Hello Mr. Evan, thank you for answering my email last time.
I’m here to update you regarding my friend. I had my friend read your post. It took her some time to reply back to me so I wasn’t able to get back to you immediately. Today she finally replied to me via Messenger and it seems she has some more questions for you.
I will paste below what she sent to me.
Hi, sir Evan. thank you for your insight about what me and Sam talked about. I read your blog post after sam sent me the link to it. it was a good read. I hope you’re ok with additional questions. first, on the problem of evil. I concede that if it is at all possible that God exists, then he must exist in this world. but this is where I have doubts. I think this is where Christianity becomes a bit contradictory. let me explain. the problem of evil is answered by the free will argument. the free will argument involves taking the best possible course of action. after all, if God really is all-good, he would choose the better option. if God really is benevolent, there should be some good explanation on why there is evil. the free will defense answers, as you also stated, it’s because humans have free will so that true love is possible. I think this is where the question of why God chose to create a world comes in. wouldn’t the fact that the world is created put God’s being all-good and benevolence in question? after all, a world with only him and no evil is better than this one. isn’t choosing the lesser good putting him in question? sir Evan, you said “Who said that God was obligated to create the best state of affairs? Perhaps it is consistent with God’s nature to create a world that is “very good” on average?” but wouldn’t this throw away the whole free will defense outside the window? (because according to you, between a world without true love and a world with true love, the latter is certainly the greater good and the former is the lesser good. because God is good, he didn’t choose the lesser good.) and if we throw the free will argument out, then we’ll have to deal with the problem of evil again.
Also wouldn’t this kind of thinking put Molinism in question too? Sam is a Molinist and I’ve read some articles about it so I know a few things. One argument Sam gives against Calvinism is that if God is benevolent, he would prefer to save all men (the greater good/best state of affairs). In Calvinism, if God chooses to elect a person, nothing can stop him from doing that. but not everyone will be saved. so if Calvinism is true, that means God isn’t benevolent. therefore Calvinism is false. but if we apply your words on this, can’t a person just say then “well God isn’t obligated to opt for the best state of affairs (everyone is saved) and anyways, a few people being saved is very good already.” what happens then is that Calvinism may not be impossible as sam (and I believe, you too) claim.
what happens then is that molinism loses a good argument against calvinism. calvinism may not at all be impossible as previously thought. i may be skeptical and might disagree on many things with Sam but calvinism is where we both agree on. That it’s not a very good view. I personally dislike it because of the idea of irresistible grace. if God could give such grace to everyone in order to save them, why can’t He just give that to everyone then?
Sam is a Molinist and i wish i could empathize with her on this but i have some questions about it too. on Molinism, isn’t God manipulative? Imagine a child wanting a new toy. she knows that if she breaks her current doll, her mother will buy her a new one. She broke her toy and just as she hoped, her mother bought her a new toy. this is a simple example of manipulative behavior. on Molinism, this is kinda how God is. for example, God knew that if Jesus would continue his ministry, the people will crucify him. This is what God wanted to happen and it did happen. Sam tells me that weak actualization in molinism is nonmoral because God has no mens rea. but in this case it seems to be that God does have the mens rea to have the people kill Jesus. This is after all his way of saving the world. there are other parts in the bible too where it seems to me that God does have the mens rea for people to commit sin. To use an example you gave, God roused babylon to destroy/judge israel. doesn’t this go against scripture that God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin? But it seems to me here that God is trying to get people to sin.
You are right in understanding in what sense I find God a consequentialist. he allows things to happen or intervenes based on what outcome it will bring. but in doing these things, isn’t God being manipulative? Can we really blame a person for committing a crime if God decided he would be born in the slums where most do crimes? most of these people chose to do these acts due to pressure. there are also other parts in the bible where i find God’s actions questionable. in 2 kings 7, God made the aramean army supernaturally hear of an incoming enemy and they fled. i know this was God’s intention because God wanted the Samaritans saved. wasn’t God basically deceiving the aramean army by doing this so that they’ll leave? from what i remember, there wasn’t even an actual army approaching them. the bible says God never lies though. so i think this part in 2 kings 7 is problematic. im sorry if i have a lot of questions sir evan. i grew up in a christian home and studied in a christian school. but these past few years i just have so many questions that made me doubt. the bible contradictions i found bothered me. the younger me never wished to become a skeptic like this, but i just have too many unanswered questions today. i hope you dont mind my long message. – sarah
Thanks for the update, Sam. I’m going to frame the rest of my response directly to Sarah as I’m sure you’ll pass this one along as the previous one. By the way, for readers of this blog, this is a follow up to the Q&A article titled “Q&A: A World With Only God?”
To Sarah: Don’t worry about the length of the message, Sarah. I’ve gotten much longer ones. I appreciate your questions and I am sympathetic with your doubts, having gone through several spells of serious doubt myself over the past three years (3 really serious spells to be exact) . Anyway, let’s get cracking and hopefully I can help alleviate these things that are hanging you up.
The GodWorld Objection
Molinism and Manipulation
I have never felt the force of the argument that Molinism makes God into a manipulator. For one, why is it wrong for God to manipulate scenarios towards His envisioned goals? When humans manipulate others, it’s usually towards selfish or even evil goals. The example you gave of a little girl breaking her toy having the knowledge that her mother would buy her better one would be a case in point. But why is wrong for God, say, to manipulate Caiaphas, Judas Iscariot, Barabbas, Pontius Pilate, etc. to put Jesus on the cross? It seems to me that that’s a good thing. It brings about salvation to millions and millions of people throughout the ages. You can call that manipulative if you want, but there’s clearly nothing morally wrong about that. God worked through His knowledge of what Caiaphas, Pilate, Judas, etc. would freely choose to do in order to get Jesus crucified so that we’d have atonement for our sins.
Or what about working through the freely chosen actions of Joseph’s brothers, Pontiphar’s wife, etc. in the story of Joseph in Genesis 38-50? God orchestrated these events via His middle knowledge of what they all would do in order to bring about the series of choices and events which lead to Joseph being governer in Egypt and the saving of many lives during the coming famine.
In other words, the one who objects to Molinism on the grounds that it makes God a manipulator needs to make the case that it’s wrong for God to manipulate. This would be to show that manipulation is inherently wrong, that it’s wrong no matter what.
Did God Lie In 2 Kings 7?
You wrote \\\in 2 Kings 7, God made the Aramean army supernaturally hear of an incoming enemy and they fled. I know this was God’s intention because God wanted the Samaritans saved. wasn’t God basically deceiving the Aramean army by doing this so that they’ll leave? from what I remember, there wasn’t even an actual army approaching them. the bible says God never lies though.\\\ —
Old Testament scholar Dr. Michael S. Heiser has some good material on this topic. This isn’t the only time God uses deception to defeat evil and achieve a good end (Heiser says even the opaque nature of the messianic prophecies was deliberate to keep the fallen sons of God from knowing Jesus’ crucifixion was part of the plan to defeat them and redeem fallen humanity). On The Naked Bible Blog, Heiser writes
“I define a lie as the deliberate utterance of a falsehood — something contrary to reality — with specific intent to deceive or conceal the truth. The focus is what is uttered. I think deception is different when what is done is withholding information. Nothing need be said or, what is said may be the truth — but it would be the partial truth. So I distinguish between lying and withholding information.
I see no reason why withholding information is a violation of the ninth command. That command has a context — the old ‘by two or three witnesses the truth shall be established’ idea. ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor’ refers immediately to a ‘legal’ situation in Israel, and more broadly to any intent to harm one’s neighbor by uttering a falsehood.”1
In the blog post just quoted, Dr. Heiser goes on to list several things that the command to not lie wouldn’t apply to, from extremely serious situations such as an abusive father asking his son where his mother is so he can beat her (he knows she’s hiding under the bed) and Nazis asking if you’re hiding Jews to more benign situations like responding truthfully to a significant other when she asks if the dress makes her look fat.
Heiser says that the command to not lie was not given in order to make tact a sin (which is what I would say God did in 2 Kings 7) or to allow evil to proliferate (which is what would be the case if God hadn’t put that army soundtrack on). Heiser said “The ninth command was not given so evil could progress; it was given to STOP evil. It was not given to force us to hurt people’s feelings or crush their spirit, either. Withholding information is virtuous in these instances for reasons that should be obvious in context.”2
I hope this was able to alleviate these specific objections that you have to Christianity. I know you probably have others. Feel free to send any and all of them via e-mail at CerebralFaith@gmail.com. I’d also love to dialogue with you on these topics.
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This is a very intriguing post. I feel a bit reluctant though… I hope you don’t mind me pointing out some things that bothered me.
You said //I have never felt the force of the argument that Molinism makes God into a manipulator. For one, why is it wrong for God to manipulate scenarios towards His envisioned goals?// Wouldn’t this be “the means justifies the ends” kind of morality??
You also wrote //But why is it wrong for God, say, to manipulate Caiaphas, Judas Iscariot, Barabbas, Pontius Pilate, etc. to put Jesus on the cross? It seems to me that that’s a good thing.// I have a little problem with this. Didn’t the Bible clearly say that God doesn’t test or tempt anyone to sin? (James 1:13) I think it is clear from this verse that God does not in any way manipulate people to sin. And just like Sarah said in her question, this would mean God had the mens rea that these people would commit sin. I think this is problematic as this would mean God willed for evil to happen. Wouldn’t this put God’s goodness into question? In fact, I think this could be used as an objection. The skeptic could instead say that the concept of God would be impossible since a good God will despise evil but in order to achieve His goals He will have to will for evil to occur at the same time. It is a contradiction.
This is my first time noticing the events in 2 Kings 7 too. And this is my first time hearing about this view too. I always just thought that God is incapable of saying or doing anything contrary to truth— or in your words, ‘deceiving’ others. I’m not sure what to feel about this but it does lead me to one question. How can we know then that God’s promises are true? What if these things He told us are merely deceptions as a means to a good end?
It’s not “the means justifies the ends” kind of morality”. For one thing, it’s important to remember that God doesn’t do the evil Himself. He just uses His knowledge of what every free creature would do to turn evil around into good. It’s sort of like God is being given lemons by His creatures and He makes lemonade. Of course, I need to be careful saying things like that. I don’t want to be like William Lane Craig and His card dealer analogy. But think of this way; if there is no feasible world God could actualize in which no one ever freely does wrong, then if He wants a world with true love, He’s going to have to have a world with freedom. And if He’s going to have to have a world with freedom for love to be possible, then He’s going to have to choose from the range of feasible LFW worlds available to Him and pick one of the best. And I would argue that as a good God, He would prefer a world where, whenever evil does occur, it turns around for good somewhere, somehow, at some point.
As for temptation, I would not say inserting people into certain circumstances is tempting them. God didn’t tempt Adam and Eve to eat from the forbidden tree by the sheer fact of (1) creating the tree in the garden, and (2) putting Adam and Eve in the garden, despite that God middle knew that Adam and Eve would freely choose to listen to the serpent if they were in those circumstances. I DO think divine determinism has the problem of contradicts James 1:13 because on this view, God is actively determining, hands-on, EVERYTHING that occurs. But I don’t think Molinism falls into that trap.
God’s promises. — As I said near the end of the article, God is a morally perfect being. This is attested not only by scripture but by the Moral and Ontological Arguments for God’s Existence. Ergo, God will never lie for the purpose of promoting evil. God could lie for the purpose of quenching evil, as he does in the cited examples. For example, if God planned on annihilating EVERYONE on judgment day and let NO ONE enter the new heavens and earth, yet He told us that believers in Jesus would be spared, that would be evil.
I also think this skepticism is a bit unwarranted anyway. If your best friend who was always truthful to you lied to Nazis about not hiding Jews, would that warrant distrust? Likewise, that God deceives evil doers to prevent evil on a few exceptional occasions doesn’t mean we ought to start questioning everything He’s told us. My point is that we wouldn’t have this kind of doubt towards humans, so why God?
Thank you for your response! I have one last question though and this is still on James 1:13 and God’s “manipulation” of humans.
It could be said that God led (I am uncomfortable with the use of the word, “manipulate”) Caiaphas, Judas Iscariot, Barabbas, Pontius Pilate, etc. to put Jesus on the cross. I just realized these things after reading your post but many things led to this choice of theirs, and yes it does seem like God led them to do this in a sense. After all, it was God’s plan that Jesus be nailed on the cross.
God knew that if Jesus did his ministry, this would rouse the anger of these people and lead them to choose to crucify Jesus. Now this is the result God wanted and so He had planned for Jesus to do his ministry. But wouldn’t this technically mean that Jesus was “tempting” these people to sin? He did all that He did with the intention of spreading the good news AND having his life end with his crucifixion. Sarah also mentioned God rousing Babylon to destroy Israel. I unfortunately do not recall this part of the Bible very well (since I usually put most of my focus on reading the Gospels) but I could see why Sarah would think this is like God tempting the Babylonians to kill. From what I can gather, your view Mr. Evan is that God uses people’s evil works to bring a greater good, but this doesn’t mean God sees their deeds as not evil. In that case, even if God did use the Babylonians to punish Israel, what they did was still considered evil. But God roused them to attack. Wouldn’t this equal God tempting them to sin? Wouldn’t this contradict James 1:13 then?
I found out I was a “mere Molinist” (as Mr. Tim Stratton coined it) only some time ago so I am not very well-versed with it yet. If I am missing a lot of important details and it is obvious that my knowledge on Molinism is subpar, my apologies. Prior to finding out I was a “mere Molinist” after reading Mr. Tim’s article on his blog, I didn’t really put too much thought on how God reigned the world.
Reading this post pointed out a few things that led me to some realizations. Molinism seems to be a bit heavy. Probably a bit too heavy for my brain to handle, but I think I get the view it stands for. I have a hard time reconciling with some parts, but perhaps this is mostly emotional denial.
Personally, I feel disdain merely at the idea of manipulation and I am very sensitive to it. That is why I was surprised to find out about your views that manipulation isn’t inherently evil. I also realized that in Molinism, God can be seen as manipulative when seen in a certain angle. I was shocked too when you said God deceives people (for the sake of good) since this wasn’t the teaching that I have heard since I was young. “Everything God says and does are true” is what I’ve always believed all my life. I’ve been taught too that God didn’t praise Rahab for lying but for helping out. But then I read Mr. Heiser’s article and now I don’t know anymore…
It’s like many of the things I thought I knew about God was flipped over and now I don’t know what’s what. And my emotions are reluctant to accept this new knowledge. To be honest, my emotions are telling me that no, you’re wrong about this. But then again, I don’t have much argument to give except my feelings/intuition. Perhaps it is I who should reconsider some parts of my view.
I’m sympathetic to your emotions, Meg. I had that same kind of emotional uneasiness and desire to refute when I came across the ancient near Eastern cosmology in the Bible and also the Divine Council Worldview when I was reading Michael Heiser’s book “The Unseen Realm”. But the scholarship was solid, so I couldn’t refute these things, I just had to come to grips with them. Likewise, God is obviously deceiving the aramaean Army and 2nd Kings 7 and we can’t deny that. We just have to come to grips with it somehow. And that was what I tried to do in this article here.
It might be helpful to think of the kind of deception that is going on in this passage and that I think God is capable of with different kinds of killings. I think we can all agree that taking the life of another human being it is not always wrong. It is wrong oftentimes. It’s wrong to kill someone in Revenge, because you hate them, to steal from them, Etc. This kind of killing is called murder. Murder is a specific kind of killing. It is defined as unjustified killing. But, by contrast I would say that there’s nothing wrong with a legal system send to the same capital punishment to someone who committed heinous crimes. And there’s nothing wrong with self-defense. If someone breaks into your home and threatens to water your entire family, it would not be a sin for you to put a bullet in their head. Capital punishment and self-defence are Justified killing. But vigilante justice and abortion are not justified killings. So if there can be Justified killings, then maybe there can be justified lying as well. And I think a lie to protect innocent people is a Justified lie. It’s wrong to lie in most circumstances but there are exceptions.
And I don’t think we have to worry about God being habitual liar. God is not going to deceive someone unless it is for the purpose of thwarting evil. Examples like this are in scripture, but they’re few and far between.
Regarding Molinism, I don’t like the term manipulation either. It’s a very emotionally loaded term and can give people the wrong idea. I prefer the term orchestrate. God orchestrates events in people’s decisions boards is Envision goals. But I know that people will just say that that’s just calling manipulation by different name. And my view is that even if it was manipulation. So what? God is Not Like Us. God is Not a selfish and immoral creature. Every example of human manipulation that I can think of hurt people, and was for the the manipulators own selfish desires. It was for sinful purposes. But God’s manipulation is always for good. And not just good, but the good for his creatures. His human imagers.
I think I understand Meg’s concerns about God and temptations a bit. Wouldn’t establishing God as a manipulator also establish Him as a tempter? You said But wouldn’t this be equivalent to saying “Why is it wrong for God to tempt them to put Jesus on the cross (murder)?” I could be wrong about this but I do want to know what you think about this in detail. Maybe these two points aren’t equivalent at all.
I also have a question after reading this post. I’ve heard many views on whether or not lying can be justified. Personally, I have a stronger inclination to the view that certain acts can never be justified. The reason for this is I think saying that some usually evil acts can be justified sound too consequential. I was initially uncomfortable with what you have written about Divine Deception but upon thinking through it, it does seem possible. But this “it was for the good” kind of mentality is still present. This has been bothering me too since I’ve read about the Divine Command Theory, but will God ever command someone to commit heinous deeds? Like would He ever command a person to rape someone, etc?
I realized this in the past but wouldn’t using the “it was for the good” mentality justify many cruel things? This is why I’ve always been uncomfortable with it. If an evil person takes a whole bus of children hostage and puts their fate in your hands by making you choose between two horrible options, what should be done? What if he tells you to kill or torture someone and he won’t blow up the bus and release the hostages instead? And if you fail to do this, he will murder the hostages. If you choose to torture and kill another person to save all these lives, would that mean your act of doing so isn’t evil because you’re doing it for the good (saving the children)? What of the innocent man who ends up suffering and killed? It seems a bit harsh to say that the person responsible for his misery is not guilty. Where can he find his justice then?
I’m not trying to argue with your views. I just sincerely want to know the answers to these questions. I’ve always been sensitive to these topics my whole life and it seems this post has generated much discussion so I thought it was a good opportunity to leave this comment
I agree that some actions are always wrong no matter what. I think blasphemy is one of them, idolatry is another. It is never Justified to worship another god then Yahweh. I’m not arguing for consequentialist ethics here. I’m saying that there can be exceptions do certain actions which, under ordinary normal circumstances would be wrong. I don’t think that there are many of these. But I think lying and killing are a couple of things that can be justified depending on the circumstance. And I’m also aware that there are Christians who hold tenaciously to the view that lying is wrong no matter what circumstance. The problem with that is that we have a clear example of divine deception and 2nd Kings 7. These Christians need to re-evaluate their view of deception unless they want to indict God of sin.
And no, I don’t think that God being manipulator means God is a tempter. There’s a difference between acting on knowledge of What creatures would freely do in order to bring their evil actions towards good versus trying to entice someone to do something wrong. What God did with the human beings who got Jesus on the cross is much different than what Satan did to Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4.
But isn’t God the truth? Jesus said he is the way, the truth, and the life. It seems contradictory to say “truth lies.”
Also, what about verses such as Numbers 23:19 and Hebrews 6:18? Hebrews 6:18 says that it is impossible for God to lie. The lie here seems to refer to all lies in general. It doesn’t seem to refer only to nefarious lying/ what Dr. Heiser defined as a lie.
By that token, since Jesus is “the life” and Jesus is God, then God wouldn’t be able to kill anybody, because, you could say “it seems contradictory to say ‘life kills'”. Yet we know that that’s not the case. Genesis 6-8 is one of several examples in which God takes lives in judgment. And as an annihilationist, I believe God will go one step further and annihilate the souls of the unredeemed as well as their bodies (Matthew 10:28, 2 Peter 2:6, Revelation 21:8).
Hello Mr. Minton. I wanted to ask something similar to what Emma asked. I’ve actually mentioned to my peers before that I think God lies sometimes for the sake of good. Then someone who didnt agree asked me a thought-provoking question.
“We Christians believe that God is the embodiment of good, that He is the moral compass, and therefore He can never do evil. In that case, since truth is good then God is the embodiment of truth. Doesn’t that mean God shouldn’t be able to lie or deceive anyone?”
I didn’t know how to answer the question at all. I understand her point. I mean if we say God embodies wisdom, God can’t possibly ever act foolishly. The question really made me think but I am left confused since the passages mentioned above really do seem to show God deceiving people. I can understand how God can take away life despite being the embodiment of life because He is annihilating life outside of Him. We would all agree that He cannot just cease to exist so in a sense it doesn’t contradict His being “the life”. The thing with “truth” though… Idk how to wrap my head around it…
Hoping to hear your thoughts on this soon.
I think I would ask them if Jesus (a.k.a God The Son), were he to be asked by a far-sighted nazi, “Are you hiding Jews?” and Jesus were to say “Yes. They’re under the floorboards”, would Jesus be doing a good thing? He would be telling the truth, right? So it must be good. I would answer that Jesus would be doing an evil thing in this instance. Consistent with the character of a good person, Jesus would lie to the Nazis to avert evil from being perpetrated upon the Jews hiding under the floorboards.
I think telling the truth can actually be morally wrong if in telling the truth, you multiply sin and evil. Because “God is the embodiment of good”, He will not perpetrate moral evil. And in all of the cases in scripture we see God using deceit (or putting His stamp of approval on those who do – e.g Rahab), it’s always in cases that curb moral evil from occurring. Just as killing another human being can be morally good if it prevents greater evil, so can lying. God will never use deceit to perpetuate evil. So, we don’t have to worry about him saying “Just kidding” when He says we can enter Heaven because we believed in Jesus His Son. Everything God does is for good (e.g Romans 8:28).