Friday, March 20, 2015

Does God create some to be eternally damned?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

If God is all-knowing (knows every move we'll make until we die) and all loving... Why does he create souls from inception knowing they will not be with him in heaven? Being all-knowing, he knows when we'll be born, when we'll die and all the choices in between. Example: All God creates is good, yet he knew the choices and evil Hitler would bring upon world... And he created him anyway.  Does it affect our free will if we are created with our choices already known, maybe not known to us, but known by God who creates us anyway?
Will Freilich
 Dear Will,
   The answer to this question is the little discussed and much overlooked heart of the Christian faith. Christianity is absolutely contrary to all other religions, at least the ones I know about. Most religions of the world seem to be an attempt to manipulate the powers that be; god, the gods, the forces of nature, etc. etc. to lighten up a bit, or at least a way to cope with the general disappointment that is life on this planet. You know suffering, alienation, crop failure, flooded basements, terminal diseases, death, that sort of thing.
Ancient Roman religion was a kind of voodoo that offered sacrifices just to keep the capricious faceless spirits of nature from making their lives miserable. It was a little like the pre-Walt Disney understanding of leprechauns, fairies and the other quaint creatures of Irish folklore. In truth, the leprechauns and fairies were cut from the same cloth as the banshees. They were nasty little nature spirits that would make life miserable for you if you crossed them. This seems to be a pattern in world folk religions. Religion was all about how to get the powers that be to leave us alone, and a big enough sacrifice might just get them to do what we want. More theologically developed religions like Hinduism and Hellenism had elaborate mythologies that attempted to explain everything. I know very few people, Christians or non-, for whom things similar are not believed.  
Your question is THE question. If God is for real and, especially if as the Christians say, He is all-powerful and all-loving, why is life such a struggle?  And if Christianity is right about an all-powerful all loving God, why does He allow eternal evil by creating those he knows will make evil choices and be eternally damned? The answer is, I think: Freedom. 
God has created beings that are truly free for the sake of Love. We Americans think we know all there is to know about freedom and love. We are clueless about both. We mistake freedom for enslavement to our desires and we confuse love with narcissism.  A real choice that reveals the essence of my being is necessary for love. If I must love you, I cannot love you. Here’s an example of what I mean. 
We’ve all seen those puff pieces on the telly, an interview with a 20-year old starlet who is about to marry some old geezer who is richer than God. There she sits next to some drooling, 90-year old fool of a billionaire who has one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave. She has hair as blonde as bleach can make it and has clearly had “some work done.” She says something stupid like, “Oh, I don’t care about the money. I love him and would marry him if we were the poorest man in the world.” 
In a few months, he dies of enthusiasm and leaves his entire fortune to the blonde bombshell and her two vicious little Chihuahuas. At that point a battle royal ensues between the lawyers of the grieving widow and the lawyers of the first, second and third wives. She didn’t love him. She was unable to love him. She was not free to love him. 
Your question rests on the assumption that the purpose of life is happiness, the assumption on which this country is founded. “We have been endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We Americans pursue happiness with a vengeance, even if the pursuit makes us miserable. The assumption of the Gospel is different. It holds that the purpose of life is Love because God is Love. (Understand that the specific word used in the Scriptures for this divine love is agape, or in English, sacrificial love, not just emotional attraction or affection.) The catechism says that God made us to know, love and serve Him in this world and so to be happy with Him forever. 
For moderns, the purpose of life is happiness.  For Christians, happiness is not a goal. It is a byproduct, a fruit of having pursued and attained the true purpose of life, which is true love. Heaven created us for Love and so heaven has endowed us with freedom and will not interfere with freedom. In short, we Christians worship a humble God. 
Once, many years ago, I was serving in a very poor parish. It was so poor that not only did the windows have no screens; the windows had no windows! I was all alone one day, offering Mass. The little flies were dive-bombing the chalice. In my mind I said to the Lord, “I believe that this is no longer bread and wine, but has become Your body and blood, but couldn’t You convince the fruit flies of this great miracle for just a moment?” 
The little voice inside said, “With My hands nailed to the wood of the cross, I was a feast for the flies.”
I reeled. I could almost not continue with the Mass. To think that Jesus of Nazareth, whom I believe to be the very hand that set the stars to spinning, could not lift His own hand to swipe the flies from His face. This is God??? 
We Christians believe that the All-powerful became powerless for love of us. Greeks and Romans believed that god was power. Muslims believe that god is will. Moderns believe that god is not. We believe that God is Love. Heaven is humble and will not force us to do His will. He will do His will if we ask Him to. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”  
Most people want God to do their will. Some people say we should pray that we are able to do God’s will. The Christian prays that God may do His will because He does not do it unbidden and uninvited. He has tied His own hands, allowed them to be nailed to the wood of the cross until we give Him permission to act as He pleases in our lives. Has it ever occurred to you that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth the Almighty knelt before human freedom? He stooped to wash the feet of Judas, His betrayer. For the sake of Love, He knelt before the man who would kill Him.  God, who is unlimited, has limited Himself for the sake of freedom. 
As for God knowing in advance, God does not know in advance. We cannot say that God knows in advance, because there is no “advance” for God. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We THINK. God simply KNOWS. He is eternal, timeless. We, too, made in God’s image are timeless beings but we live in time. The choices we make are made in time by our timeless selves timelessly. 
The mystery of true and absolute human is freedom wrapped up in the mystery of the timelessness of God. It is something that we do not, cannot now perceive, but the very existence of suffering is the evidence of the extremity of the love of God who wishes us to become what He has always been: Infinite Love. When our children suffer, do we wish they had never existed? No, we instinctively understand that sometimes suffering is the price of love.
In our smallness we cannot see past the suffering. We look at the cross and see tragedy. Heaven looks at the cross and sees Love, even in the midst of evil and sorrow.  As the old hymn has it, “What wondrous love is this, o my soul?” Hope this helps. 
Your Friend,
the Rev. Know-it-all 


  1. Wonderful! You put the matter so succinctly when you state: "Greeks and Romans believed that god was power. Muslims believe that god is will. Moderns believe that god is not. We believe that God is Love." Knowing this will help move us past that banal idea that "all religions worship the same God."

    Happiness truly is the byproduct of love, which should serve as the goal for Christians. Love is only possible when freedom exists; and what is freedom but possibility? Every moment brings a new possibilities, which man cannot even fathom, yet God knows perfectly. Knowing those possibilities, God allows men to decide their own course in life; He does not determine this path for them.

    God keeps life permanently open, never closing it. Men, especially proud men, attempt to close that door and explain away freedom with one theory or another. They try to act like God, knowing every possibility and only coming up a choice few. For the most part, this activity is a way of removing the burden of freedom and the responsibilities it entails. "It wasn't me it was: fate, society, nature, the gods, my psyche, etc."

    St. Augustine said that the future does not exist, nor does the past. The past has happened already, and the future has not happened yet. We know the past through records or memory, and we know the future through predictions or potential. To live in the present as God does, means remembering and predicting. God, although omnipotent, limits Himself to this condition in order to respect man's freedom. He remembers infinitely and predicts infinitely--thus, the past and future to Him are in this sense, Present--but He will not flatten the past or future into one timeline by eliminating the freedom that comes from man's action -- that is, unless man asks for His grace and providence.

    Unfortunately, this opens up the possibility of evil; it also opens up the possibility of stopping evil and loving others. Ignoring the problem, or denying it, will not solve anything. Men must take up the problem of evil like Christ took up the cross. Then, true redemption and love can happen. If Lent and Easter teach anything, it is this.

  2. Good grief. I was knocked over with this one in "seeing" how much God does love us. Thank you. Deo gratias.