I have been engaged in an ongoing discussion with several friends about the concept of human Free Will, a cornerstone of all Abrahamic religions. If humans do not have Free Will, the whole scheme of sin and salvation collapses.
I am going to walk down some well-trodden paths here, but bear with me and you will eventually see some new and, I hope, interesting scenery. Let’s begin with some characteristics of God, as described in various sacred documents. I have selected three that are relevant to this discussion. (Source: Theopedia)
All-powerful – God has all power. He can exercise dominion over the entire universe, carry out the purposes of his wisdom, govern the hearts of men, and even create things out of nothing.
All-knowing – God knows all things. This includes the past, the present, and the future
Benevolent and Merciful – God has all wisdom. He works everything out for the good of his people. He shows His mercy by not giving us the punishment we deserve.
The Christian concepts of Heaven, Hell and Free Will are not consistent with the divine attributes listed above. If God is All-Powerful then he could have created us so that we could not sin, and therefore all of us would achieve salvation. Nobody would go to Hell. In fact, God could have simplified the design by eliminating Hell.
A Christian would answer that God wanted to give us the “gift” of Free Will so that we could choose freely not to sin. But God is All Knowing, so he knows that we will exercise our free will when we are tempted, and that every single one of us will sin. Ah, but he is also Benevolent and Merciful, so he will forgive some of us and we will be saved from Hell. But according to His own words in the Bible (Matthew 7:13), many will not be saved. They will be cast into Hell to suffer eternal punishment for the sins they committed in their short lifetimes, the blink of an eye compared to the endless torture they are condemned to suffer. How is this consistent with a God who is Merciful? Was Free Will a gift…or a curse? Furthermore, according to Christian beliefs, God created Satan to tempt us, making it even more difficult to avoid sinning. This is not consistent with a God who is either benevolent or merciful.
Taken literally, this belief system is cruel, absurd and immoral. There are many intelligent Christian believers. How can they rationalize these obvious contradictions? The God described above is a malicious tinkerer, creating us without our permission and then forcing us to play his little game of life according to his rules, with our all-too-human nature that he designed, dooming most players to lose the game. This is not the God that believers are taught to believe in, but it is the only God that makes any logical sense, if one is to believe in the concepts of Heaven, Hell and Free Will.
Now, to address the issue of “faith-based” belief: Christians who bother to read what I have written above will probably respond…”You need to stop using logic and reason, and take the ‘Leap of Faith.’ Then, it will all become clear to you.”
I have thought about the Leap of Faith, and I view it thus: Humans start their lives on the bank of a swamp. The bank is named “Ignorance.” Across the swamp there is another bank named “Enlightenment.” The swamp is too wide to leap over, but it is easy to leap into it. The name of the swamp is “Superstition.” There is a very complicated and challenging series of floating logs that provide a passage across the swamp to the other bank. These are the logs of logic and reason. The crossing is difficult, and there are many people living in the swamp who tell those trying to cross, “Do not cross. Join us in the swamp. We are very happy here. Take the Leap of Faith…INTO the swamp.”