How Can the Slaughter of Children be Considered ‘Good Providence’ if God is in Control?

by Max Andrews

If everything God does is GOOD, and if God controls EVERYTHING, then it would be BAD had one less child been murdered in Newtown, CT.

This is the argument we find particularly among open theists but I would consider it an important existential question. It primarily focuses on the problem of evil and the hiddenness of God. Here’s the argument in a formal depiction:

  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 murdered in Newtown.
  4. It would have been good had one less child been murdered in Newtown.
  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 we are posed with interesting dilemma (at least for the Christian who affirms that God’s means of providence is not exclusively causal, but that he controls all things).  To avoid a dilemma one 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 objector to ‘good providence’ wants it to be [granted they only have to make one case against it to make their point]). A problem with this 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 killed–it’s something that one simply cannot know).  With such a counterfactual it may be the case that the allowance of such an undesirable event actually brings 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.

There’s also a distinction between the suffering aspect [of being wounded and dying slowly and the existential pains of experiencing such an event] 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.

Here’s another issue:

Where is God? Jesus is in heaven. Well, where’s that? We know it’s a physical dimension so it’s just a reality removed from our spatiotemporal world.  The doctrine of omnipresence states that God is causally present everywhere. This is merely stating the obvious.  What’s the evidence from Scripture concerning God’s presence?

“If the statements it [the Bible] contains concerning matters of history and science can be proven by extra biblical records, by ancient documents recovered through archeological digs, or by the established facts of modern science to be contrary to the truth, then there is grave doubt as to its trustworthiness in matters of religion.” – Gleason Archer

Consider 1 Thess. 5.19-21. How do you test Scripture?  Well, test it for internal consistency, like contradictions and dissimilarities.  To test Scripture using Scripture to verify that what it is true is fallacious and circular reasoning.

 What about religious experience? How do you test religious experience? It is only subjective, other people cannot test your experiences (Ans. Objective experience, subjective in the sense that it didn’t happen to others, it’s a verification of the truth.  You can only share that experience-not a proof for others per se).  There are two aspects to religious experience (non-mystic). The testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum and the sensus divinitatis (the inner witness of the Spirit and the inner knowledge of the divine).

Why doesn’t God prevent the world’s unbelief by making His existence starkly apparent? (i.e. by inscribing the label “made by God” on every atom or planting a neon cross in the heavens with the message “Jesus saves.”) On the Christian view it is actually a matter of relative indifference to God whether people believe that He exists or not.  God is interested in building a love relationship with us, not just getting us to believe that He exists. Even the demons believe He exists (Jas. 2.19). But nonetheless to address the original question, can we still know God exists?

There is no doubt that God is hidden to a certain degree.

Pain and suffering certainly seems to have a role in divine hiddenness.  What about the problem of evil?  But wait, who are we to assess the situation?  We are no exist in such a privileged spatiotempral reference frame to conclude that God does not have a morally sufficient reason for allowing pain and suffering.  If God created a world circumstance where He revealed every reason for evil then that may have created undesirable and even worse circumstances. The world would be a haunted house.  ”Peter, the reason why you have cancer is because it will bring about the salvation of dozes in Chiapas, Mexico decades from now.” Having that knowledge may cause Peter to rebel and not see that as morally justifiable given his limited spatiotemporal reference frame.

So, how do we cope and deal with God’s hiddenness?

God may not want you to know certain things at certain times (Lk 24.13-35).  We must be content with being ignorant about certain things.  We must persevere in obedience despite the lack of evidential purpose or progress that we expect.  You may not always see the fruit of the labor or the purpose behind some things.

God is there, persevere in that love relationship.  Go back to the real questions.

Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Ps. 10.1)

3 Comments to “How Can the Slaughter of Children be Considered ‘Good Providence’ if God is in Control?”

  1. As a theist, I think it is wrong to construe this tragedy as a “punishment” or a “message.”

    • I do not believe that Mr. Andrew’s stated this as being punishment, or a message. But what you may be referring to is in paragraph two. Where he states his opinion on the fact of, “suffering.” Which is the only thing i consider punishment. But even then he does not refer to that as punishment, but merely as God’s prerogative.

  2. This tragedy along with ones revealed in scripture like the Tower of Siloam (Luke 13:) falling reveal that God is not in meticulous control of all things. I was impacted in some interesting ways during the Columbine Shootings and Pastors andTeachers made the bizarre proclamation that the it was the Lord’s will for Eric nd Dillan to massacre for the purpose of being able to preach the Word again back in the school system. A great deal of evangelism occurred in the months that followed but I would never proclaim that God’s original plan was to use violence to preach in Colorful Colorado.

    The US is reaping the foolishness of catering to secularism when this nation was originally bound by divine providence.

    As my eldest daughter recently proclaimed, children are our hope and future. We must teach them to love and trust in The Lord even when death is all around.

    Do not fear the one that can take your body but rather the one that can take your soul.

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