FaithandSelfDefense recently started this new apologetics series. We have asked Christian teens from several locations to ask us tough questions that reflect what many Christian teenagers are asking today.
An estimated 60% to 80% of teens are walking away from their churches and youth groups – away from their belief in Jesus Christ. Some leave during their high school years. Many leave during or after their first year in college.
When asked why many of these teenagers say it’s because no one in their churches had answers to their tough questions. Some of the teens even said they were discouraged by church leaders from asking those types of questions.
I was one of those teens who walked away from my church and youth group. I was one of those teens who did not get answers to my tough questions. What changed? As a young adult I met Christians who invited tough questions and had good answers for them. It was then that Christianity made the most sense of all worldviews.
We dedicate this new apologetics series to all Christian teens, especially to those who wonder if Christianity is true.
[The teenage questioner introduced this in the category of “Things that, from the human perspective, seem to suggest evil of God.”]
God and Evil
“Why did God create Lucifer if He knew he would turn evil (being omniscient)? This relates to the question of Sovereignty and free will: How can God control all of reality and let us control part of it simultaneously?”
[You can read the first part of our answer to this question here.]
God’s Sovereignty and Reality
You asked – “How can God control all of reality and let us control part of it simultaneously?”
Let’s begin by defining two primary words from your question: control and reality.
Control means “to exercise restraining or directing influence over” Merriam-Webster … “the ability or power to decide or strongly influence the particular way in which something will happen or someone will behave, or the condition of having such ability or power” Cambridge Dictionary … “the power to make decisions about something and decide what should happen” Macmillan Dictionary
Reality means – “the quality or state of being real” Merriam-Webster … “the actual state of things, or the facts involved in such a state” Cambridge Dictionary … “the real character or nature of things, not what you imagine or think is possible” Macmillan Dictionary
Reality is the way things really are. Control is the power to influence. To control reality means to influence the way things really are.
Who can do that?
Christians believe God can do that because He invented and created reality and controls it. That’s another way of saying that God is Sovereign over all He created. He has the power to make decisions and decide what should happen. That’s what God did in eternity. He designed a spiritual and physical plan that is currently playing out in the universe. He created a spiritual world and a physical world and filled it with spiritual and physical objects and beings. Unlike the deist who believes God has no interest in what He created, the theist believes God cares very much about what He created and is in control of it according to His plan and His will.
To your question: how can God control all of reality (be sovereign over it all) and let us control part of it simultaneously?
God, being the inventor of reality, designed a system within reality that gives humans some power (influence) over reality (the actual state of things). That is an integral part of His eternal plan. God created us differently than His other creatures. God created our first parents to bear His image, to be like Him. No other creature is like human beings. No other creature bears God’s image and likeness. We are unique in the universe.
So, how can we express control within reality when God is sovereign over it all? God gave us something He has – personal will. God wants to do something and does it. That is an expression of His personal will. Humans do the same thing. We want to do something and do whatever we can to make what we want to happen, happen.
One big difference between God’s will and our will is the power to do it. God is all-powerful and can do anything He wants to do (total control). Humans are limited in power and can do only some of what they want to do (partial control).
However, that does not mean humans cannot do some of what they want to do. I want to reach over to the other side of my desk and take hold of a cup, bring that cup to my mouth and drink the water that is in the cup. I want to do it, can do it and, in fact, just did it. I drank from the cup on my desk.
I had a desire to do something, made a decision to do it and did it. Desire, decision and doing are fundamental aspects of expressing our will and playing a role in reality. My reality included drinking water from a cup that sat on my desk. I had desire and made a decision. I acted on that decision (expressed my personal will) and drank.
God has given many of His creatures the ability to desire, decide and do, but humans have the highest framework of will from which to work. We are like God in thinking, reasoning, choosing and doing. Animals, fish, birds and other creatures act according to instinct and awareness and knowledge of their surroundings. Some animals can even mimic human actions, so the question then becomes the difference between them and us. That’s where we enter the world of will and morality.
If you see a predatory animal in the wild hunting its prey and you watch as it chases, captures, kills and eats another animal, do you think of that action as unimaginable or immoral? Was their action a bad decision? Should the predator have taken a step back and considered whether killing and eating another animal would be a positive or negative expression of its will? Of course not. Animals may see a larger predator nearby and decide not to chase a prey because they see that the larger, more powerful predator wants it. Animals have preservation instincts, but they do not have ethical/moral will power. They do not make decisions based on positive or negative expressions of their will. They do what comes ‘naturally.’ They do what God designed them to do.
However, if you see a human being chase, capture, kill and eat another human being, what do you think of that? Would you call that a usual and normal occurrence or would you call that unimaginable and immoral? I would hope you would agree that humans killing and eating humans is unimaginable and immoral. Why would that be true in comparison to non-human creatures like animals, birds and sea creatures? What is it about the human control of reality that is different from all other creatures?
God has given humans a specific power to control some things in their sphere of influence at the same time God controls all things. That’s the way He designed reality. He wants us to be involved in helping control some aspects of reality.
“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28
God made creatures to live in the sea, live on the land and in the air. He blessed them, saying “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth” (Genesis 1: 20-22). However, God did not tell them to ‘subdue’ and ‘have dominion’ over all creatures. God said that to only one of His creatures – human beings.
Subduing and having dominion over something is an expression of control. God created humans to share control with Him over other creatures God had made.
God has given humans that control-role from the beginning. Adam and Eve made decisions that affected their reality and the reality of every human being who would come into existence after them. God gave Adam and Eve a moral command and they broke it. They desired, made a decision based on their desire, and acted upon their desire, even though it was in direct opposition to what God had told them to do.
Cain made desire-based decisions that affected his reality, Abel’s reality, their parents’ reality, and the reality of Cain’s family line for generations. People have been having desires, making decisions and doing what they wanted to do for thousands of years. We do it every day. We can have strong desires and decide not to act on them. We can have strong desires and decide to act on them in varying degrees. God has given us that kind of control over our personal reality.
We need to remember that there opposing desires in our world. God explained that to Cain when He said – “And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Cain was a human being just like us. He was the first human to be physically born on Earth and he had the same kind of reality-control we have. That’s why God talked to Cain the way He did. Sin is an opposing desire to what God wants us to do. Sin is always lying at the door and its desire is for us – “but you should rule over it.”
There we see how God gives us partial control in a world He controls completely. God shares control with us at the level we can control. I can’t control whether a tornado hits my house in the middle of the night, but I can control my temper, my tongue, and my actions.
If a tornado does hit my house in the middle of the night (which is beyond my control) and I live through it, I can control what I think about what just happened to my house and my family. I can control what I say about what just happened to my house and family. I can control how I respond to the needs of others in my neighborhood who may have suffered loss of property and life.
I can control what is within my control. I cannot control what is not within my control.
There are other examples from a physical position, but the spiritual is probably the more important one because it has eternal consequences. Just like Cain, how will we control sinful desires that come into our lives? “… sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
I don’t believe God lied to Cain. I believe God meant exactly what He said when He told Cain he should ‘rule’ over sin. Sin is everywhere. It’s all around us. It’s in us. What do we do with it? That leads us to our next question.
The Next Question
In the next part of our special series, Tough Questions From Christian Teens, we will address the question of ‘being born into sin.’
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.