An Analogy for God's Providence

Those replies often have a great deal of truth in them, regarding genes/upbringing.

It is well known the abused are far more likely to abuse.

What one experienced as a child is often passed on.

I have had psychiatrists tell me of their experiences in paediatric forensic psychiatry - for example, four year olds who literally try to kill them every time they try to see them, because the four year old child never had a normal life.

Research has shown that babies that are adopted but who do not have a positive safe bonding relationship by (I think) six months of age turn out very differently to babies adopted who have had a safe bonding relationship by six months of age.

Genes and the environment do shape us and our actions to a surprisingly large extent.


Molinist writers have often addressed this topic by explaining that God can justly and even lovingly judge even the most disadvantaged because of his complete knowledge of contrafactuals. That is, God can fairly evaluate them based on what they would have done in less disadvantaged circumstances.

Some will react in bafflement if not outright horror at such an “incendiary” position but I am simply telling you what can easily be found in the Molinist literature.


To forestall possible misunderstanding, I’d like to interject that many Molinist writers do not take the position just mentioned (William Lane Craig, for example, argues it works be unjust for God to judge people based on what they would have done, rather than on what they did in fact do).

(However, the concern about God’s judgement being unfair because people come from different life circumstances is also entirely misplaced, in my opinion - God knows what circumstances people are coming from, and how to judge fairly in light of those circumstances.)


Yes. Excellent point. I probably should have emphasized that fact.

It is also worth emphasizing that no one should assume that Molinism is some sort of universally-defined school of thought etched in stone which has never seen much diversity in the centuries since Luis de Molina.

None of us know the answer to the coronavirus domino question, although it has been pointed out on another thread about how viruses have been involved in making the human genome what it is today.

One musing on why God might have created the currently imperfect universe instead of the future perfect heaven was already mentioned further up in this thread.

That’s a real non sequitur as far as I can see. Perhaps if you tried to make your meaning explicit, we might resolve it.

It’s not very compelling, is it? It’s like the old joke about hitting yourself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop.


Thanks for the explanation, @dga471. To be honest, it doesn’t really add much to my understanding of what many Christians believe, and doesn’t address the parts that I find don’t add up in the scenario.

Specifically, it remains unclear to me why an omnipotent omniscient being who transcends space, time, matter, energy and all aspects of the physical world would require or choose a physical/temporal world to fulfill his goals and desires. For that matter, the very idea of goals and desires seems incompatible with such a being.

That aside, if he does choose or is required to create a physical universe to achieve his goals, why could he not create a universe that does this by running on its own, without needing him to jump in and tweak the mechanism so that it runs properly? If an omnipotent being who controls the physical laws of the universe designed my computer I would expect it to be able to run forever without needing updates or running into bugs that need to be fixed.


I know that the Sun will rise tomorrow, but I will not cause the Sun to rise tomorrow.

God knowing the future does not mean God causes everything to occur that leads to the future.

(FWIW I think of God as a being transcendent of space-time: not bound in time like us, remembering the past and knowing the future is yet to come, but omnipresent everywhere and everywhen)


This is correct. When theologians speak of God’s desires, they do not mean it in the same way as a human desires. God is already perfectly good and cannot change, thus he cannot desire to be something more. He is already complete in himself. (This is where the analogy in the OP is no longer accurate, as it paints a more anthropomorphic picture of God which is not literally true.)

Thus, God did not need to create the universe, even if he did do it. We cannot really explain why God created the universe, we can only affirm that he did. (In fact, that is probably the main reason why most of us think God exists at all: because we think the universe must have a necessarily existing Creator.)

Some Christians like to say that we are created “for God’s glory”, but that doesn’t mean that God created humans because he is lacking glory and needs to be worshipped. Rather, such a statement is referring to the intended goal or telos of humans, which is to imitate God in his perfect goodness as much as possible.

In Christian theology, we also affirm the existence of beings who are not physical, but are pure immaterial minds with wills: angels. It is traditionally believed that God created angels before humans and that they also fell into sin. So one could say that God did create both material and immaterial beings, but both of them fell into sin.

On the other hand, while humans are weak and fallible, being material creatures, it is also true that they can change for the better. Thus, God created Adam with the possibility of sin, but after the Resurrection those who are in Christ will be perfected into beings who no longer can sin. Why didn’t God create humans in this perfected condition from the first place? Perhaps because it is not possible to do that with material beings capable of free will. God has to go through the whole trouble of creating humans, seeing them fall into sin, and saving them because there really is no other way of creating material creatures capable of being in special fellowship with him.

One can see that for the most part, God does let the natural world “run on its own” according to the capacities and laws that he has endowed it with. In the few instances where he does intervene, it almost always to accomplish his plan of salvation for humans, such as in the Incarnation and the Resurrection. Why would God need to intervene for salvation? Because the goal of salvation is to accomplish something which natural things alone cannot accomplish, namely special communion and unity with God. As I explained on another thread, this supernatural bliss cannot be achieved by material means, which are necessarily limited. Even the most advanced civilization will ultimately succumb to the heat death of the universe.

Incidentally, the above is also a reason why many are dubious of creationists invoking a large number of miracles to explain the creation of certain natural things. If it is possible for a thing to be created via natural instead of supernatural processes, then it is more fitting for God to use the former, except if he has another goal in mind (e.g. the salvation of humans).


And that just loops back to the main question. If our very existence has a “goal” that is grounded in this supposedly perfect, fully realized and timeless god, then that god would seem to have some goals or desires of its own whose realization is dependent on our own actions.

From my perspective, the whole world view comes off as incoherent and contrived.

Not possible for a being for whom all things are possible? Again, incoherent.

Or this omnipotent being could simply have created natural being capable of doing so without his having to jump in and interfere. Why didn’t he? I guess that’s another imponderable mystery or, alternatively, another part of the whole model that just doesn’t add up.

So just another thing that this being, who supposedly can do anything, cannot do.


11 posts were split to a new topic: What is Hell?

I don’t see how that follows. To take some other imperfect but possibly helpful human analogies:

  1. A young aspiring basketball player decides to make Lebron James his role model and shapes his life to revolve around imitating his style of play, practicing habits, even personality quirks. While this man becomes dependent on Lebron to achieve his goals, Lebron himself is not affected by him.
  2. When we perceive a tree, our mind can become dependent on that knowledge, but the tree remains a tree, unaffected by persons perceiving it.

In conclusion: we are dependent on God to realize our goals, but God is not dependent on ours.

When we say that God is omnipotent, it does not mean that God can literally do “everything”. God cannot do things which violate who he is, which is the ultimate Good. Neither can God create a square circle or an unmarried bachelor, for example. These are things which are logically incoherent.

I think it is likely that the concept of a “material creature with genuine free will who instantly submits to God without fail” is also a concept which is not actually realizable, and thus God cannot achieve it without first going through an intermediate stage of formation, as we find ourselves in now. We do not know for sure, but it is a plausible explanation.

Here you are trying to ask God to achieve something actually supernatural (infinite) by means of the natural (finite). To me, that also seems very much like a logically incoherent thing, like trying to achieve infinity by adding finite numbers.


Why not? Why wouldn’t life in heaven make them who they are just as well?


Sorry, that is not helpful. Lebron James has not deliberately designed his playing style to need this person to imitate him, or really probably as no desires regarding this person at all. And the tree does not require or want us to do anything at all. There are not appropriate analogies at all.

That is what I am asking: Can someone explain why the “ultimate Good” requires that human beings do certain things, that they might not do because they have “free will”?

I don’t see why not. If my boss tells me not to bash my head against a brick wall for three hours straight, even if I have the free will to disobey this order, he can be quite sure that I won’t. An omnipotent, omniscient god should be able to figure out how beings with free will nonetheless also always do the right thing.

Hmm. It seems to me you are doing something quite similar.

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To respond, I have to clarify what I’m assuming here (much more could be said in defense of at least some of these assumptions, but I will not do so here):

  1. Heaven is not just an environment free of suffering, but also one with perfect relationships between God and all created persons.
  2. God is perfectly good and perfect relationship with him and everyone else requires perfect obedience to God.
  3. We have free will and continue to have free will in heaven, and with free will comes the possibility of disobedience to God. (This isn’t a function of God’s inability to make creatures who choose rightly, just a function of the creature’s ability to choose alongside their finite nature. To have free will while nonetheless being guaranteed to choose rightly, with no possibility of going wrong, requires having an infinite nature, i.e. being God.)
  4. Said free will is of very great importance - without it, perfect relationship with God and others is not possible, because a perfect relationship involves freely choosing to love the other.
  5. God uses his foreknowledge (specifically, middle knowledge) to ensure that, in the world he creates, everyone who is saved and enters heaven freely obeys him for eternity (though it is possible for us to choose to sin in heaven, in fact, we won’t. See Molinism for how that could work).
  6. Undergoing a process of learning to love, trust, and obey God (which may include times of disobedience and/or suffering) can make someone more able to freely obey God for eternity; this is where “soul-building” comes in.
  7. Every person has unique, incommensurable worth to God.
  8. Individuation of persons has some dependence on their origins (i.e. something along the lines of “you could not have come from different parents”).

So there are a couple of considerations here. Maybe it is feasible for God to create a perfect world right from the get-go. But the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (to use Molinist jargon) are such that most people God could create in such circumstances would still fall into sin at some point or another, so the perfect worlds feasible for God (given created free will) are actually highly constrained. Maybe such worlds have fewer people in heaven overall than initially imperfect worlds where there is more space, one might say, for the “soul-building” process.

Furthermore, the people created in perfect worlds would be different people than those created in imperfect worlds. Given the unique worth of each person to God, God could choose to create an imperfect world for the sake of the people in that world, despite that world’s imperfections, still consistent with his perfect goodness.

Were God to create a world where everyone has false memories perfectly simulating some “soul-building” process, everyone in that “heaven” would be living under false pretenses. This would undermine their agency and free will, since these false memories would be informing their decisions. Hence such a world could not genuinely contain the perfect relationships required for heaven; at best it could only contain the appearance of them.

Short answer? Because we learn from experience.

Well, for my part, I believe we continue to have free will in heaven.


I’m not a free will guy, but I can grant you a half of these points right out the gate. I think starting at point 5 onward it seems to get pretty tenuous. I think this is where you’ve probably gotten pushback in the past as well, because you’ve already preempted some of the objections.

To me, this doesn’t seem like a reasonable conclusion to come to. I could agree that there may be fewer perfect worlds than there are imperfect worlds, but to say they are so constrained such that the current world is, in fact, the best possible world doesn’t seem justified.

[quote=“structureoftruth, post:65, topic:12912”] Maybe such worlds have fewer people in heaven overall than initially imperfect worlds where there is more space, one might say, for the “soul-building” process.

Furthermore, the people created in perfect worlds would be different people than those created in imperfect worlds. Given the unique worth of each person to God, God could choose to create an imperfect world for the sake of the people in that world, despite that world’s imperfections, still consistent with his perfect goodness.

I think this gets into God’s personal value people’s pleasure over pain, and even of pleasure vs nothing and pain vs nothing. Which ones are most relevant I think depends your view of Hell.

Considering most people are not Christians, presumably, most people will not go to heaven. I’ll assume an annihilationist view here, because if I assume ECT, it seems that the immediate takeaway is that God values pleasure so highly He is willing to create a world in which more people will suffer (at the very least greater than 1:1) than not, and that seems really unflattering.

As it stands, can we really say God somehow feels the non-existence of x number of potential heaven-bound people is really a loss? If so, it is no loss to the people, only to God. And if that’s the case, then it seems in including more suffering to increase the numbers of these people, what’s going on here is God valuing his own pleasure over the suffering of other people. Again, it still doesn’t sound very flattering.

Does it really boil down to an equation where the primary concern is maximizing pleasure and the secondary concern minimizing suffering? I don’t think that jives with our own values at all. Aren’t we more pain-averse than pleasure-oriented? Could be wrong on that, but I’m pretty sure I’m not.

Maybe to try and steel man where you’re coming from, every time loving parents have a child, they know they have set in motion a set of events that will result in that child experiencing suffering throughout their lives. It’s a loving parent’s hope, though, that their children will experience more pleasure than suffering (ugh, and I get “pleasure” seems like a shallow word here, but for lack of me thinking of the right word right now—perhaps well-being?—you know what I mean). I do understand that. We hope that we are making the best possible decision by bringing them into the world. We hope that the world would be a little worse off without them.

I think things begin to change when we start talking about entities with the scale of power and knowledge like God. I’m kind of processing while writing, so please bear with me, but it seems to me like if this world, here, is not the best possible world, including over the possibility that no world is created at all (which, barring an actual perfect world, would be the biggest point to try to justify), I don’t think this theodicy works.

Hopefully this post is coherently put together. It made sense to me at the time. I appreciate your response.

Also, I noticed your list of assumptions appeared not to consider sin nature, at least not as I was taught it. Is that the case?

EDIT: Sorry, I can’t seem to get these quotes working properly.

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You mean between God and all the created persons he lets in, right? Members only.

Doesn’t this conflict with #5?

So why couldn’t he have chosen to create only those people, since he knows at creation whether they’re going to sin if let into heaven? You have a contradiction.

That seems dubious. Eternity is infinite. How can this brief time of learning be enough to mold you for eternity? And why couldn’t it as easily happen in heaven as elsewhere? After all, he could create only those heavenly beings who would learn those lessons. Further, why should it matter how long it takes to learn, and why can’t the occasional lapse be accepted?

So why condemn some of them to hell or to die as babies or suffer pointless torture, etc.?

That doesn’t seem relevant. God is, after all, creating these souls. He can create whatever sort of soul he wants, tailored to their origins.

Maybe, but are we going for volume? And if so, what about all the people who have to be sacrificed in order to maximize the elect? Don’t they count?

Once more, we seem not to be considering the problems of the non-elect. Why doesn’t God love them? And isn’t perfect goodness at least fair? How fair is it to give someone only 3-score and 10 years to determine their fate for eternity?

Why can’t we have experience in heaven?

What keeps you from sin, then? Being saved apparently doesn’t mean you lose the ability to sin, since Christians sin all the time. How does that suddenly change in heaven? And if God’s just picking those who will remain sinless for eternity, I submit that nobody is going to fit those criteria. They would have to be transformed subsequent to death to make that work. And that doesn’t sound like free will; sounds more like mind control.


This is the point, the “why” of which “has never been made particularly clear”. Its necessity is simply asserted, not substantiated.

Why is God unable to create beings that are immediately able to “love, trust, and obey God”?

I would also point out that the relationship between “disobedience and/or suffering” and “of learning to love, trust, and obey God” is likewise asserted not substantiated (and what I have seen in the past has generally been far more of a thin rationalisation for the existence of suffering, than a compelling explanation of its necessity).

Addendum: do Christians who fail to suffer sufficiently during their lifetime, or fail to disobey sufficiently, fail to get into heaven?

Further addendum: what about children who have died too young to suffer or disobey at all?

And if God cannot create, directly, what this world can, then we are again left with the not-unreasonable conclusion that God is not omnipotent.

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God does love all people.
2 Peter 3:9

Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But God is giving us a choice of where we want to be, with Him, or without Him.

Its not suffering that gets people to heaven. Its learning that our sinful and selfish choices result in suffering, which makes us want to do things God’s way instead of our way. Thus, we become willing to submit our wills to His will, because we see that His will is the better choice.

How would people freely choose selflessness if they have not yet first learned of the negative consequences of selfishness? Has anyone ever seen someone automatically chose selflessness? One of the earliest words most children learn to say is “mine” and parents need to teach them to share.

Genesis 2-3 teaches that God did create heaven (the garden of Eden) on earth, and people chose independence and self-sufficiency instead of heading God’s warnings. People did not trust God when they lived in Eden with Him.

They go to heaven. 2 Samuel 12:23

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You realize that none of this is making sense to anyone who’s been asking about it, right? If Eden was heaven on earth, then why did God populate it with people who would eventually choose to sin? How can you say that the celestial heaven is any different? You’ve already said that only those who irrevocably choose eternal obedience are allowed in, and that God knows in advance who those people are. So why pick Adam and Eve, when he knew they didn’t fit the criteria?

And why start with people in paradise when by your claim an imperfect world is necessary for one’s education? I’m sorry, but you seem to think that merely parroting the paradoxical views of previous writers amounts to an explanation of the paradox; it doesn’t.