In my book God At War (IVP, 1997) I flesh out what I call the “warfare worldview” of the Bible. This is the view that the world is a battle ground between God and good angels, on the one hand, and Satan and fallen angels, on the other. In my book Satan and the Problem of Evil (IVP, 2001) I try to give a philosophical account of this battle. How is it possible for a world created by an all-good and all-powerful God to become a warzone between good and evil? I propose six theses which, if accepted, help explain this fact.
Love Requires Freedom: By definition, love must be freely chosen. We are able to program computers to obey our commands perfectly, but we don’t consider them “loving.” They lack the capacity for love because they have no choice but to do what we program them to do. Humans would be in the same category as computers if God merely “programmed” our actions. In order for creatures to be loving, they must have the freedom to do otherwise (to not love).
Freedom Implies Risk: The freedom to choose or reject love constitutes a risk for God. Creatures may make choices that oppose his will for their lives and the lives of others. This risk is illustrated throughout Scripture, beginning with the Garden of Eden. Many of us have experienced the painful consequences of misused freedom in our own lives. God considered love to be well worth the risk inherent in giving his creatures freedom.
Risk Entails Moral Responsibility: God’s creatures are held responsible for how they use their freedom. We don’t hold computers responsible when they fail because their failure is ultimately the responsibility of their programmers. They could not do other than what they were programmed to do. Because we are free to choose or reject love, we can be held accountable for how our choices affect those around us.
Moral Responsibility is Proportionate to the Potential to Influence: The potential a creature has for love is proportionate to the creature’s potential for evil. The greater the creature’s potential for love, the greater risk their freedom entails, for they may choose to use their potential for evil instead. Greater potential also entails greater responsibility for how the potential is used.
Power to Influence is Irrevocable: Genuine freedom must be irrevocable. If it can be revoked, creatures cannot be held responsible for their use of it, nor can they fully realize their potential for love. Within the parameters of the freedom God gives creatures, God must tolerate evil. Since God is omnipotent, he is able to accomplish his will within these parameters without compromising his own integrity or limiting the potential of his creatures by revoking their freedom.
Power to Influence is Finite: God’s creatures are finite. Although their freedom cannot be revoked, it can be thought of as “probational.” The scope and duration of their freedom is conditioned by many variables and ultimately determined by God’s will. The warfare between God and creatures who choose to use their freedom for evil is not eternal. Christ will vanquish his enemies in the end and creatures will be free to fully participate in the triune love of God at last.