Is God Culpable for Evil He Knows Will Take Place?

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/21/2013

Why doesn’t God save everybody?

This question is among the most difficult that Christians and Christian philosophers have to face.

This is not merely a problem for Christians. It is a problem for non-Christians as well. I have stated in the past that I think one of the best arguments for the existence of God is the presence of evil in the world. One way I can demonstrate that is to ask the non-Christian that raises this question, do you believe there is evil in the world? They must believe it because that’s what prompts the question they are raising.

Then I ask them to tell me, as a non-Christian, where it comes from. Secondly, tell me where good came from. Thirdly, tell me how you distinguish between good and evil. Those are very thorny problems of which the Christian only has to answer one, but the non-Christian has to answer three. This is a philosophical question that applies to all people, it’s not a drawback on the Christian religion, it is a drawback of life. It’s a comment more on life than religion.

Before you had children did it occur to you that your children would disobey and do bad things? You had the option to have children. You knew the children would do bad things, some could turn out very, very bad. Yet you still decided to have children. Why? There are some ineffable kinds of motivations that one has for creating life. If that’s true of human beings, it strikes me that it’s true of God as well. From our perspective God has some inexplicable motive to create, to make children, to create someone in His image though He knows that they will go bad at some point in the future, just as you know that those that you create out of your love for each other will go bad in the future.

When your children do go bad are you as parents responsible for the bad that they do? You are not morally culpable because human beings are free moral agents. If that is true for you, it’s true for God as well. It seems to me to be very reasonable.

What about if I knew the child I was to have would be Adolph Hitler?

The issue here is not just the extremes like Adolph Hitler, it is all the little Hitlers in all of us that we express at different times. You knew in one sense or another that you were giving off a little chunk of Adolph Hitler. You have a little human being that has his own mind and wants his own way and you’re training him not to live out that natural brokenness and become a Hitler. The fact is that everyone has a little of that in them.

I would say that the parallel between you and God is precise. You do know that your child is going to do some things wrong. The only difference between you and God in this case is that God knows the particular things that every one of His children is going to do wrong. You don’t know the particulars, but you know it’s inevitable. If it is true that God is morally responsible for what His children do because He knows in advance, then it is also true that you’re morally responsible. But if it’s true that you’re not morally responsible because you know in advance, then it’s also true that God is not responsible. That’s why I argue that neither is morally responsible because the wild card, in a sense, in this discussion is free moral agency.

Human beings are not mechanistic. If you take a long stick and poke somebody in the eye with that long stick, that stick is not at fault. It is merely responding in a mechanistic way to your will. That’s why the person that initiates the action with the stick is the one that is culpable, the person to blame. But if what’s standing in your way is not a mechanism, but another human being that has free moral agency, that removes your culpable role in the process because you are not causing somebody to do something else. You merely give birth to somebody else who then makes choices for themselves. Because men can make choices, good choices and bad choices, they are moral agents in themselves and it’s not appropriate to look back on you as the parent or God as the creator as the one who is morally responsible. That’s true because men are not mechanistic, they are moral agents.

Why does God create a child He knows will go to Hell?

First, we have to distinguish between a goal and a desire. I would say it’s not God’s goal that all of His children come to Him. God never has a goal that is thwarted. God gets what He starts out to get. But His desire can be thwarted if we make a distinction between His sovereign desire and His moral desire. For example, it is God’s desire that nobody ever sin. Clearly people do sin. So here is a desire of God’s that can be thwarted.

One of those things that God desires of a moral nature, God’s moral will that He desires men to do that men can choose not to do, is to believe in His Son so that they can be forgiven for the times that they don’t obey Him. That is a choice that men have to make and men can choose against God and therefore thwart God’s desire.

But God also has a goal. The goal is that all of whom He chooses and gives to Jesus, Jesus loses none but raises them up on the last day. That’s John 6 and that goal will never be thwarted because it is something that God has purposed to do.

I need to make this clarification: nobody turns to God and they don’t turn to Him unless they are elected. In other words, unless God works on them to draw them, nobody would turn so if men are operating in their complete free will, then nobody is going to turn to Him. They consistently and persistently run from the God that pursues them. And God’s merciful response to that condition is to rescue some. Those are the elect.

God is certainly not unjust to rescue some because it is just to punish anybody who breaks God’s law. But one rightly raises the question of curiosity, why does God save some and not others? And if he’s not going to gather up all men, then why doesn’t He not create those He doesn’t gather up? In a way that is another way of asking why doesn’t He save everybody?

One could argue that God hasn’t created a lot of people that He wouldn’t be gathering up. There’s an infinite number of those He didn’t create that wouldn’t believe. Logic shows that that question is answered, but it doesn’t answer the more fundamental question: why doesn’t God save everybody? To that I have no answer. I can only say that in the long run it will work out more to His glory that He does not save everyone. I don’t know how that works out.

That sounds lame to some people, but if I have to come up with some response I think that it probably has something to do with God’s glory and I think we’ll understand later how that does not impugn His justice. To some people His justice is impugned and they assume He’s guilty until proved innocent. My response is that there are lots of things that tell me about God’s goodness and graciousness and mercy that gives me confidence in Him. In those things that I do see I have confidence in Him, so that helps me to have confidence in those things that I don’t understand. I got this from a poster but it makes the point very well: All of those things that I do know about God give me reason to trust him for those things that I don’t know. That’s reasonable. That’s fair.

It points out two things. First of all, there are some aspects of it that cannot be answered. We have to simply settle. We have to say we can’t answer that. It points out also that there are aspects of it that can be answered in a very reasonable way if we argue from analogy to human beings. The third thing that it points out is that the person who asks the question has a bigger problem than the person that has to answer it. The person who asks must answer the problem of evil in light of a holy and powerful God. But the person who asks the question must also solve the problem of evil. They must also solve the problem of good and they must thirdly solve the problem of distinguishing between evil and good in a universe in which there is no God to give any sense to either of then. So the non-believer has the thorniest problem but they just aren’t put on the defensive enough and we are.

God is not necessarily culpable and worthy of blame because He creates human beings that He knows to some degree will go bad in the future.

There is a tendency in that whatever we don’t understand we just stick God in the gap. There is a truth that we need to be able to say that there are some things we don’t understand about God. However, there are a lot of things that can be explained that people don’t take the time and energy to articulate. But there will be some things that we just can’t fathom. But that’s true of the unbeliever as well.