On the Problem of Free Will and Original Sin

In a conversation about this post, someone remarked to me that god made man in his own image.  There are a lot of implications to this position, but the most troubling for me is the concept of original sin and free will.  So god creates man in the image of himself (so his pattern), but man has the ability to sin.  Ergo god has the ability to sin (because we’re made from his pattern).  It also implies (a) god is not perfect (we are not perfect), (b) god can be evil (we can be evil), (c) god can make mistakes (we make mistakes), and so on.

But perhaps the most troubling position here is the rather absurd way god is portrayed.  That is to say, god is portrayed as a vindictive megalomaniac with serious social and commitment issues.  Think about the Genesis account: God makes the world, god makes man, god tells man he is ruler over the other living things on earth so long as he does not commit sin (eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) even though god made the tree and made man with the ability to eat from the tree. Does god create Satan or does he share the same preexistence as god?  Either way, god creates woman, Satan convinces woman to eat from the tree, woman convinces man to eat from the tree (that god put there), man and woman commit sin, god casts them out from paradise with all these problems (pain during childbirth, working the soil and toiling for survival, etc…).

Now, let me situate this in an analogy focusing on one aspect of creation; that is to say, the idea of creation itself.  Suppose you have all the powers of god for a moment. You decide to create a Ford truck. But what you really want is a Cadillac. You can’t blame the truck. So then you scrap the truck and make another truck, but this time you give it the ability to change into a Cadillac–but then it doesn’t do that, it stays a truck. Still, it isn’t the truck’s fault! You created the damn thing as a truck! Finally, let’s say you scrap the truck, create another truck with the ability to change into a Cadillac, and then try to show it all the amazing benefits it would have it would just change into a Cadillac–and if it doesn’t change into a Cadillac you’re going to burn it in hell for all eternity. But despite your pettiness and threatening tone, the truck remains a truck and in the end you’ve only proven you are a hopeless megalomaniac with sadistic tendencies. You still cannot blame the truck–if you wanted a Cadillac so badly, you just should have made a Cadillac.

If that isn’t twisted enough, how about the whole ‘temptation’ bit in the forest?  Consider this carefully now and don’t just react to what I’m saying.  Give it some thought while reading this analogy.

Let’s say your a parent.  You bake a batch of cookies and place them on the kitchen counter.  You then take your 4 year old and put them in the kitchen and, before leaving, you tell them to not eat the cookies from the cookie jar.  They have free reign of the kitchen, but they can’t eat from the cookie jar.  Then you walk out and lock the child and the cookies in the kitchen behind you.

Now let’s take a moment to reflect: 4 year old, kitchen, cookie jar (not tucked away in some cabinet, but sitting in a reachable position).  Let’s also presume that you have omniscient powers (like god is supposed to have, according to the bible, e.g., “…for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” [1 John 3.20] and”The Lord certainly knows everything that people do; he knows their imaginations and their thoughts and their hearts.” [2 Esdras 16:54]).  So you knew that if you left the cookie jar there full of fresh cookies, your 4 year old would open it up and eat a cookie.

That is just what happens, too.  The child goes over to the cookie dish, eats a cookie, and you burst into the kitchen and you say, ‘well, guess you’re doomed to a lifetime of toil and, by the way, you’re going to burn for eternity.’  And then you shove your 4 year old into an oven.

Too harsh?  I agree.  But this is the story of the Genesis account.  Adam and Eve, who had no knowledge of good and evil (so, they were essentially innocent) and had just been created like five minutes before Satan showed up, committed a very forgivable act (eating fruit from the tree) and instead of doing the logical thing (you know, like removing the tree or putting it out of reach–like make it float or hover twenty feet up–or just not creating the damn tree in the first place) he places the tree within reach and gives creates evil and creates Satan (presumably) and allows all of this to happen even though he knew it was going to happen (because the Dude is all powerful and all knowing).  And still damns man to a lifetime of toil and also misery after death (the Christian view of Hell, for our modern audience).

The most interesting bit though, he could have created Adam and Eve with the ability to not sin.  And since he is god, all powerful, he could have done it so it wouldn’t influence our free will.  He could have created us with the ability to be free without committing murder; we already have limited free will (we can;t just sprout wings and fly, even if we want to do that).  So why not give us, say, wings and not give us the ability to commit murder?  Seems rather odd, right?  If he wanted Adam to not sin, then he should have created a being that couldn’t sin.  It is patently absurd–in fact everything about free will and original sin is absurd.  And if you are still following at this point, you can see why I feel that way.

Hernández and De La Torre: Rethinking Satan as Absolute Evil

There is a great article over at Bible and Interpretation by Hernández and De La Torre asking the question many of us have asked at one point or another: What is Satan’s role and what does that role say about God in the Bible?   I know I have asked why Satan gets such a bad dogmatic wrap in Christian theology when, in fact, God is often portrayed in the Bible as the sinister one (Satan takes a role more akin a Satyr in Greek myth rather than evil incarnate).  This article asks the same questions, but in a broader manner, and offering some interesting incite.  Here are some snippets.  Do read the whole thing, it does provide some interesting perspective:

God’s portrayal as a character of absolute goodness is the result of a theology that is read into the Christian Scriptures, yet which is not necessarily supported by a close reading of the texts. Not only is this theology challenged by the Bible, it is also challenged by existentially and morally comparing such a theology of absolute Good versus absolute Evil with the realities of life.

Jesus asks, “What person among you, if asked by their child for a loaf would give a stone? Of if asked for a fish will give a snake? If, then, you, who are evil, know to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those that ask?” (Matt 7:9-11). Yet, reading the morning paper, one finds stories about tornadoes that have wiped out good Christian families while they slept peacefully in the middle of the night, or innocent children who perished at the hands of child molesters and murderers, good decent individuals who die in freak accidents, and many others who suffer under moral evils (those actions caused by humans) and natural evils (those actions caused by nature).

One is forced to ask: Where is God? Comparing Jesus’ words with the reality of evil in our global economy seems to indicate that earthly parents, rather than God, know better about how to care for their children.

In a very real way, the search for the historical Satan is an attempt to justify God’s grace while legitimizing the reality and presence of evil in human history. It appears that the development of Satan was to a certain extent, trying to save God from appearing as the source of evil that is so much a part of the reality of human suffering and death. The Scriptures attempt to convince us that God is still worthy of our worship despite the presence of evil, even though the most troubling conclusion derived from the Judeo-Christian biblical text is the discovery of a God who is the cause and author of all that is good—and all that is evil. As the prophet Amos reminds us, “If there is evil in a city, has Yahweh not done it?” (Amos 3:6). The prophet Isaiah understands God to say, “I form light and create darkness, make peace and create evil, I Yahweh do all these things” (45:7). This is a God who sends evil spirits to torment, as in the case of Saul (1 Sam 18:10) or Jeroboam (1 Kgs 14:10). Contrary to popular opinion, the biblical text does not begin by introducing its readers to Satan as the Prince of Darkness and enemy of God whose primordial spiritual warfare continues to manifest itself in our times. Rather, this concept developed over centuries as religious ideals comingled with popular culture and the flow of history.

A simple good versus evil binary understanding of reality leads to an ethical perspective that might cause more evil than good. A world where everyone and everything is either with or against God leads to great atrocities by those “with God” in their defense against the perceived threat of those “against God” (who those on God’s side usually define as Satanic). Because such an ethical framework causes more evil than good, we are in need of a new way of understanding what is satanic, what is Satan.

via The Bible and Interpretation – Rethinking Satan as Absolute Evil.

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