God’s will or God’s permissive will

I’ve heard Christian preachers talk about how God permits suffering to happen as part of his permissive will. They say God permitted a man to be born blind so Jesus could heal him and bring glory to God. If God is omnipotent, omni-present, omniscient, alpha, omega, and creator, then how can anything happen that he didn’t intend? How could I possibly be out of God’s will? In order for one of his creations to go out of his control he would somehow have to give up control. Naturally he can take back control any time he likes so in reality he never has lost control at all. The Wright Brothers made an airplane but were not able to control it very well until they made improvements and learned to fly it. This was because they were limited in their knowledge and abilities. God has no such limitations. He knows exactly what the consequences are of putting humans on this planet. He knows if a storm will be caused by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings. If God exists then everything that has ever happened was exactly as God intended. All the joy you experience is because God wanted you to experience that joy. Any pain you feel is because God wants you to feel that pain. That is true only if God exists. If God is Creator of all, then how can a single atom move unless he wants it to move? How can a single chemical reaction take place unless God wants it to happen? God didn’t just allow the man to be born blind, he caused it.

This idea brings up questions about free will and personal responsibility. Questions I don’t have anwers to. I don’t know if I have free will. I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t know if the Bible is all true and I have a hard time believing people who say it is. If you can explain how you can do something that God doesn’t want you to do, I’d love to read it.

If God exists, then he is the “First Cause.” He is the ultimate cause and essentially the only cause. You can’t honestly say, “The devil made me do it,” but you can say, “God made me do it.”

25 Replies to “God’s will or God’s permissive will”

  1. Imagine you are a software engineer and you write a decision-making program. You could write the program to choose your desired outcome each time, but instead you program it to choose based on its own criteria. Since you let the program choose the criteria and make the choice, it’s possible that it will choose something you do not want. But then again, you want it that way.

    If God operated that way, wouldn’t that explain how you could do something that He doesn’t want you to do?

  2. I don’t think you could make such a computer program as you would have to program what you consider the programs “own criteria”. Of course, I’m not a programmer so maybe you can.

    Personally, I believe free will is actually just an illusion created by our brains. All of our thoughts and actions are a result of the chemical reactions that go on inside our bodies. Those chemical reactions follow the laws of thermodynamics and are all inevitable. Therefore, every thought, every action we have is an inevitable result of our body’s chemistry. No free will. No free thought.

    Having said this, you might as well live your life as if you did have free will. It’s more enjoyable that way even if it is an illusion.

  3. Say I designed the computer program to issue storm warnings based on weather data, but it was erratic and sent out warnings after a single raindrop or sent no warning when a hurricane was coming. The computer is making decisions that I didn’t want because I either did a poor job of programming or the weather data was too complex for the computer to handle. Or I designed it to make bad decisions in which case it is doing exactly what I wanted.

    Wait, I just re-read your comment. Are you saying God wants me to do things that he doesn’t want me to do?

  4. Perry,

    In theory, if you knew all the possible criteria for making the decision, you could program the computer to choose among them. And even if it chose randomly, one or more of those choices would inevitably be something you do not want.

    However, your post contains a logical contradiction. If there is no free will, you can’t live your life as if you did have free will. And you can’t choose that which is more enjoyable. In fact, you can’t choose anything! You can’t even choose to reply to this post. Or not to reply.

    To get a little deeper, if every thought is just chemistry and physics, how do you know that any of your thoughts are correct? Or, how do you know that any opposing thoughts are incorrect? Maybe those chemical reactions are just telling you that your thoughts are only chemical reactions, but they’re really not. How could you have any confidence in any conclusions you make, since the conclusions themselves are a result of chemical reactions?

    Btw, http://justyouraveragejoggler.com is an awesome web site. I do a little juggling, though not nearly as much as Dedwarmo. When I first started juggling, I would joggle by mistake because I wasn’t throwing the balls straight up :-)

  5. Dedwarmo,

    No, I’m saying that God wants you to have the *ability* to do things He doesn’t want you to do. I want my wife and son to love me, but if I could force them to love me through some kind of brain surgery whereby they would have no choice, I wouldn’t do it.

    Imagine it’s my birthday….
    Me: “Thanks for the gifts, but you shouldn’t have!”
    Wife: [In robot voice] “You’re right, I shouldn’t have, but I had to. I was programmed this way.”
    Son: [In robot voice] “Yes, that’s right. So was I. I hope you appreciate our thoughtfulness.”

  6. It may not make for a very pleasant relationship when every decision we make is God’s will, but I don’t see how it can be any other way. I just don’t see how the creature can rebel against the creator unless the creator was somehow limited in his knowledge or power. A human building a robot is dealing with materials and principles that he understands in a limited way and therefore his robot could behave unpredictably. But the God of modern Christianity not only understands how humans work, but he created and put together every cell, molecule, atom, electron in our bodies. He allegedly put a soul in each of us and gets that soul and body to interact somehow. How can this person whose food comes from God giving him energy (created by God) do something that God doesn’t want him to do?

    I think whoever came up with the idea of humans rebelling against God didn’t think it through completely. And then he punishes us for rebelling. At least that part fits in with his omnipotence. If he created us, he can do with us as he pleases.

  7. A person could only do something that God doesn’t want him to do if God allowed it. As in my illustration, if I allowed my wife and children to choose to not love me, even if I had the power to force them to do otherwise, I would be doing the same thing that God does, in that limited sense. Does that make sense?

    I may not understand why He created us that way, but it’s not that hard to understand that He has the ability to do it.

  8. Becky,

    Are you asking me or Dedwarmo?

    My answer is that evil is something God allows within the larger sphere of His sovereignty for His purposes. We may or may not understand someday why He allowed it.

    If you are an atheist, there is no evil.

    That is, it’s not *inherently* wrong to kill babies, or murder Jews or to torture children for fun and profit.

    Humans have simply made up conventions respecting what they will and will not allow, something needed for the survival of the human race, acc. to Dedwarmo. But, if they allow baby torture (which we do, btw), he wouldn’t like it, he might work to outlaw it, but it’s not wrong.

    See our conversation about Hitler at

  9. My question goes further than just human will. It concerns the nature of the Universe. Not only am I asking how is it possible that a creature could rebel against its omnipotent creator, but how can any event (good, bad or neutral) happen unless God specifically wanted that event to take place?

  10. I would disagree with the notion that “if you are an atheist, there is no evil”. I would argue that our morality and notions of right and wrong come from within. It doesn’t come from God. They are the result of millions of years of evolution. God is just a manifestation of our internal morality.

    You can imagine as we were evolving, things like not killing babies, or not stealing from your neighbors, etc provided an evolutionary advantage to the beings that followed them. The ones that didn’t follow them ended up going extinct. Evolving morality is no different than evolving an eyeball. The ones that provide an advantage stick, and the ones that don’t go extinct.

    As far as we know, animals have no sense of whether God exists or not. But there are instances of animals doing altruistic things. They appear to also have an inherent morality.

    And the thing about our morality is that it changes over time. If you literally followed the messages in the Bible, you should have no problems with Slavery. The people of Biblical times believed slavery was not evil. Fortunately, people became more enlightened and we changed it so God didn’t believe in slavery anymore so we didn’t have to believe in it either.

    But I ask you, what is the basis for the morality status change for something as evil as Slavery?

    As to free will, humans and everything else is made up of matter. Matter follows specific rules (as set out by God if you like). Your thoughts are just a result of those reactions. They can’t be any other way. I just feel happier to live thinking that I have a choice in the way my life ends up even though I really don’t. In reality, I can take no credit or blame for anything that happens to me. People have no more choice in their lives than a drop of water going over Niagara Falls. It’s all just molecules in motion.

    PS. Thanks for the kind words about the blog. We don’t get nearly as heady as this blog gets.

  11. Christians might argue that people’s behavior has changed over the years (ie: abolishing slavery) but God’s moral law has never changed (love your neighbor as you love yourself).

    At least your blog is consistent. Mine is all over the place. Have you checked out Bobmo’s blog?

  12. I suppose they could argue that, but God certainly had more to say than just “love your neighbor as you love yourself”. Religious people say lots of things are immoral that wouldn’t violate God’s moral law. Homosexuality for example.

    Here are some interesting passages from the Bible (New Testament) that condone slavery.

    And a bit more about the subject.

    The point is, God never said slavery was evil. And up until the 19th century people didn’t think it was evil either. What changed? The Bible didn’t change.

    I suggest that Humanity’s collective morality changed. Then we changed God to fit our own behaviors. And decades from now when humanity sees things like environmental waste as evil, we’ll change God again to suit our new morality. God is a reflection of morality, not a creator of it.

  13. “I just feel happier to live thinking that I have a choice in the way my life ends up even though I really don’t.”

    So, did you choose to think that you have a choice in the way your life ends up?

  14. Yes & no.

    I don’t consciously think about the fact that all choices, thoughts, and actions are just the inevitable result of molecules in motion. I believe it, but it doesn’t impact the way I live my life.

    The only effect on me is that I take little credit for my successes and little blame for my failures. The outcomes were inevitable.

    For my daily life, I suspend disbelief in much the same way people do while watching magic shows or movies. My brain must just think life is more enjoyable that way.

  15. Do you *choose* to take little credit for your successes and little blame for your failures? Do you choose to suspend disbelief? Did you choose to respond to this post?

  16. If you claim that all choices are illusions, then on what basis can you say that any choice I make, to believe in God, for instance, is wrong? It’s just the results of unguided chemical processes, right?

    Don’t people make wrong choices all the time?

    Don’t you really think that I should choose *not* to believe in God?

    And, what difference does evidence make, if you cannot even choose whether or not to believe the evidence? So much for science.

    Haven’t you gotten yourself into a logical bind by denying that you can choose anything and by saying it’s all an illusion? Was that very statement an illusion?

  17. I don’t say your choice to believe in God is wrong. In reality, you have no choice at all. It was inevitable based on something that happened at the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago.

    While I accept the fact that all things are a result of chemical reactions (including all behaviors and choices), these chemical reactions also convince me not to live my life this way. So, I don’t. I’ll live with the illusion of choice.

    Not sure I agree people make wrong choices. They might make different choices than I make but they didn’t have the same advantages I had.

    I don’t believe you should choose not to believe in God. I don’t proselytize. I’m unconvinced by the evidence. Perhaps you are.

    Like I said, I live in the illusionary world of free will so I buy into the paradigm of science and logic as the best system for determining truth in our reality.

  18. I think you *do* think my choice to believe in God is wrong. You said that the existence of God is also not supported by any evidence. You wouldn’t suggest believing something unsupported by the evidence, would you? Even though you think I have no choice, don’t you think my belief is at least incorrect?

    Or, do you think there is at least a possibility that the statement “God exists” is true after all?

    So, your thoughts are caused by the chemical reactions in your brain which cause you to think that your thoughts are not caused by the chemical reactions in your brain? How do you know that *that* thought is correct?

    And you really don’t believe that people make wrong choices? Would it be a wrong choice if I chose to disagree with that statement?

  19. No, your choice to believe in God is not wrong. I think you are mistaken about God’s existence, but all the evidence may not be collected so it’s possible you could be right and I could be wrong. Believe whatever you want.

    I choose to believe in things that are provable. If there isn’t compelling evidence to believe in something, I don’t. I see no compelling evidence for God. If there was good evidence for God, I could be convinced but there just isn’t any. There’s as much proof for God’s existence as there is for Zeus or Allah or Astrology or Big Foot or Santa Clause. I don’t believe in those things either.

    I do believe in stuff like Gravity, Evolution, Atomic Theory, and the Laws of Thermodynamics. These could all be wrong but they are the best theories we have to explain the available evidence.

    People make choices different than I make. That doesn’t mean they are wrong. They are just not choices I would make. Perhaps they have some evidence of which I’m ignorant or they are not aware of information that I know.

    This is where science and religion part ways. Science is open to the possibility that every conclusion that comes from it is wrong and could be replaced by something that is more “right”. Religion is necessarily unchanging. It is unable to adapt to new facts and thus becomes outdated and practically useless.

    If you don’t think your thoughts come from chemical reactions in your brain, where do you think they come from?

  20. You said, “I choose to believe in things that are provable. If there isn’t compelling evidence to believe in something, I don’t.”

    Are you saying that you only believe those things that are empirically verifiable?

  21. No, I’m not saying that.

    There are plenty of things that are not “empirically verifiable” that I believe in. Love, beauty, etc.

    In fact, most things are not empirically verifiable and are instead conclusions drawn from incomplete empirical data. For example, you could never prove the existence of dinosaurs, but based on the evidence we do have and our own logical deductions, we can say they more likely existed than didn’t exist.

    But the starting position in the debate about dinosaurs and God is the same. You start out agnostic. You say, “I don’t know.” And if you further apply the principle of Occam’s Razor, you’ll lean slightly towards the notion that any theorized, unobservable thing does not exist. It’s a simpler universe to be devoid of God. Adding God as the creator unnecessarily complicates things. For example…

    No God Hypothesis:
    1. Human wonders, what created the universe?
    2. Answer: I don’t know

    God Hypothesis:
    1. Human wonders, what created the universe?
    2. Answer: God
    3. Human wonders, what created God?
    4. Answer: I don’t know

    The God hypothesis provides no useful information about our existence. There’s no empirical evidence that one exists so until there is, I’m skeptical. Of course, if you can provide some evidence I could be swayed.

    But could you ever be swayed by evidence that your belief in God is mistaken? If so, what would that be?

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