For an omnipotent deity, God does seem to like to do things the hard way. There’s a lot of pain and suffering in this world, all of which we know He could prevent with just one word. There are plenty of unbelievers who reject His existence or His goodness on that basis. Even His plan of salvation called for the murder of His Son and His taking God’s own curse upon Himself. If God’s loving, why would He do things this way?
Well, I’m going to answer with an extremely unpopular response, but I’m confident I can explain the dilemma with it since the Apostle Paul uses it too. God ordains everything to happen in the way that will most glorify Himself. I know that’s not the majority report. The majority report is a more homocentric blend of God doing the most loving thing while still respecting the free will of His creations.
Well, when Paul dealt with what to him was the most agonizing part of God’s will, he didn’t use that explanation. He spends all of Romans 9-11 rationalizing what went wrong with Israel and why God would call a people and then reject them at the moment of the promised salvation. His grief at this was so great that he took an oath that he would be willing to go to Hell if it would save the Jews. He explains that there is still a believing remnant of Israel while the rejection of the Messiah means that the Gentiles from every race are being grafted into the Church until Israel will see what a blessing the Gentiles are getting that is theirs by right and want back in the Church.
Paul doesn’t go into an accolade of God’s love in this convoluted plan but rather of “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (11:33, KJV). Having reasoned out what is giving himself much personal grief and then found an explanation, Paul summarizes with, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (11:36, KJV). So that verse is my premise. We like the “of Him” part where He sends good things to us, we like the “through Him” part where He brings us through our trials, but most Christians today balk at the “to Him” part where everything redounds back to His glory.
That’s understandable because we’re not allowed to seek our own glory. In fact, we really dislike people who do. People will do the most despicable things to win or at least be seen to win in the world’s eyes. It just seems more palatable to us to have a God who does everything out of love for us.
But how hard would it have been for God to create a multitude of Christians today who all love Him as perfectly as we will in the New Jerusalem without the need for a Hell or a murdered Messiah? And there’s something else to consider. The late R.C. Sproul was very fond of preaching Isaiah 6. He said that in Hebrew, to give something the utmost emphasis, you say it three times. There’s only one attribute of God that the Bible does this for, and it doesn’t say, “God is love. God is love. God is love.” Instead, it repeats, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3, KJV). So the attribute of God the angels most want us to be aware of is His holiness, and to that they link His glory. There’s nothing about love in Isaiah 6.
We like the “of Him” part where He sends good things to us, we like the “through Him” part where He brings us through our trials, but most Christians today balk at the “to Him” part where everything redounds back to His glory.
But how does God get this glory? He displays to His creation His love, wisdom, power, and perfections, and it responds to Him with praise. God gets glory by giving good things to us all. Who can object to that? That’s not an obnoxious General Custer getting himself and his men wiped out in his quest for glory. It’s entirely different from the self-seeking glory we’re used to other humans craving and debasing themselves over.
Of course God is the most loving being of all. He shows unfathomable love in saving us. But on one occasion of His delivering Israel, He says, “I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for Mine holy Name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither they went” (Ezekiel 36:22, KJV). As elsewhere in the Bible, I read the “not” here not as “not at all” but rather “not so much as.” God makes it quite plain in other passages that He loves Israel deeply, but here He says His most pressing concern on His heart when He saves them is His own glory.
I’m going to work in a lesson I learned from Teutonic mythology. It’s infamous for its darkness. There are very few happy endings. With a few exceptions, the pervading ethos is that the only honorable way for a great warrior to die is in battle with insurmountable odds. Beowulf dies in a fight with a dragon that he wages alone until Wiglaf comes to aid him. Volsung falls in a trap even when he’s warned because he balks at the idea of fleeing. The Nibelungs perish to a man after holding off the entire army of Attila the Hun. At Ragnarok, the gods and the Einherjar fight the giants to the death until the giants immolate the entire earth. What’s with all the hopelessness?
The Teutons craved for glory, especially after death. To paraphrase a famous line from the Poetic Edda, all things die, but glory lives on. Obviously they’ve got the wrong priorities, but they understood that their heroes deserved more glory for doing the right thing when circumstances are against them and the right thing is the hard thing to do.
If you start with that premise, God’s will in hard things makes sense. It takes more wisdom and love to win a people for Himself who start out hating Him than just making one that already complies with His decrees, so that wins more glory for Himself. God the Father gives Christ even more glory after He submits to earthly humiliation and even delivers Himself up to death. It’s a Teutonic myth with a happy ending: the hero remains resolute to the end with the whole world against Him. Only this time He rises from the dead.
In my first post, I made reference to my experience watching Planet Earth by the BBC. Yes, the tropical biomes with the beautiful birds displaying their plumage to impress females is awe-inspiring and glorifying to their designer, but I found myself glorifying God even when the action changed to places I wouldn’t want to go in a million years. They showed animals adapted to scorching deserts and frozen wildernesses, eking out a much more difficult living than the birds who have nothing better to do all day than collect and arrange flower petals to impress females visiting their bower or mimic any sound they hear. Yes, it glorifies God when a lyre bird perfectly imitates a camera lens or a chainsaw, but if He were truly all about love and fairness, the whole world would be a tropical paradise. Instead, He shows His wisdom by setting up rugged habitats and then populating them with creatures designed to survive there in the most striking ways.
Paul invokes God’s desire for glory to answer another incredibly difficult question for Christians: Hell. Clearly, if God only wanted to show love, He didn’t have to create the Devil, and there would have been no tempter to bring sin into the world. Then there would be no eternal punishment for nonbelievers. But what does Paul say about this decision? Does he invoke free will? He says, “What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory?” (Romans 9:22-23, KJV). Why did God strike Pharaoh with 10 plagues? Paul cites God’s explanation as, “Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My Name might be declared throughout all the earth” (Romans 9:17, KJV).
Paul’s not alone. When Peter discusses unbelief, does he say, “They stumble at the word, being disobedient, because God left them to their free will”? Not at all. His exact words are, “Even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed” (I Peter 2:8, KJV). So God ordains even sin to come to pass since He therefore demonstrates His wisdom when He works good out of it, as He always does.
If you start with the premise that God does everything out of love, you might have a hard time explaining such difficult things as an untimely death or natural disaster. Doubtless you fall back on God being too loving to violate free will and then being too just to let sin go unpunished, but that’s not how Paul answered his struggles with God’s will. If you go with the premise that God is seeking His glory by how He will use His power and wisdom to turn all things to good, it’s much easier to explain (and Scripturally sound).