Ashwin suggests that things would have been better if God chose NOT to create the universe. He says, “I’m faced with a question for which I can’t find an answer anywhere and it is causing me to doubt everything I believe…. If God chose NOT to create any being … there won’t be sin and there won’t be a need for eternal hell. God wouldn’t lose anything by not creating, because He is already self-sufficient as a triune God. He is not in any “need” for more glory if he is all sufficient in himself. If God didn’t want hell for anyone, the best way is to not create. Yet God created. By choosing to create, he wanted hell to exist, and He wanted people to freely go to hell. Given this, how do you justify that God is good?
A REPLY FROM DR. RICH KNOPP:
Dear Ashwin, you raise an incisive question about God’s goodness in a unique way. More often, people doubt the goodness of God because of the nature of the universe. It seems filled with natural disasters, social injustices, and personal pain. How could a good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God create a world like that?
However, you’re wrestling with a more fundamental question: why did God create the universe in the first place? You insightfully (and correctly) point out that the triune God is “self-sufficient,” so it’s not like God needed to create the universe. So why did he, especially when the reality of hell had to be a foreknown consequence?
Perhaps one reason that is causing you “to doubt everything” stems from the way you characterize what God “wants.” You propose that “by choosing to create, God wanted hell to exist and he wanted people to freely go to hell.” Phrased this way, it seems to violate our deepest moral intuitions: how could a “good” God want that?
I’d like to offer a different take on what God wants and why He wants it. First, some passages clearly communicate that God does not want any to perish. Peter says that God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9 NIV). And Paul says that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4 NIV). In fact, God’s plan, based on God’s love and sacrifice, was not to condemn the world but “to save the world” (John 3:16-17). These passages suggest that it’s problematic to characterize God as wanting people to go to hell.
Yet Scripture is also clear that some will not be saved. So we might wonder, how could God want something that does not turn out to be true? How could God want everyone to be saved and yet some will perish? Doesn’t this challenge God’s goodness or God’s power?
I suggest that this apparent theological problem arises, in part, from a problematic assumption many have: “What God wants, he always gets.” We may think that if this is not true, then such a God isn’t really God. However, I contend that this assumption is false—that is, God does not always get what he wants.
This may sound astonishing and, unless it’s properly qualified, even heretical. So I must clarify. I firmly believe that God is truly sovereign—that he is all good and all powerful, and his will (i.e., what he wants) will ultimately and inevitably be accomplished. However, sometimes God allows what he does not want. In a sense, this should be obvious and undeniable. God does not want anyone to sin—but they do. Yet this does not make God less God. It means that God temporarily allows something he does not want in order to accomplish what he does want in his larger and longer-term will.
The difficult question you raise can also be applied to human freedom and sin. If God knew that giving freedom to humans would result in their sin, why would a good God give human freedom? Following your reasoning, the best way for God to prevent sin would have been not to give human freedom. And that is certainly one way God could have prevented human sin. He could have created humans as robots without genuine freedom who could not genuinely sin and be rightly held accountable for it. Why didn’t God do that? For now, I suggest that God had a larger and longer-term plan in mind.
Second, let’s focus on your big, underlying question: why did God choose to create the universe when he knew some humans would reject him and experience hell? To put it more simply: why did God create the universe? Of course, this is a difficult question! And the question is deeper than biblical answers can clearly resolve. Nonetheless, one major consideration has especially helped me make some sense of it. Maybe it will help you too.
Before I get to that, I’ll mention two responses I often heard growing up about why God created the universe. While these were understandable and somewhat helpful at the time, I now regard them as theologically problematic. One response is that God created this universe because he needed someone to love. But this response is inconsistent with God’s self-sufficient nature—something you rightly mention in your post. God does not need anything. The second response is that God wanted someone who could love him. But this presumes that none of God’s heavenly creation (like angels) had any freedom (which is necessary for genuine love) to begin with. However, I’m not convinced that this is true. As I discuss more below, if sin began with angels, then they must have had some range of freedom. Furthermore, these two popular responses fail to recognize the significance of God as triune—God existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When properly understood, the triune nature of God means that God is relational in his very being. Therefore, God does not need to create in order to have someone to love him or to be loved.
The consideration that has helped me most with the perplexing question about the purpose of God’s creation focuses on what happened BEFORE the creation of the universe. I admit that some of this is speculative, but I think it’s based on what Scripture says or on what we can reasonably infer from Scripture. Here are the major ideas:
- Sin originated before the creation of the universe. This means that sin did not begin with Adam and Eve. I know Romans 5:12 says that “sin entered the world through one man” [Adam], and this may be taken to mean that Adam’s act created sin. But this passage simply states that sin entered the world through Adam; it does not really address whether sin existed prior to Adam. In addition, the notion that sin did not exist prior to Adam’s act cannot adequate explain how a “sin-tempter” could already be present in the Garden before Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:1-15).
- Prior to the creation of the universe, a “cosmic struggle” began. I’m referring here to the rise of Satan, who arguably is a fallen angel. I personally believe that Isaiah 14:12-15 alludes to the fall of Satan, although the passage clearly and primarily refers to the king of Babylon who has “fallen from heaven” and “been cast down to the earth” (v. 12). This person said, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14). By itself, this passage makes no connection to a celestial “Satan.” However, several New Testament passages offer commentary on the origin of Satan. Peter says that “God did not spare angels when they sinned” (2 Pet. 2:4). Jude informs us that the angels “did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode” (Jude 6). And when the disciples experienced the demons submitting to them in Jesus’ name, Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Perhaps this refers to what was happening at the time of Jesus, but it has an intriguing possible connection to Isaiah 14 with its imagery of someone who has “fallen from heaven” (v. 12).The big point is that celestial beings who were created before the creation of the universe had apparently “fallen,” and a cosmic struggle with God ensued. This had enormous ongoing consequence on our world. Paul says that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but … against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12 NIV, emphasis added).
- Somehow, the purpose for God creating the universe—and creating it with the qualities it has (including the function of human freedom and the foreseen human fall into sin)—must be connected to God’s cosmic struggle with Satan and Satan’s inevitable and ultimate destruction. John even describes the devil as one who “has been sinning from the beginning.” He then summarizes the primary purpose for the Son of God coming: “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8; cf. Heb. 2:14).
All of this addresses your claim, “If God didn’t want hell for anyone, the best way is to not create.” First, I explained that God didn’t want hell for anyone—any human, that is. (Remember that Jesus specifically said that the “eternal fire” [i.e., hell] was “prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41].) But God temporarily allowed something he didn’t want (human sin) in order to accomplish his larger and longer-term purpose: to render eternal judgment on Satan and his forces (Rev. 20:7-15) and to provide eternal salvation for the faithful (Rev. 21).
Second, I suggest that some things are not actually possible for God. Again, this may sound astonishing and, unless it’s properly qualified, even heretical. But I believe it’s biblical. It’s ridiculous to think that God can create a square-circle or a rock so big he can’t move it. But more significantly, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup [of suffering] be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). And he prayed a second time: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matt. 26:42). As we reflect on what we know occurred, it seems necessary to conclude that it was not possible for God to accomplish his larger and longer-term purpose (the redemption of humanity) without allowing something that, in a sense, he did not want (the death of his Son).
My proposal is that the “best way” for God to accomplish his larger and longer-term purpose was NOT to NOT create the universe, but for God to do what he did: create the universe with human freedom, knowing that it would allow sin, bring suffering, and result in judgment (heaven and hell) based upon his justice and grace. God provided a redemptive plan that was in place “before the creation of the world” (see Eph. 1:3-14; 3:8-11)—a plan that would inevitably end the cosmic conflict and demonstrate God’s righteousness to all of his creation (see Psalm 22:31; Rom. 1:17; 3:5-6,24-26).
To put it in very simple terms: God knows what he is doing.