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Is God Apathetic or Ignorant?

6:00:00 AMJosh Merlo

Is God Apathetic or Ignorant:
Breaking Down the Problem of Free Persons Being Damned

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Historically, one of the thorniest issues in Christian philosophy has been that of God’s foreknowledge and our free will. Simply put, how can God infallibly know what we are going to do prior to our doing whilst we still remain free in doing our actions? One solution, as presented by Aquinas, is that man is free despite the fact that God causes man’s actions. Of course, to the modern mind, the thought of freedom despite an outside locus of causality is quite ridiculous. Dismissing this objection for a moment, we must examine closely the followings-from of Aquinas’s position. If man’s free acts are indeed caused by God, then man’s ultimate fate is something that is also caused by God. This is to say that God causes men to go both to heaven and hell. Yes, Aquinas did hold to the position that God causes the salvation or damnation of man. Now, this is highly problematic. After all, why would the all-loving, all-merciful, and all-good God of Christianity willingly cause the damnation of free members of His creation? Does God not care? Is He apathetic towards the unfortunate (to understate) eternal lot of some persons? Obviously, this is not a conclusion that any Christian would want to hold; God cannot be apathetic.
Now, we can return to the earlier-mentioned objection the modern might level against Aquinas’s compatibilism. “That’s not freedom!” most contemporary thinkers who acknowledge freedom as something real will exclaim. What, then, would their solution be? For many Christian scholars, God must then be put into time; if God is temporal, He learns things as they occur. Because of this, God is no longer the cause of free acts, leaving them actually free. Of course, the process theologian must sacrifice God’s perfection, immutability, and omniscience to arrive at this stronger sense of man’s freedom. Under this paradigm, God does not send man to hell by knowing from all time that man is going to go to hell. In fact, God does not know at all whether a man is going to go to hell or not. God has no knowledge of “contingent future events”, or things that have yet to occur from our perspective that are not necessary, things like human acts. While this solution portrays God as more caring, it does so through making God far less knowledgeable. This God is not apathetic, He is ignorant. Because of this ignorance, God cannot be assured that the world He creates is the one He wanted to create. God has no way to ensure, by Providence, that the world ends up as the best world He could have made, as He has no idea until the world gets to its end, what sort of world He’ll have. This God very well could have created a world in which everyone goes to hell without knowing so. Because He doesn’t know the fate of anyone, we can all take pleasure in the fact that, although we be damned, we were free during the overall process. Again, this is not a conclusion that most Christians would want to hold; God cannot be ignorant.

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What, then, are we left with, if we cannot have an omniscient God or a temporal God? Are our only choices between two very unsatisfactory ideas of the Divine, one a Being who doesn’t care about us, and the other a Being who doesn’t know enough to care for us? Of course, the denial of human freedom remains an option, but this is hardly one that makes up for the distastefulness of the previous possibilities. Also, said denial would make the reality of hell even worse, as God would create beings who were eternally destined to go to hell, though through no fault of their own. There is also the von Balthasar conclusion: hell is empty. Ignoring the questionable logic von Balthasar used to come to this conclusion, we can question wherein God’s justice comes into play, and furthermore recall all of the biblical passages that promise a fiery reckoning for sinners. As these two excursions have proven fruitless, must we now conclude that God is truly either apathetic or ignorant? Is there no way to escape this dilemma? To intensify the stakes, the Catholic Church requires dogmatically that her adherents grant God knowledge of all events, including contingent futures. This seemingly forces the faithful to, de fide, recognize God to be somewhat apathetic towards His dearly beloved children, or at least those He knows will go to hell. Now, there is another possible answer to our overall question; a better answer, one that allows us to recognize God as neither ignorant nor apathetic. Even better, there are two possible answers to the question that leave us having to apply no negative adjective to God. What these answers are, though, will be covered in a different post (because I’m a horrible person).

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