Is it inconsistent to praise God for apparent action while claiming that apparent inaction is a mystery?



Finally the site is open! I've been waiting to ask this for a week or so. I have been pondering typical responses concerning intercession and resultant positive/negative outcomes and am hoping someone can assist with explaining the actual argument being used, or perhaps that should be used.

The gist of the problem is that I perceive believers in my circle to say both of the following:

  • When desirable outcomes occur (according to common sense), God shall be praised for his actions which bring these outcomes about
  • When undesirable outcomes occur (according to common sense), we have no idea what God's motivations are behind such apparent inaction

My intuitive reaction to this reality is that these statements are saying that it is both possible and impossible to know what God would or would not do, but I'm not sure my intuitions are correct and am looking for help with the underlying arguments.

Perhaps the issue is that it seems implied that God would bring about a positive outcome because of his omni-max qualities. If my understanding of this implied basis for praise is correct, I think the philosophical conundrum is this:

If one claims to know the reasons for an agent's actions (or at least that the agent brought about some outcome via action), can one claim to be entirely ignorant of reasons for an agent's inactions?

Put one last way, can one gather information about an agent's reasons for actions such that:

  • the information informs one only about reasons for action,
  • the information states nothing whatsoever about reasons for inaction,
  • any perceived actions provide no new information about the likelihood of future action/inaction,
  • and any apparent inaction provides no new information to confirm/disconfirm the original information concerning reasons for action?


Posted 2011-06-16T05:16:35.740

Reputation: 391

4Answer: Yes, it is inconsistent. Just like it is inconsistent to claim an all-powerful all-knowing god, and still take aspirin when you have a headache. Reasonably, the all-knowing, all-powerful god wants you to have a headache if you have one. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-16T05:26:54.810

I think this great story by Borges raises exactly this question:

– Ami – 2011-06-16T05:30:41.123

@Lennart: Good points. Perhaps if one always prays for what is "apparently good," one may be preventing someone from experiencing even greater goods via suffering. Perhaps the only prayers that should be prayed are, "God, please do what you were going to do anyway." – Hendy – 2011-06-16T05:47:47.410

@Hendy: Well, since god is omniscient, praying must be completely useless, reasonably. Unless god refuses to do anything except when asked to. Which I have a hard time getting to make sense with the general idea of god. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-16T06:20:00.970

@Lennart Praying isn't useless in that it changes our perception of things. While it's true that all of which God has decreed will come to pass, it's not necessarily always evident what will come to pass. It may be the case that my mother has fallen ill, but not the case that the illness will eventually take her life. Prayer, a commandment in Scripture, doesn't change what will take place, but it alters my perception of what is taking place, additionally serving as a proclamation of God's authority and power over all things. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-16T16:54:19.280

@Jonathan: In other word, raying makes you feel better. And that's fine. But then you are praying to yourself, not to God. God already knows what you want, you don't have to pray to him for that. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-17T03:38:32.570

@Jonathan: like Lennart, I guess I had the mistaken understanding that praying was thought to bring about changes in future things to come. If when Jesus said, "Ask anything in my name and it will be given to you," he meant, "I already know what you will ask in my name and that outcome has already been destined to happen," than it would seem like this begins to fiddle with what others think of as free will and that we're in a fun house only perceiving any ability to actually participate in God's will. Similarly, why pray "thy will be done" if it's not an open discussion? – Hendy – 2011-06-17T15:33:21.000

@Lennart Not exactly. Praying expresses humility towards God, and is done as an act of obedience to Him. Whether or not it makes you feel better is secondary. This doesn't lead to the conclusion that you are praying to yourself - you'd have to work out that line of thought for me. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T15:57:33.560

@Hendy Praying may serve as the means by which God acts, but it doesn't determine whether or not God acts. God has decreed all that will come to pass, and has decreed that our prayers would be part of the sequence that leads to x. Praying "thy will be done" is not ad admission that anything but it could happen, but rather a desire to see it happen always. When I pray for a sick family member, I pray as a finite being "Lord, I would like to see this person better," but I also pray as a being having knowledge of God's decree, "Nevertheless, thy will be done in all things." – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T16:05:09.793

@Hendy: Not a mistaken understandning, this is how 99.99999% of all Christians see it. @Jonathan: Well you just declared that man doesn't have free will, so not praying is also an act of obedience, as I have no choose in praying or not. I'm an atheist because god made me one, apparently. My conclusion above did assume the free will of man, so it's not relevant any more. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-18T05:39:43.417

@Lennart Regarding your claim that you are obeying God by not praying, I disagree. Obedience follows a request or command, and God's command is to submit in prayer. God's decree is not a request, nor is it a command that you obey. God's decree is the dictation of all that will come to pass, not a suggestion of what we ought to do. You have a choice to pray or not, but your fallen will chooses not to do so. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-18T07:03:30.980

@Jonathan: but didn't you also say that God has pre-willed everything? Obedience implies that I could do it another way; but God already knows that I will or will not pray and, indeed, made me that way. – Hendy – 2011-06-18T13:31:16.707

@Hendy God has decreed all that will happen, yes. But you, having a will, ought to be obedient to the prescriptive will of God, having no advance knowledge of the decretive will of God (with the exception of prophecies, etc). As I sit here, I'm ignorant of what has been decreed for the next three minutes. I choose to continue typing, or not to continue typing. It just so happens that whatever I will to do has been decreed prior to me having done it. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-18T14:18:57.387

@Jonathan: Your two sentences "God's decree is the dictation of all that will come to pass, not a suggestion of what we ought to do." and "You have a choice to pray or not, but your fallen will chooses not to do so." contradicts each other. @Jonathan: "It just so happens that whatever I will to do has been decreed prior to me having done it." Then it is not a choice. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-18T16:46:40.613

@Lennart They aren't contradictory. I willingly do that which has been decreed. What about that is confusing? It's not coercion, where it's my will versus God's decree. God's decree shapes the very will of man, but it doesn't destroy the will of man. When I respond to this message, I do so because God decreed it and I willed to do it. You'll have to point out the contradiction, I simply don't see it. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-19T01:42:04.553

@Jonathan: It is a tautology that a predetermined will is an unfree will. If you don't see that, I can't help you. Sorry. You are simply incorrect in this. You can't reconcile predetermination and free will. (That you dither back and forth on whether we have a free will or not doesn't help). – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-19T04:59:38.167

You can't reconcile predetermination and free will. Please show me where I said we have a free will. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-19T17:27:29.523

@Jonathan: You said we have a choice. To have a choice we must have a free will. Now you say we do not have a free will. Then we do not obey god's will, as you have claimed. We are not obedient. We are in fact just puppets, no different than trees or stones, just more complex. We can not sin and we can not do good. There is no more "We should do this or that", because we have no choice. We "shall not do", we just "do". We are blameless of all things happening, only God can be blamed. (Which leads to God being evil, see comment on your answer). – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-19T18:14:52.440

@Lennart We do have a choice, but I never said our choice was free of influence and persuasion. We aren't puppets, as we have a will. We will to do what has been decreed. Stones and trees have no consciousness, no will, not even a will in bondage. We still carry blame, because we willingly commit offenses against God. We aren't forced against our will, our will desires to do those things. As for your conclusion that this somehow results in an "evil" God, I'm not sure what that work means in your vocabulary. 'Evil' to me is anything contrary to the prescriptive will of God. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-19T18:57:03.787

@Jonathan: Again, the confusion about free will: Influence and persuasion does neither remove the choice, nor make it unfree. However, your claims that god has decreed what will happen means we do not have a choice. You claim that we carry blame, even though the choice is not ours, but decreed by god. That is illogical. Of course "Evil" to you is something that is contrary to the prescriptive will of God, and since everything that happens is according to god, nothing is evil. Not even events like the holocaust. But in any sane persons morality, the Holocaust was evil. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-20T05:13:05.310

@Lennart No confusion about free will, man doesn't have it. Man's will is irresistibly influenced and persuaded by sin in such a way that man will choose it willingly. God's decree doesn't negate our choice, it determines our choice. We will choose x because He has decreed x. I won't labor that point any longer. Everything that happens is according to the decree, not necessary the prescription. That's the distinction you're missing. It's the difference between "Hitler will kill," and "Hitler ought not kill." I think my "answer" is clear on this question. Thanks for the discussion. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-20T05:47:08.490

@Jonathan: If god will determines the choice, then it is not our choice, but gods choice. In other words, we have no choice. This is trivially self-evident, indeed it is a tautology, and you deny this only because if you admit it it means you have to admit that your god is evil. Your answers are perfectly clear, as well as perfectly self-contradictory. You can not have a choice without free will. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-20T10:40:42.417

@JonathanSampson let us continue this discussion in chat

– Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-20T10:40:45.570

I don't know if this has been said, but I often notice the inconsistency in reverse form - "Why God? Why did this tragedy happen to me?" and "Wow, I am really god at X to be able to accomplish Y". Blame God for the failure, but relate to all personal accomplishments as if they have sprung entirely from my own skill set (which I alone am entirely responsible for the existence of). – dgo – 2014-06-27T17:09:24.403



The simple answer is that God should be praised for all things, good or bad, and thanked for all things, good or bad. Of relevance would be the 1689 London Baptist Confession, which states:

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;

Chapter 3: Of God's Decree

As for the aspect of mystery, I don't think it's inconsistent to involve that as well. The fact that x takes place is enough to praise God (speaking theologically here), whilst the means by which x came to take place could be a mystery to those involved in praise.

This answer may sound more theological than you had expected, but that is largely in part due to the nature of your question.

For what it's worth, a Christian (speaking of my own class of 'believer'), ought to be thankful for all things, desirable or undesirable. That doesn't mean we don't mourn tragedies on another level, in our ignorance of God's reason for decreeing such tragedy, but it does mean that we must ultimately defer to (as stated above) the most wise and holy counsel of his own will.

There is a flip-side to this coin as well. Unbelievers ought to refrain from "Where was your God when..." type of arguments when tragedies take place, unless they think it is equally worth asking "Was your God responsible for..." when great things take place.

Contrary to the comment that it is inconsistent to claim an all-powerful all-knowing god, and still take aspirin when you have a headache, it is not inconsistent to take an aspirin when you have a headache while at the same time believing all that takes place follows from an eternal decree. Man only knows the decree as it is manifested in the past, and therefore has no future goal to comply with in not taking an aspirin. If a person takes an aspirin, that act of taking an aspirin was also decreed eternally yet cooperatively done by the individual in time.

Jonathan Sampson

Posted 2011-06-16T05:16:35.740

Reputation: 285

If I get you right, you're resolving my question by claiming that all (good and bad) are mystery and are praiseworthy, correct? – Hendy – 2011-06-16T05:43:55.633

@Hendy I'm a bit confused about what you mean by "mysterious". The means by which an event comes to happen may be mysterious, but the fact that it took place means God decreed it according to his own will. In one sense, we are to express humility in knowledge and praise God for doing as he sees fit. In another sense, we may mourn a tragedy because of the means by which it came. The two aren't necessarily contradictory, unless you take the position that God is only in control when good things happen, and somehow is asleep at the wheel during the unfortunate things. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-16T05:56:06.547

@Jonathan Sampson: I think "mysterious" means that the reasons of the agent for choosing a particular outcome are unknowable by us. AKA, "God works in mysterious ways." – Ben Hocking – 2011-06-16T10:32:33.263

@Ben I would generally agree with that, with the exception of when God himself reveals the purpose for any particular event. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-16T12:48:26.590

@Jonathan Sampson: I'm not suggesting whether any particular agent does or does not work in mysterious ways, just trying to explain my interpretation of Hendy's use of "mystery". However, your response leads to the question of how do we know that God "revealed" a purpose for a particular event? If God came to you personally and revealed it, you might have a reasonable level of certainty (ignoring for sake of argument the possibility of insanity, an alien, or some other technology), but if someone else told you that God told them... – Ben Hocking – 2011-06-16T14:37:38.050

1@Ben On a presuppositional level I assume a priori that if God is the creator of man, He is capable of revealing items to man in such a way that man can know it. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-16T16:14:05.337

If God decrees all "things" there is no possibility of inaction, since any "thing" would be per the will of God. This means that anyone of any faith that percieves an event, no matter the size, as inaction would be denying the existence of God (by this definition). This also means, however, that God is both good and evil and, if he should be praised for all actions, must be praised regardless of the alignments of said actions. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-16T21:33:39.563

@Kevin God's decree is the primary cause, but not the secondary cause to all things. It was God's decree that I be born, yet that decree was not the direct cause of me being born, the procreation of my parents and the subsequent joining of two haploid cells was. For anybody to say "God has nothing to do with event X" is to deny God, I agree. The role in which God plays is of importance, not whether He plays a role. It doesn't follow that God is "both good and evil," as though there is a standard outside of God himself. We also must not confuse God's decree with his prescriptive will for man. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-16T22:13:44.840

The decree says what will take place, whereas the prescriptive will says what ought to take place. For instance, the 10 Commandments would be an example of prescriptive will, not decretive will. It's decreed that Dahmer will kill, it's prescribed that he should do otherwise. In the event Dahmer kills, we immediately look to the discernable will, the prescriptive will, and condemn his actions. We also look to God's decretive will and find comfort in knowing that no event takes place out of God's control, and therefore He has a morally sufficient reason for the aforementioned event. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-16T22:16:18.550

@Jonathan, If God decreed in himself, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;, then prescriptive will is likely non-existant. Further read on the page you linked agrees that all things are God's will, but the text from all eternity in the quoted passage allong with #2 on that page speak loudly on the subject. If God, [...] knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions [...] because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions, then God, by willing the "allowance" of any event, still decreed it. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-16T23:03:21.880

This is because he foresaw the events caused by the decree yet hath he not decreed anything, until he decree it. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-16T23:05:23.347

The act of taking an aspirin can not have been decreed eternally while preserving the idea of mans free will. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-17T03:40:55.207

@Lennart Man's will is not truly free. Only God has free will. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T15:28:30.537

@Kevin The wording of #2 is a bit confusing, but the proof-texts cited for it don't negate God's decree being the origin of all events (as opposed to God passively observing what would take place). The first text states that God knows the future from long ago, which comes down on neither side of the fence. The second text speaks of Jacob and Esau, and God's free to have mercy on whom He wills. The last sentence of the citation says "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T15:35:50.503

@Jonathan: Man's will is not truly free -- now things are making more sense about your answer in light of whatever variant of Christianity to which you adhere. – Hendy – 2011-06-17T16:17:29.717

@Hendy Man's will is influenced, always, by a myriad of items. No decision is made sans directive from one thing or another. I'm not sure how one could suggest otherwise. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T16:21:02.813

@Jonathan: Perhaps I misunderstood -- I took your statement to mean that God had pre-ordained all of man's actions from the start. – Hendy – 2011-06-17T16:35:05.423

@Hendy He has decreed all that man will do, and man will willingly do all that God has decreed. This isn't negated by the fact that man is influenced by a myriad of items - they serve as the means by which God's decree is played out. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T16:37:53.397

@Jonathan: and this is established/known how? – Hendy – 2011-06-17T17:28:20.957

@Hendy Through revelation. There is example after example in the Scriptures where it's shown that while man wills on his own to do that which pleases him, he ultimately moves about fulfilling the decree of God. I can provide examples if you're interested. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T18:35:41.530

@Jonathan: I dunno... I don't see this going anywhere very fruitful, especially since scripture as revelation requires you to rest on the reliability of your senses/cognition to determine its authority as having revealed the being that can ground... the reliability of your senses/cognition. – Hendy – 2011-06-17T19:10:56.843

@Hendy My sense are the means by which I read scripture, but this is no more problematic than looking into the mirror to examine your own eye. The Revelation of scripture provides the preconditions of intelligibility, therefore I adopt them as my ultimate epistemological presupposition. To do otherwise would leave me in complete agnosticism to any possibility of an outside world, individual identity over time, immutability of the laws of logic, etc. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T19:55:16.593

@Hendy Just so I don't forget, I do want to thank you for the thoughtful dialogue. I was hopeful this site would attract very careful thinkers, and I feel as though it's doing just that. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T19:56:02.710

@Jonathan: thanks, though I would add "frustrating" to "thoughtful" -- but that has been my experience in this arena anyway, so no surprises there :) Just playing along for a second, imagine the Bible was proven false and you wake up to find out. How would you live your life differently purely in the epistemological sense from the day before? – Hendy – 2011-06-17T20:04:17.260

@Johnathan, I think we are actually in agreement, based on your other replies. I just think we may be looking at the picture from a different perspective. The first text states that God knows the future from long ago, which comes down on neither side of the fence. -- This is my point. If he knew the outcome before he decree, then he is, by virtue of the decree, decreeing all possible outcomes cause by the decree. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T20:13:47.243

An example of this is the apperance to give man "free will". Before he decree it, he examine the outcome. He knows the result of giving man "free will" and, as such, has also decreed all outcomes of giving man "free will" simply by decreeing man have it. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T20:14:26.153

@Hendy For somebody to begin to prove the Bible false (whatever that means) they would first have to borrow from the Bible to prop up their concept of proof, truth, the intelligibility of the world around them and more. In other words, they would be operating on borrowed capital. This would be equivalent to me suggesting air is false, while my very argument is carried along by the thing I'm denying. Van Til and Bahnsen described this as a child who must stand upon his fathers lap if he wishes to slap his fathers face. He is using the foundation in his dishonor of that foundation. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T20:29:35.127

@Kevin I would suggest God knows the outcome from 'long ago' because He has established it actively, rather than passively observing it. Are you suggesting more of a molinistic understanding, where God survey's all possible Universes and then chooses to actuate the one which brings the most good? – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T20:31:45.470

@Johnathan, I'd say my outlook is a mix of both, minus "good". I never stated that God took any side. In fact I mentioned his both good and eveil, and therein neutral. I'd expect that aany cognitive being would look at all possible outcomes of any choice prior to making a rational choice (or decree). Thus, by analyzing the outcomes of the choice (or combination of choices) he knows the outcome 'long ago' and, upon decree, also decree all side-effects and outcomes of that decree all in one decree. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T20:45:50.673

My point in replying in the first place was to agree with your answer that the question's various points are in conflict, but also discuss the quoted text. God is/was/decree all things, thus must be praised for all things regardless of percieved alignment because alignment of a particular "thing" is based on current observation of the specific individual, not God. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T20:46:50.407

1P.S. I'd also like to thank you for the discussion. I needed a topic to get my feet wet on this site :P – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T20:49:52.077

@Kevin Assigning God the task of looking at "all possible outcomes of any choice" would lead me to ask what determines a possible outcome? I have a creeping suspicion that this would lead to a vicious cycle where, in order for God to see me doing x before creating me, I would have already been created in order to do x, thus necessitating His free act of creating me; repeat ad infinitum. Do you see my point? Before He can observe me doing anything, I must have already been actuated meaning He must have already made a decision based on His own will, or a recursive process of see/actuate ∞ – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T20:54:05.507

@Kevin God looks down the corridors of time and see Jonathan and Kevin discussing this topic, so He actuates this Universe for us to do so. But, within the corridors of time, Jonathan and Kevin both existed - how did they exist unless God had already actuated them (meaning He would have had to survey recursively). This is what I think leads to ∞ regress. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T20:59:17.127

@Jonathan: Sigh... did anyone have a proper epistemological foundation prior to, say, 6000 BC? If so, where did it come from? If not, how did they function? – Hendy – 2011-06-17T21:14:26.130

@Johnathan, I agree, but this only reinforces the power of God no? What you are saying is that we, beings that live in 4 deminsions, of which time is a factor, could possibly understand the logic or power of a being that created all deminsions and things within them. What is ∞ to us may not be applicable to God, for to him it is possible that all times are now or that all times are when he sees it. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T21:21:20.513

@Hendy Sure, everybody does, by virtue of being created in God's image. What I'm suggesting is not that man must read the Bible to reason, formulate logical proofs, and have justified true beliefs of reality. This is all true by virtue of him being created to do so, after the image of God. Likewise, we inherently perform mathematical operations prior to ever reading a math book that explains what our minds naturally do when presented obstacles. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T21:25:29.380

@Hendy, don't take this discussion to be a religious debate. I'm not siding that there is any god, nor that no god exists. I am simply discussing a understanding/observation with relation to God in this sense in order to understand the other person's observations. In philosphy, if you lack the willingness to concider that you might be wrong and lack the openess to explore and understand someone elses observations, you've failed. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T21:26:31.777

@Johnathan, I'll add one mroe thing to the ∞ comment. To make it easier to accept, one could even say that God has yet to actually decree anything and that this very instance is only his contemplation of his thoughts for what could be, within his own mind. After he has completed contemplating this existence based on the current decree he is reasoning worthy, the entire situation will end and a new begin. This actually supports the concept of ∞ in that it would state that God could never create reality, because he could never come to a decision. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T21:31:34.677

@Jonathan: It still all seems circular; mathematics has been discovered through proofs, theorems, and practical applications that displayed their coherency with reality. I don't see the analog with the Bible having the same level of objective coherence with reality. I have no doubt you believe strongly, but convincing one who does not already ascribe to the Bible's views that it has the foundational aspects you believe will be far more difficult than convincing the same person of mathematical truths. – Hendy – 2011-06-17T21:31:45.147

@Kevin I think the B-theory of time has its own problems, if that's what you're suggesting. While it's true that time is perceived differently for you and I than it is for God, your hypothesis is placing us within the eternal past where we are making decisions. That's what causes difficulties for me, since the moment of our creation would have had to of already taken place for us to be making decisions in the molinistic perspective. Perhaps this discussion is getting long in the tooth though :) – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T21:32:03.443

Thus, the concept of universes to a being of this power would be the remnents of all his past present and future rationalizations of a particular outcome, also supporting the science behind the multiverse. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T21:32:15.753

@Kevin: I don't know that I take it to be a religious debate; after all, there's tons more subject areas that come into play. I just find it quite odd for someone to suggest that "because the Bible has been interpreted by apologists as the ultimate portrayal of hidden reality," that it actually is so. It's even more odd to suggest that it answers this question when there is such a lack of objectivity in establishing that it does what Jonathan says it does in the realm of epistemology. – Hendy – 2011-06-17T21:33:43.227

@Hendy I'm not focusing on the physical object of the Bible. If all Bibles were destroyed tomorrow, my argument would be the same. The foundation upon which we hold ideas of truth, logic, reason, is the same foundation spelled out in the Bible. It's a foundation that is inherent in the thinking of all men, by virtue of being created in God's image. The proof of this, is that an abandoning of this presupposition results in inevitable epistemological agnosticism and an infinite regress of first-causes. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-17T21:35:05.563

@Hendy, I misread the comment I was respponding to at the time and apologize. – Kevin Peno – 2011-06-17T21:35:52.493

@Jonathan: Well, claiming that man doesn't have free will does solve the aspirin problem. But it undermines all the reasons for sin and religion, and frees you of all responsibility for your actions. It's not you, it's god. You as a human are no different than a vegetable. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-18T05:35:34.623

@Lennart You are equating no free will with no will at all. I didn't say man has no will, but rather his will isn't truly free, as only God's will is truly free. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-18T06:52:46.243

@Jonathan: It's free or not. Either you control your action, or god does. (Or neither). – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-18T06:59:38.810

@Lennart Both, actually. Birds are free to fly, as fish are free to swim, as sinners are free to sin. We are free in the sense that we do what comes naturally, but not free in the sense that we can do anything else. God decrees what will come to pass, and I willingly do that which He decrees. You are participating in this discussion both because you want to, and because God decreed that you would. Man can only will to do good when he is restored by God to a state in which he can desire to do good. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-18T07:07:54.303

I cannot find a way to differentiate "what happens" from "what God wills." How can one test your theory of God's will? If we can't know one way or the other, the hypothesis is utterly empty. – Hendy – 2011-06-18T13:34:02.803

@Hendy It's fallacious to think that something such as the will of God must be subject to a series of instruments for your testing. I'm speaking of the most base presuppositions of man, that provide us with certainty in induction, comfort in the abstract and invariant laws of logic. There isn't a difference between what happens, and what God decrees will happen. God's decree is deeper in our composition than matter itself. There's a distinction between decretive will (what will take place), and prescriptive will (what man ought to do when faced with certain decisions). – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-18T14:22:09.613

@Jonathan: as you said, "there isn't a difference between what happens, and what God decrees will happen." Thus, the two are indistinguishable and whether or not God's will even exists is impossible to determine. – Hendy – 2011-06-18T14:49:07.993

@Hendy It is not determined like, for instance, we determine the temperature of water. The authoritative will of God is an a priori necessity to any successful epistemology. If God is not in control of all things, I can find no good reason to rely upon my sensory experience, assume the uniformity and intelligibility of nature, trust the conclusions of universal and immutable abstract and immaterial laws of logic or maintain the assumption of individual identity over time. This is merely the beginning of a complete epistemological breakdown that follows the abandonment of the Christian God. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-18T16:05:30.767

@Jonathan: "Want to" does not imply "free will". To have a free will I have to have an actual choice. I have to have the choice not to want to, but according to you I don't, because god has decreed that I want to. That means I have no free will. You can not reconcile predetermination and free will. It is impossible. Full stop. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-18T16:49:41.360

@Lennart Keep in mind, I'm agreeing that man doesn't have a truly free will. I am suggesting that man has a will, but that will is in bondage to sin. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-19T01:45:10.527

@Jonathan: God is sin? That was a surprising turn. I think in any case you have clearly showed that you definitely can't make god logical. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-19T04:54:34.120

@Lennart God is not sin, no. I'll restate what I said earlier, that there are secondary causes. God's decree is certain, and the means by which that decree is manifested may vary. It was decreed that Hitler would commit an atrocity, and the means by which Hitler did that was a sinful will. Where exactly have I made a fallacious argument, specifically? – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-19T17:26:21.350

@Jonathan: That changes nothing. If Hitler had no choice but to commit atrocities, he had no free will, and then how can we say that he is evil? The cause of these atrocities, and hence the evil, is not Hitler, but God. So, your God is evil. If you don't agree to that, then your view of god is inconsistent. Just as your claim that me taking an aspirin is an act of free will and predetermined at the same time. I don't think we'll get any further here, you just keep adding inconsistencies to your god-view, and the more you add, the more you confirm my standpoint. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-19T18:09:53.640

@Lennart You apparently are missing very crucial parts of my post - you suggested once again that I think man has a "free will," which I do not. Man has a will, which is in bondage to sin (unless freed). The sin is the influence of man's decisions, but the sin is not God. The sin is decreed to be by God, but it itself is not God. Again, there are means by which events take place, traced back ultimately to the decree of all that would take place. To sum it up, God's decree is made, and many means exist by which that decree is manifested in reality. God is not the means, the means are not God. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-19T18:41:55.130

@Jonathan: You say you don't think man has a free will, but that we do have a choice. Those statements are incompatible. You say that mans will is decided by god, and in bondage to sin. That means god is sin. This is consistent with your view that god has decreed Hitler to commit atrocities. IE god decided that Hitler should be evil. That means it's not Hitler that is evil, but god. That god doesn't decree the means of evil doesn't change it. According to you he decreed the evil, so he is evil. How many times do you want me to repeat this? I'm tenacious, I can keep on quite long. :-) – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-20T05:17:47.463

@Lennart You're having some difficulty working through this. A will is not of necessity free. A bird within a cage is free to fly about his cage, but no further. A will in bondage is free to choose within the scope of its bondage, but no further. Man's will is formed by God via various means. Sin is one of many means. I can boil an egg by means of hot water, but you would be wrong to say I am hot water. This is the logical end to your argument when you confuse the means with the agent. I appreciate your patience. – Jonathan Sampson – 2011-06-20T05:54:40.753

@Jonathan: I have no difficulty at all. Nothing you say tell me anything I didn't already know and answered. You are just repeating your standpoint, ignoring the problems and errors I have pointed out. I can not do anything else than repeat what I've already said multiple times, and I don't think it's meaningful anymore. I understand that you find it hard to swallow, but you can not make god logical, and your attempts resulting in god being evil is just one of many examples of that. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-20T10:35:01.907

@JonathanSampson let us continue this discussion in chat

– Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-20T10:35:18.067


If positive outcomes are equated with action and negative outcomes are equated with inaction, then I think the two views are consistent with each other. The four criteria of discreet information gathering are also satisfiable in general: for example, at random times, I give you a dollar, because "I think you should have this now"; defining "random time" in any specific way such as a Poisson distribution violates the third condition of not providing information, but there are mathematical probability distributions and physical interpretations of time which don't. God does not speak of what he does not know, and he does not act when unnecessary. Tautologically, if God acts, action was necessary, and if God speaks, he knows. This view is compatible with God being all-knowing and all-powerful, as long as "all" is limited in an unknown and unknowable way, which it seems to be, effectively. The reason we should praise God for positive outcomes is that his action has given us an example of how to achieve these outcomes and a guide for making them ever better. On the other hand, God's inaction is of no help in understanding negative outcomes, and we are left alone wondering why bad things happen. In that sense the question is a variation on the problem of evil.

Dan Brumleve

Posted 2011-06-16T05:16:35.740

Reputation: 584


It is incredibly inconsistent and I think it is what drives away certain logic minded individuals from the church. For example, myself. When analyzing certain arguments and this argument comes to light, I find that many believers get exasperated, frustrated, and then attempt to change the subject or resort to name calling. I would only attempt an argument like this with someone I was friendly with, so it has not come to blows, and the only name calling was jocular in nature, but it typically happens nonetheless.

I saw a meme on the net somewhere that said "Yes, your God will give you sunshine on your wedding day." The picture had a pretty woman in a wedding dress next to an extremely skinny black child, presumably from Africa somewhere.


Posted 2011-06-16T05:16:35.740

Reputation: 111


The below assumes that God has a plan and only interferes if things are not going according to plan.

From a logical perspective you could say that there needs to be action in order to be a reaction.

Now if you believe in God and him having a plan you could say that if things are following his plan already he remains inactive as there is nothing to do. (Learn from your mistakes human.)

Or if action is needed so that the human can get safe to the next mistake to make God will step into action and prevent any harm from his sheep since they still got lessons to learn before departing.

If you assume God is there to make everybody happy every time then inaction can indeed only be a mystery because it does not make any sense if God indeed just wants the "best" for everybody. (Whatever best means.)


Posted 2011-06-16T05:16:35.740

Reputation: 684

I think this gets at the heart of what I'm asking, except that most theists I know don't "assume God is there to make everybody happy every time." Another way to view it: Believers tend to pray for the apparent good (healing, positive outcome, etc.). If it happens, God is given credit. If it doesn't, trust is put in his wisdom for having a "greater purpose." But if the greater purpose is, indeed, greater... why not pray for the apparent non-good since one can't predict ahead of time what God's plan is? – Hendy – 2015-04-07T21:52:38.817

If you equate prayer with hope then the explanation is easy. – DisplayName – 2015-04-08T10:46:51.433

Not being religious, perhaps it's hard to imagine why one would pray and not hope simultaneously. Aren't the two essentially hand in hand? Or, given that the question relates to how a "typical" person would pray, do you think this embodies the typical disposition? – Hendy – 2015-04-12T07:24:02.553


In the Neo-Platonic tradition of thought --highly influential on many religions of the world, notably Christianity --God is identified as the source of all and only good (all good things, and only good things). Evil is not considered, in this view, to have its own metaphysical existence, it is only the absence of good.

One of the dominant metaphors for this, dating back to Plato himself, is to picture God as the sun, good things as the sunlight, and anywhere that bad or evil holds sway as areas in the shadow. In that context, it is not inconsistent to thank the sun for the sunlight, but not to blame the sun for the shade.

While most modern believers are not explicitly neo-Platonic, the influence of that view continues to have an impact on beliefs such as the seemingly paradoxical ones you just described. You may not personally be persuaded by this metaphor, but hopefully it will help explain how and why believers can thank God for the good things, but not blame God for the bad ones.

Chris Sunami supports Monica

Posted 2011-06-16T05:16:35.740

Reputation: 23 641