A conversation about “Why did God create Satan?”

SixDividedByZero

The following exchange with a reader of this post is shared with permission.

I read your post about “Why did God create Satan?” and I like your comparison to the question about whether God can create a rock so big He can’t move it. That part of the post is understandable.  But I still don’t see why omniscience isn’t lessened by a lack of knowledge of the outcome of an event or a decision.  And even if God truly didn’t know that His greatest angel would turn against Him, why wouldn’t he just squash Satan like a bug after he did rebel?  He’s going to be punished in the end, so why let him cause so much trouble on the earth in the meantime?  

The following illustration might help explain what I mean when I say that it’s not a failure of omniscience not to know what cannot be known.

Someone might say, “I know all of my division tables.”  So another person tests them:

“What’s 35 divided by 7?”
“5.”
“Very good.”

“What’s 12 divided by 4?”
“3.”
“Very good.”

“What’s 6 divided by 0?”
“There’s no answer to that question, because division by 0 is impossible.”
“Then you don’t really know your division tables.”

Actually, the person does know their tables.  It’s not a failure for them not to know what can’t be known.

Does that make sense?

Your example about division by zero seems just like the impossibly big rock scenario.  I don’t see how these logical fallacies apply to the concept of omniscience.  These situations could never happen anyway.  They can only be thought up. 

If you mean that God created us, including the angels, with the ability to think and make decisions without His knowledge, and now, because of this, it becomes one of the impossible things for anyone to do, I think I understand your point.  I just think God would have this ability.
 
There is still one more point:  Why doesn’t God destroy Satan now because of his incessant meddling?  Why must God wait until the end of the ages? 

You have understood what I was trying to say:  I do believe that that God created intelligent beings, including humans and angels, with the ability to think and make decisions so freely that He wouldn’t know in advance what they were going to decide, and that, because of this, knowing these outcomes in advance becomes one of the things that are impossible for anyone to do.  Of course someone might believe something else, but because I believe this, I don’t think God knowingly created a being, Satan, who would inevitably cause massive destruction and evil on a planet-wide scale.

As for why Satan hasn’t already been judged, like human individuals and civilizations that have done great evil, I honestly don’t know.  I can’t really come up with a scenario where this is better for us than having Satan dealt with already.  But from what I do know of the character of God, by faith I consider this mystery consistent with an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God.

OK, I do get your point now.  But I’ll have to work on the all-knowing, but creating “non-readable” creatures concept. 

I’d have no problem with these exchanges being posted on the blog.  Others may have the same questions, and I agree with what you do in your book studies: the brontosaurus-sized elephants in the room need to be acknowledged sooner rather than later.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

12 thoughts on “A conversation about “Why did God create Satan?””

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that God cannot do anything inconsistent or logically impossible, such as create square circles, divide by zero, and the like. However, I’m not convinced that human freedom and God’s omniscience result in such a situation. (Where God’s knowledge of the future is limited).

    In his book, “God, Freedom, and Evil”, Alvin Plantinga lays out the typical argument against God’s omniscience including knowledge of our future actions and us being significantly free.The way he does so is in part as follows:

    “1) If God knows in advance that X will do A, then it must be the case that X will do A.
    and
    2) If it must be the case that X will do A, then X is not free to refrain from A.

    He then says that argument 1) can be broken down into two possible meanings, either:

    1a) Necessarily, if God knows in advance that X will do A, then indeed X will do A.
    and
    1b) If God knows in advance that X will do A, then it is necessary that X will do A.”

    If 1b) were true then yes, we’d either have to reject human free will or the traditional version of God’s omniscience as including all future events.

    If we accept 1a) as being true, then there doesn’t seem to be a problem. God knowing the truth of a future event does not cause that event to occur. In fact, the person could choose differently but the only consequence of that would be that God would also have known otherwise.

    I don’t really see how God’s omniscience and human free will result in a situation that is analogous to dividing by zero. Since God’s knowing and our doing aren’t causally related, I don’t see why you have reached the conclusion that God can’t know beyond the present.

    1. Thank you very much for sharing these observations. I do have to question, however: how could X do other than A if God knew in advance that X would do A? Talking about a situation in which “the person could choose differently but . . . God would also have known otherwise” suggests that God simultaneously “knew” that X would do A and that X would not do A. Here we are back in the realm of logical contradictions.

      I should also specify that my conclusion is not that God can’t know beyond the present. There are plenty of present processes whose future effects can be foreseen. I’m only arguing that the future choices of truly free moral agents can’t be foreseen, since they are not predetermined. God might know what a person is likely to do, and know this with such precision that it is virtual certainty. But this is not the same thing as knowing what the person will do. That can’t be known in advance, by anyone, if the person is truly free.

      One might argue that many people surrender a great deal of their freedom to outside controlling influences, making their actions reliably predictable. That’s true, but it only shows that if a person’s future actions can be known in advance, they’re not free.

      1. I suppose that I’ve always thought of God as being “outside of time” since He created it and therefore have conceived of Him as being able to view all of human history at once; past, present, and future. In seeing the future, He knows what will occur but His knowing/seeing does not affect it. It would only be like He was watching a movie that had already been filmed in which the actors have already made the free choices they wanted to make.

        It seems that the version of the argument you take issue with is the “1b” version which says that if God knows that X will do A, then it is necessary that X will do A. The “1a” version, as I understand it, would be more along the lines of us looking back at past history and knowing, without doubt, that various people did various actions. Our knowing with certainty however did not cause the people to do what they did nor does it mean that they weren’t free to choose back when they did make their choices.

        In that sense, God, seeing human history laid out before Him would not know that X did A and X did not do A but would instead know necessarily what X in fact did. It wouldn’t however, affect X’s freedom. Do you see any issues with this line of reasoning? Would you argue that God is not “outside time” in the sense I have described?

        I guess I’ve never seen God’s omniscience as being problematic when it comes to free will but more the idea of Him predetermining things and achieving His goals in human history. If we are truly completely free then that’s where I find it hard to understand how God could do anything more than just hope to achieve anything.

  2. This is a helpful clarification. You’re right, I was responding more to the “1b” version, which says, “If God knows that X will do A, then it is necessary that X will do A.” I can agree with the “1a” version, which says, “Necessarily, if God knows (has foreseen) that X will do A, then X will do A.” However, this is essentially a definition. It basically means, “If God was able to foresee that X would do A, then it was foreseeable that X would do A; there was some kind of inevitability about the action.” This “1a” version, accurate as it might be in some cases, does not address the possibility that in other cases an action might not be foreseeable, because it was not inevitable, it was “free.” In that case not even God would foresee it, but as I say in my post, this would be no failing in omniscience, not to know what cannot be known.

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful engagement with this post and the topic it’s addressing!

    1. I agree that there’s no rock that God can’t lift, but for a different reason: the rock by definition, as a created thing, is finite, so it can’t resist God’s infinite power. The premise of a created rock that’s so big God can’t lift it involves a logical contradiction, a rock that is infinite and finite at the same time.

      1. To add to this it can be stated in a couple of ways that may make it plainer.
        This is quoted from another forum I ran across

        This is one of my favorite questions that comes up from time to time. Indeed, many atheists and skeptics have posed this question in an attempt to stump Christians and somehow disprove the omnipotence (and existence) of God. Maybe you’ve been there. What is so ironic about a question of this type is that rather than prove any sort of deficiency in the character or nature of God, this question actually shows a lack of clear thinking and logic on the part of the skeptic! In other words, the question itself is flawed and fallacious in several ways and, unfortunately, the person raising the question has not taken the time to truly think this problem through.

        Problem #1: this question commits the fallacy known as a loaded question. Imagine if I were to ask you, “Have you stopped beating your spouse yet?” If you answer yes, that means you were beating your spouse but you have since stopped. And if you answer no, that means you’re still beating them! Either way you answer the question, you automatically concede that you beat your spouse! This is a no win situation because the question itself starts with a false assumption and is therefore a “loaded” question. Likewise, the question “Can God make a rock so big He cannot life it?” also starts with a false assumption, i.e., that God is not omnipotent. If you answer “Yes” to the question, that means that God is not omnipotent since He can make the rock but isn’t powerful enough to lift it. But if you answer “No,” that also means that God is not omnipotent since He couldn’t make a rock so big He cannot lift it! In other words, the question itself is dishonest, a pseudo-question, since it begs the question by assuming God is not omnipotent.

        Problem #2: this question commits a categorical fallacy. The question itself is incoherent and meaningless. Suppose I were to ask you, “What does the color blue smell like?” or “How much does the number seven weigh?” These are category mistakes because colors don’t smell and numbers don’t weigh anything. They are logical impossibilities. In the same manner, asking the question “Can God make a rock so big He cannot lift it?” is essentially to ask “Can God’s power defeat His own power?” This is nonsensical and a category error since the question is being incorrectly applied. Greg Koukl has stated, “The question is nonsense because it treats God as if He were two instead of one. The phrase ‘stronger than’ can only be used when two subjects are in view…Since God is only one…it makes no sense to ask if He is stronger than Himself.”

        Problem #3: this question commits a straw man fallacy. The goal of the skeptic who asks this question is to somehow undermine the Christian concept of an omnipotent God. It is thought that if it can be shown there are some things God cannot do, this would prove that God could not be omnipotent and thus could not exist as Christians have traditionally portrayed Him. However, this line of reasoning is attacking a distorted concept of Biblical omnipotence and is therefore guilty of the straw man fallacy.
        So what does it mean then that God is omnipotent? Omnipotence doesn’t mean that God can do anything. There are actually quite a few things that God cannot do. He cannot make squared circles. He cannot make a one-ended stick. He cannot sin. He cannot improve His morality. So God is limited in a sense. But not one of these “limitations” has to do with power, rather, they are logical contradictions. Also, notice that His “limitations” are not due to any defects in His character or power but rather they are the result of His perfection and rational nature! As Norman Geisler has stated, “He is only ‘limited’ by His unlimited perfection.” To say that God is omnipotent then is to say that God can do anything so long as it is logically possible and consistent with His nature. God’s omnipotence does not mean that He can do what is impossible but only that He can do whatever is actually possible.

        Conclusion: So what then is the answer? Can God make a rock so big He cannot lift it? My comments above put aside, I still like the way one particular 7-year-old responded: “I can’t give you a smart answer to a dumb question.”

        Hope that helps people understand a little further this fallacious question

        and thank you Christopher…..keep em comin

  3. I can understand why God allowed Satan to pick on his children, so to speak. It has allowed Him to see who is worthy of spending eternity with him. What bugs me is how He would allow the unworthy to spend eternity in a blazing inferno of torture. If they were unworthy, why torture as opposed to just death of their souls? Seems so cruel considering that He didnt pre-program our minds to worship Him.

    1. Actually, many Christians do believe in what is known as “conditional immortality,” that is, that those who will not be spending eternity in God’s presence will be annihilated rather than suffer eternal torment. Here is a link to a series of posts on this blog in which I discuss that position. Other Christians believe so strongly in “eternal conscious torment” that they put it in their organizations’ affirmations of faith and make it a test of fellowship. But it may be observed objectively that this is a question on which Christians of good will, with equal commitments to the authority of Scripture, sincerely differ. So “death of the soul,” as opposed to torture, is a position you can legitimately hold as a follower of Jesus.

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