There is a (legitimate) concern that a God who sovereignly ordains absolutely everything that comes to pass, including sin, is somehow a less perfect or loving being because of this fact. I want to explore this idea.
First, one must decide whether or not it is reasonable to think that God foreordains all that comes to pass, even evil. When I say “foreordain” I mean “cause” in the sense of being the metaphysical and ultimate explanation for. I don’t know any traditional theologian who would disagree with the fact that God is responsible for and the ultimate cause of all being whatsoever in the created universe. Now anything that exists, just insofar as it exists, has being, even an evil act. Therefore God, since he is the universal cause of all created being, can be supposed to have caused all being that exists whatsoever. (This is not to deny that there is an element of privation in sin and evil. Obviously God cannot be the cause of what does not exist.)
So, is the idea that God is the ultimate source of all created reality whatsoever, true or false? Well, what is the alternative? Let’s say that God is not connected to the existence of evil, pain or suffering in any way. The view which is farthest away from an omnicausal view is a process view – one like Thomas Jay Oord currently holds. This view is essentially that God “asks” all finite being (both rational creatures and matter) to freely choose to act in a good way. When the agent that God asks responds to this invitation well, created “good” comes about. On the other hand, when it fails to do so, created “evil” comes about. Now, since good and evil as they exist in the universe depends on created agents separate from God, Oord and Process theologians can say that they have solved the problem of evil.
Now, there are a few things to say here. The first is one I’m simply going to assert without attempting to prove: this metaphysical system seems quite difficult (impossible?) to square with a plain reading of the Bible. (This point could be a post – even a book – in itself.) Second, the occurrence of the miraculous reduces to God winning the divine lottery, insofar as in order for miracles to occur, God must depend on a particular combination of both animate and inanimate created beings freely responding in a particular way to God’s invitation. Thus when the Red Sea parts this is because, ultimately, a combination of natural phenomenon (presumably atoms, animals, clouds and winds) “chose” in such a way that a miracle came about. On this view, God cannot ensure the miraculous. He can only “ask” for one, then hope it comes about.
With this in mind we come to the rather gutted framework of this whole metaphysical system. When the Oordian/Process view of God is taken to its logical conclusions, the implication is that God and the world are two self-existent realities, and God cannot causally impact the world in any way. Why would I say this? Because I can see no consistent way in which a “persuasive” view of God can explain a causal connection between God who does the persuasion and the world who is persuaded by him. God cannot immediately move matter or rational beings, for that would violate their freedom on this view. How, then, does he impact them? It would seem any sort of persuasion, such as arousing the conscience of a sentient human, would entail at least some immediate action on God’s part at least on the neurons of the brain. But again, if this is admitted, then we have a God who can by his will immediately move objects in the created world.
My question is, what causal mechanism is not ultimately self-refuting on the Oordian/Process view of God?
Notice too that Oord cannot admit a creation ex nihilo. This is because such a thing would be an instance of coercion. But if this is so, another metaphysical catastrophe results: the very parameters of created good and evil are ultimately explained, not by God who has set them, but the world itself. I almost said the “created world” – but that is a contradiction on Oord’s view. But if the world was not created, then the very possibilities of freedom – i.e. the things that explain how it is that evil can even possibly exist – are just facts built in to the uncreated (and necessary?) finite world. The fact that God must persuade the world in order for the world to become good is just a brute inexplicable that God finds himself faced with. Man, I sure bet he wishes he could do something other than “ask” the atoms in a cancerous body to act a different way.
This system ultimately equates to Dualism, the doctrine that all erroneous theologies ultimately reduce to. You have the Platonic Demiurge doing the best he can with the pre-existing chaotic material he finds himself with.
You see, if you disconnect the existence of evil, pain and suffering from God absolutely – if you make even the possibility of its existence as something he did not ordain to create – then you split God and the world up in too radical a way. You either castrate God, or you puff up the creation such that it is itself got the divine attributes of being necessary, uncreated, self-existent, etc.
(See here for some hasty thoughts on the problems of Dualism https://notesonthefoothills.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/reflections-on-the-difficulties-of-dualism/)
So the first thing to say about the doctrine of omnicausality is that the alternative seems to me metaphysically impossible.
But what about the claim that omnicausality imputes God’s character? In order for it to impute God’s character, there would need to be some inconsistency in the idea of a perfectly loving being creating beings who will suffer eternal damnation. But is there an inconsistency here? It is not clear to me that there is. For God to be perfectly loving, he must do the most perfectly loving thing for each and every creature he has made. That is, he must intend the maximal good possible for every being – he must give it the most good it is capable of receiving. But, if we suppose that there do exist beings who are implacably evil and who, regardless of God’s grace, spurn him absolutely, then it may be the best possible good they are capable of receiving is what they find in Hell.
But on this scheme, isn’t it true that God has only granted such beings resistible grace? Could he not have granted them irresistible grace, and saved them all?
I don’t think the notions “could have” are meaningful when applied to a timeless being, or to the action of a changeless and timeless God. I wrote about this in my last post. My point was, questions that begin with “could not God have” imply that at some point of time in the past God could have acted differently. But if God acts timelessly, then thinking of God in this way is meaningless. God simply does what he does, period. That’s not to say he is forced by an inner necessity, nor that he whimsically or randomly performed some action he could have refrained from doing. It’s rather that his changeless and timeless being itself transcends the categories of the necessary and contingent, which are opposing categories that apply to finite being.
So what we’re faced with just IS the reality of a loving God creating sinful beings who he does not irresistibly draw to himself. Is THIS reality inconsistent with a perfectly loving God? Again, it seems to me only if it entails that this supposition entails that God fails at doing maximal good for the creature in question, given what it is. And I don’t see that this is the case. What we really want is some reason that things are the way they are. Just why is the existence of such beings the case? If it’s meaningless to ask why didn’t God act otherwise, it at least seems possible to ask why he in fact does act the way he does.
The answer seems to me twofold: a) to promote God’s own glory and goodness; and b) to do infinite good to what he has created. Is it not possible to hold that, given what the creature is, it is still good, even for it, that it have its twisted desires in some sense gratified in Hell? (CS Lewis may be right in that everyone gets what he really wants in the end.) And also that, God, in calling into existence such beings, himself promotes his own glory insofar as it expresses his patient longsuffering and even mercy in his dealings with beings who implacably refuse to do good?
Eventually we just come to the brute fact that God does what he does. He himself is the ultimate cause of all his own actions. We can show how, given his actions, there is no contradiction between them and his perfect character. But to try to produce a “motive” that involves a sort of process of deliberation, where God has to justify his own means of working to himself, is to miss the looming reality that all things – anything we could conceive of as means or tools or reasons that God has to work with – spring from God’s “I-AM-ness.” God’s brute existence defies any sort of comparison to a human process of creating just because everything we work with in order to create is lacking in God’s act of creating. There is no such thing as him doing such and such “in order to,” for he bows to no order outside his own being.
God, in other words, just IS. It may be that 90% of all our apparent contradictions and inconsistencies in our metaphysical systems come from our inability to recognize the foundational I-AM nature of God.