Why not rig all the outcomes?
I first read the story of Joseph (of “dream coat” fame) when I was a teen-ager. It has a great plot:
- A young man is sold into slavery by his brothers because they resent his favorite-son status and his spiritual gifts.
- He ascends in a few giant steps from slave to ridiculously powerful Egyptian government official (1) because he is faithful to God and (2) because God has a clever plan.
- The brothers become victims of a famine, but God has enabled Joseph to predict the famine and prepare Egypt by storing food, so the brothers come to Egypt to beg for food. They meet with Joseph (wow, he’s powerful but accessible!), but they don’t recognize him — after all, he has aged, he’s dressed like an Egyptian, and at the top of a country’s government is the last place they would expect to see him.
- After a dramatic build-up, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers and declares: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
I found this idea fascinating: God can allow people to do evil and somehow engineer the results to be good. At the time, it made my mind race. God obviously ‘allows’ people to do bad things, but in this case, the bad things were instrumental in God’s plan. Another notable example of this phenomenon is the betrayal and execution of Jesus. In such cases, did God want the people to do evil? If not, how did something happen that God didn’t want to happen?
As a teen-ager, I thought: “God is going to have his way anyway, but he can do it with or without our cooperation.” I wanted to believe that God didn’t require for people to do evil, but since they were going to do evil anyway, God used them to accomplish something good. I was trying to let God off the hook.
But (1) God should not need my help getting off a hook, and (2) I was projecting human limitations onto God.
We humans want and seek for things to happen without knowing they will happen or being able to ensure that they will happen. We hope to get promoted; we try to stick to our diets. These are reflections of our wills. But God presumably has the ability to control all events and certainty about the effects of what he does (or allows people to do). So whatever happens, it’s God’s will, right?
In any case, if God is able to allow people ‘free will’ to do evil and still rig the outcomes ‘for good,’ he should be able to rig the outcome of every evil act so the victim is protected or even rewarded. Haven’t seen much of that in recorded history. Either he’s opting not to rig outcomes, or the suffering is the intended outcome!