This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Thank you for taking the time to review my question and your tireless effort addressing many of the questions from Christians, Muslims, skeptics, etc. throughout the years. I realize your time is precious, so I'll try to keep my question brief and to the point.
My question has to do with divine providence and the evil and suffering in the world. I am quite content with the notion that God providentially ordered the world in such a way as to bring about the maximum number of people who would freely choose to have a relationship with Him. Likewise, I am content with evil and suffering being compatible with God's existence and it being a product of free creatures choosing to commit evil acts. What I'm having difficulty with is, given God's foreknowledge of those who would freely choose to accept Him and reject Him, why wouldn't God just skip to the end and create those in heaven who would accept Him and avoid all of the evil and suffering (and, perhaps, simply avoid creating those who would have rejected Him). I had considered that, although God may know who would accept Him, the person would not know such a thing and, thus, simply "waking up" in heaven would be confusing and void of any sort of relationship that would have been established through living in the world. However, it seems God would be quite capable of imparting this sort of knowledge on the person by "uploading" this information into their mind and, in a way, they would have "lived" their life in the world and understood their relationship with God. This led me to ask, what's the difference between "living" your life through God "uploading" such knowledge and actually living your life in the world. It seems both experiences would be identical; hence, we are living in the world. Still, angels are created beings who simply "woke up" in heaven, so it seems perfectly reasonable to suggest that it could be done with other created beings. The consequence, however, is that would make evil and suffering gratuitous seems how God is capable of simply skipping over it, yet chooses not to (unless we were to say this world and evil and suffering is somehow necessary). I was tempted to say that perhaps this world is a necessary world and, therefore, we must live it. But, obviously God could have chosen not to create the world. So, my question, couldn't God have created us like the angels and simply brought into existence in heaven those who would accept Him and avoid all of the evil and suffering?
Thank you for your time,
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Your question is actually about God’s middle knowledge, which includes His knowing what any person would freely do in any circumstances in which God might create him. The answer to your question, “ why wouldn't God just skip to the end and create those in heaven who would accept Him and avoid all of the evil and suffering? ” is: if God began the world at what in our world is the end of human history, then we would have a different world than this world and so different circumstances in which those same people might make very different decisions. For example, maybe Sherrie would freely believe in Christ and be saved if she were in her actual circumstances of having breast cancer, but if God began history at its end Sherrie would not believe and be saved. You can’t just pluck people out of the actual world and stick them in another world and be guaranteed that they would make the same choices. It might well be the case that a world which begins at what is the end of our world and which involves just the people in our world who believe would be a far worse world than this one.
But, you suggest, maybe God could make it appear to the people in that world that it has a past “ by ’uploading’ this information into their mind and, in a way, they would have ‘lived’ their life in the world and understood their relationship with God.” On this proposal Sherrie would think that she had had breast cancer, even though she really hadn’t. She would think that she is in the same circumstances in which she really does find herself at history’s end, but her past life is entirely an illusion, uploaded into her mind by God.
This sort of suggestion was the subject of an interesting debate between me and the philosopher David Hunt, which you may find interesting. It’s important to realize how radical it is. On this view your whole past life is a delusion, your loves, your accomplishments, your times of worship—it’s all illusory. I’m persuaded that it would be incompatible with the goodness of God to do such a thing. It is deceitful, and God is true and not a deceiver. He treats people with respect as moral agents distinct from Himself and allows them the freedom to make decisions. It would be unspeakably unloving for God to trick Sherrie into thinking that there was a man who loved her and to whom she gave herself in love and there were children whom she bore and dedicated her life to and who took her through valleys of sorrow and peaks of joy, if there really weren’t.
When you think of it in these terms, then the answer to your further question, “ what's the difference between ‘living’ your life through God ‘uploading’ such knowledge and actually living your life in the world? ” is patently obvious. What’s the difference between merely thinking that there is someone who loved you and actually being loved by that person? What’s the difference between feeling a proper pride in having accomplished certain feats and merely thinking that you had done them? What’s the difference between merely thinking that someone had sacrificed greatly on your behalf and that person’s having actually done so? Why, it’s all the difference in the world! The one is real and the other a deceitful dream. (I wonder if people have watched too many movies like The Matrix and so lost their grip on reality!)
I know of no theologian who thinks that “ angels are created beings who simply ‘woke up’ in heaven.” I think most who believe in angels would affirm that they are beings with a real past who at one point freely decided to follow God or not. The middle knowledge position affirms libertarian free will over against divine determinism.
Moreover, I think there’s a real question whether your suggestion really solves the problem of evil and suffering. For there would still be the evil of all the painful memories of events that never happened just as if they had. More fundamentally, there is the evil of a deceitful God who does not treat His creatures with love and respect. That makes the problem worse, not better.