God would allow (and maybe even choreograph) such evil actions to obtain the ultimate good. If God has chosen to work through the free will of people, it may be that the ultimate good he is working to obtain could not be have been obtained as effected if fewer people had been killed in Auschwitz (or a disaster, etc).

    If God puts us into specific places knowing what we will freely choose to do, the question comes up, how it is just to condemn those who say “Let us do evil so that good may come.”? If we have the belief that those who do not accept Jesus are condemned however, and if God knows those who will not accept him under any circumstances, putting such people at times and places where their evil actions will draw others closer to him seems reasonable. The person may not have committed equivalent crimes if put in a different time and place, but he would have been condemned under any possible circumstance due to the fact that under no circumstance would he accept the grace offered through Christ.

  3. I just stumbled across this blog, thought-provoking stuff. For a season I held to the Molinist perspective, but I’ve actually come more to Boyd’s point of view. I guess I fail to see how Molinism fares better in offering a theodicy; here’s why.

    On Molinism, we’d expect for God to actualize the best possible or feasible world, or one of the best, or at least a pretty spiffy world – one in which the good heavily outweighs the bad in the world. At first-blush, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    One line of reasoning I’ve seen from Dr. Craig (who I greatly admire) is that God weakly actualizes evil to further his kingdom. But if God has middle knowledge then he knows how every person will respond to all possible evils, it seems to follow that God often lets people suffer trials fully knowing they’ll respond in ways that will cause them to reject God’s kingdom.

    The other way out is to simply blame the counterfactuals of free creatures, but that doesn’t seem very plausible either, for it requires a ton of “tough luck” on God’s part. Surely with so many possible worlds for God to actualize – maybe infinite #’s of possible or feasible worlds – it’s hard to swallow that God wouldn’t have available at least one feasible world populated by beings that never commit such horrible acts.

    And I guess I really don’t see how Molinism does much better than Calvinism in regards to sin. Calvinism has God as the sufficient cause of sin and yet holding people responsible, which is of course terrible, but Molinism does have God actualizing creatures knowing they’re going to commit horrible sins. God actualizes a world were the kid gets thrown in the oven. It’s ordained so that greater goods can come out of it, but we’re simply told that were not in an epistemic position to “get it” and so God is therefore off the hook. God’s not directly responsible, but in a sense he is an accessory to such atrocities that supposedly are for the greater good.

    Boyd and other Open Theists on the other hand does believe God is in providential control of the world, just not in a meticulous way. God sets the limits but lets us and the other free creatures he’s created (angels) fill in the details. In contrast to Molinism, God doesn’t actualize a particular possible world, but rather a certain type of world in which many details are left to be decided by self-determining people/angels. So God doesn’t strongly or weakly actualize anything, it’s merely permitted. It’s tragic because it serves no purpose in God’s purposes, yet God can bring good out of it if free creature allow him to.

    So Molinists face the objection that God could have and would have actualized a better possible or feasible world, the open theist on the other hand says that God has chosen the best means to the best kind of possible world, or something close to it, at least.

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