Headscratchers / The Bible

Please remember the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement. If you have a legitimate question about the Bible, that's fine, ask away. If you're just here to bash it or bash others for following it (or not following it), please, please don't. That's not what this is for. That's how we lost the first religious Headscratchers.'

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     Was Free Will God's decision? Or Satan's meddling? 

It seems to be pretty explicit that in the scriptures, God's not exactly a 'big fan' of his creation answering back and doing as they please. He's quick to punish those who go against his will.

Now, many theists have argued the opposite, that Free Will comes from God's own omniscience, he does not want robots for creations, and he respects our choices. If this were the case, he would not have labelled any perceived transgression against him as "Sin" and reward it with death. He would not be surrounded by Angels who tend to his every whim for fear of swift exile from his presence if they don't obey. If he respected Free Will, we would not go to Hell, but rather, like the Prodigal Son asking for his inheritance, we go wherever we choose, for better or for worse.

This begs the question - why even have Free Will at all if its pointless at best, or results in immediate consequence at worse? If he doesn't approve of our decisions, then was this Satan's own doing in corrupting Adam and Eve somehow? Aka "original sin"?

     The three explanations that do not hold water 

Note: this isn't meant as destructive criticism. If anything, it encourages creativity in defending The Bible.

Free Will Guilt Trip: Does not hold water because the idea that God provided free will and that we choose our own Hell is so Newer Than You Think, that predestination not only was acceptable until the 18th Century, but is actually supported by the Bible, depending on how you interpret some passages (see Acts 13:48, Romans 8:29 and 30, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 1:4 and 5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Jude 4)
  • Free will in Judaism and Christianity actually predates predestination. Also, foreknowledge is not predestination and does not preclude or prevent free will. The interpretation you mentioned is not universally accepted.

    Previous to Augustine there was no serious development in Christianity of a theory of predestination.
    - The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. IX, page 192

    The Greek Apologists and Fathers...They know nothing of unconditional predestination; they teach free will.
    - Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. X, page 231
  • In addition, predestination does feature but not in the way people think. Instead of Predestination as in 'You will go to Heaven or Hell regardless of what you do' it is predestination in the sense that everyone is meant to go to Heaven, that is our destination, whether we get there or not is down to us with God's help.
  • Sin implies free will anyway, since someone being predetermined to sin would mean God wants them to sin, which is a contradiction-in-terms.
  • Free will means we're not robots. Free will implies acceptance of the consequences of exercising said free will. God does not magically remove the consequences just because he's Love personified or Mercy personified.

Pandora's Box Predicament: God pretty much was the one to lay the punishment; at no point was it indicated in Genesis that Adam and Eve "opened a Pandora's Box", hence Yahweh is responsible for the world's evils. This is supported by the fact Yahweh is honest enough to describe himself as "creator of good AND evil". (see 2 Kings 6:33)
  • "When under trial, let no one say: 'I am being tried by God.' For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone. But each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire." (James 1:13-14)
    • "[...]Behold, this evil is of the Lord". Also see Isaiah 45:7, Lamentations 3:38, Amos 3:6.
      • The word translated “evil” is from a Hebrew word that means “adversity, affliction, calamity, distress, misery.” Notice how the other major English Bible translations render the word: “disaster” (NIV, HCSB), “calamity” (NKJV, NAS, ESV), and “woe” (NRSV). The Hebrew word can refer to moral evil, and often does have this meaning in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, due to the diversity of possible definitions, it is unwise to assume that “I create evil” in Isaiah 45:7 refers to God bringing moral evil into existence.
  • Question: Are you trying to blame Yahweh or just stating a fact? There is a difference between evil as part of justice and evil as badness or wrongdoing. The verses you mentioned were about the former, while James 1:13-14 is about the latter. You can't possibly be blaming God for every bad thing every human does, right? Which "evil" are you referring to?
    • Well, assuming that God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, it certainly could be seen as a possibility that God is to blame. I mean, he creates humans with the capacity for evil built in, knows exactly when they'll do evil things, and doesn't necessarily do much to stop them, even when what their actions do damage to innocents.
      • That basically boils down to blaming god for creating angels and humans with free will, which is only a legitimate argument if you actually prefer not having free will. You could make an argument for blaming him if he knew about Satan's rebellion beforehand. But at the same time, it could be argued that God's foreknowledge is selective and he did not know Satan would rebel, which would absolve him from blame. Either way, it still doesn't take away the blame from Satan and humanity.
      • Selective foreknowledge seems a contradiction with omniscience. And anyway, free will presumably exists in heaven, and it's free of pain/suffering/evil. Why couldn't the same thing be done here on Earth?
      • God created us with the "ability" of being evil. If people are evil, it is his fault for creating them that way. Free will doesn't imply that people can be evil. You can have free will and not have the "ability" of being evil, but god chose to create people in a different way.
      • Ask that to Adam, Eve, and Satan. The same thing would have been done on Earth if they hadn't screwed everything up. Eventually Earth will be like that, once God's plans of fixing everything come to fruition.
      • Saying that omniscience contradicts free will is presuming a lack of free will. It assumes that what will happen in the future is a fact to be known, as opposed to something which is as yet undetermined. Saying that God must know the future is like saying he must know the name of the unicorn standing behind me; if there was a unicorn standing behind me, and someone gave it a name, then yes God would know about it, but there isn't.
      • God is omniscient, therefore he should know about past, present and future. If there was an Unicorn behind you, God should know about it before it even begins to exist. He should know everything that will happen to such Unicorn, including the occasion where it will stand behind you. Omniscience implies such being knows about everything there is to know about. Your argument doesn't stand up.
      • There are two ideas in balance; that God gave us free will and that God knows the future. He offers us a choice while also knowing the option we will choose. The idea of blaming God for the evil deeds of humans and angels because he gave us free will is flawed. It is the equivalent of, for example, a person buying a pillow from an unwitting shopkeeper in a retail shop, using it to murder someone by smothering them with it then trying to blame the murder on the shopkeeper that sold them the pillow. In that case person chose what to do with the pillow and the blame lies on them. Blaming God for the problems people do with free will is a common method of trying to avoid responsibility for one's actions, trying to shift blame or an excuse for wrong deeds.
      • Except in this case, the shopkeeper not only isn't "unwitting", he can't be because He's supposedly omniscient. Yet he still sells the pillow, and does nothing to warn the victim-to-be or inform the police, he just waits until the murderer is in jail and then tells him "Serves you right".
      • In response to the above, God gives rules to live by, so in that case it's like the shopkeeper trying to persuade the murderer not to do the deed then let them make the choice. Also there have been accounts of God protecting people by letting other know or more esoteric ways, so the shopkeeper in that case may have alerted authorities; remember in the hypothetical scenario above the murderer was caught. While the omnipotence argument is interesting it STILL doesn't absolve the murderer.
      • About free will: It’s a placebo, because (according to biblical interpretations at least) if you still don’t follow the rules you get punished (if is with an eternity in hell, cessation of existence, etc, depends on the Christian branch). Free will implies that you can choose, period. That you are given a choice. If the only two alternatives are; do what I want or suffer, then there’s no real choice, therefore no real free will. It’s like giving someone a car and telling him that he can drive to the left or to the right, but I want him to go right and if the go left the car would explode: “but hey, you have free will do what you want, I’m just saying that if is not my option then you’ll die, but you can totally chose whatsoever.”

        On the other aspect of existence of evil for the existence of good that’s also a fallacy. Even by the biblical myth, Heaven had an absent of evil, so was Eden, and they were supposed to be paradises.

        In any case, modern neurology allows to know now that some people really has no free will at all. Psychopaths nor even have active the parts of the brain that control empathy or moral, they were born evil, they can’t comprehend good nor empathy or love, nor even all prayer in the world would allow them to be good, so they will go to hell even when they were made like that for the creator. At the opposite people with mental disabilities are in many cases incapable of evil, people with Down Syndrome and Autism are in many cases unable to harm others, so they will go to heaven directly, are incapable of evil behavior. In both cases God already chose for them.
      • Response to above: Saying that free will only exists if you are given more than one desirable choice is silly. There is no such thing as "fake" choice or "fake" free will. The absence of free will means the inability to choose, basically existing as a robot. The purpose of free will is for humans to follow God's will because they want to. Acknowledgement of choices, even dissatisfaction with the choices given, is evidence of free will.
      • Is still not free will as is not “free”. It is will if you want, yes, but is not free as the ruler is still extorting you into choosing the “path” he wants otherwise punishment will happen. Curiously, when humans apply that logic we tend to see it as something bad. Totalitarian regimes like North Korea that orwellianly tells you what you should think, how you should act and what jobs you should do otherwise you’ll be send to a prison and be torture are frown upon by most people, yet this is exactly the same situation. You can or not follow God’s command but if you don’t then you are send to a prison to be torture forever. It is exactly the same situation.
      • Since we are basically arguing semantics, what would you call it, then? If free will is having at least two desirable choices, or doing whatever you want without consequences, and lack of it is having no choice at all, then what do you call having only one good choice and one bad one, or two choices with opposing pros and cons?
      • Yes, free will is having at least two desirable choices. Currently the option is having no choice at all, as the only choice for disobeying is torture for eternity one of the choices is not desirable, so humanity is extorted into choosing one option. Again, saying that you have the option, but if you don't do what I say you will suffer horrible is not really giving you an option. And let's not start about "do whatever we want without consequences" which at least in the western society the consequence is proportional to the act committed. In the same way that we do not punish the one driving drunk the same way we punish the serial killer. When you do something against the law a series of possible options are taken into account; is it your first infraction? do you show remorse? are you a useful member of society? etc., which can end in you having to do community service, probation and very little jail time if any at all. But even if you have to do jail time is usually for less time if you rob that if your rape or kill. No one would agree to punish all infractions with life in jail, like disrespecting a red light. Instead in the biblical cosmological scheme both the serial killer and the guy who ate shrimp end in hell forever.
      • The thing is, sin is desirable. Long-term, rationally, it is the inferior choice, but because it is fun in the short term people do it anyway. In addition, remorse and repentance is in fact the way you get into heaven. God isn't saying "one strike and you're out," He's giving everyone who works hard and is a good person the opportunity for redemption.
      • I don't actually believe in hell, which is not even in The Bible anyway. And Jesus' sacrifice making resurrection possible is meant to undo all humans having the same punishment of death. The Bible does have several examples of people who did terrible things but were forgiven and could expect their death to eventually be reversed. So your response makes little sense to me.
      • Yes, there are different interpretations of the Christian afterlife. Personally I like the Catholic idea of the existence of purgatory where people can purge the minor sins in order to not go to hell. Makes much more sense than sending someone to hell for eternity for eat shrimp as many fundamentalists do believe.
      • In response above Your analogy is flawed since overly and grossly simplified of choices God gives you. While it's true there is ultimately two choices you can pick. You still have full say and when and how you choose to pick them, You still have many choices to make while following God's will. Think of it as a game of Fable while there is ultimately two path good or evil it's still a long complexes branch of decisions. furthermore there are many Crossroads in an individual's life where they are ultimately given two choices for example your choice in life is either to get married or not, find a job or raise a child or not, While there is no third option you can choose when,where,and how. To make a long story short Free Will as you described simply does not exist in this world PERIOD!! God or no God.
      • Might be true that true free will does not exist as you say, but that doesn't change the idea of desproportional punishment, even we as humans do not punish in the same way the mass murderer and the rober. At least Catholics get that and created the afterlife version of probation (purgatory).
      • Disproportionate maybe, but not unfair. Heaven and hell apparently operate under the same kind of reward punishment system. Everyone who goes to heaven is treated with the same kind of reward an infinite amount of pleasure even though not everyone there has done the same amount of good. So yes, one's treatment in the afterlife is not a direct measurement of the amount of good or evil that done in their life. He simply sees it as those who follow his way and those who don't. It's like school you either meet the standard or you don't simple as that. God has no obligation to create a third destination since no one dirctly benefits from it except the people who don't follow his way.the afterlife is simply a pass or fail system.
Satan is the God of Evil: Other than Job and maybe Revelation (aside from the chapters concerning the Beast), there's little to indicate that Satan is the God of Evil of Christian mythology. Indeed, if anything, while Satan Is Good is maybe only applicable to the OT, he appears to be a quite minor malicious agent at most, and maybe even just an epithet for any random fallen angel, not a single entity.
  • In the book of genesis (according to Christian theology) Satan was the serpent in the garden the tempt Eve. Also in the Books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke where Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness. Also in John 8:44 where he is called "the father of the lie" and was also mention in second Corinthians and in the book of peter.So yeah.. Satan has been shown being the Big bad in other books outside just Job and Revelation.
  • Perhaps Satan is a job description. It comes from ha-satan, meaning prosecutor or adversary. It may go to explain how Satan can be both God's loyal Amoral Attorney and adversary-the former is the scusessor to the job of the latter
  • Of course Satan is not the God of Evil at all, seeing as there is only one God. Yeah yeah I know what you mean but its actually THE theological point and the Bible stresses that for just such questions as this. If you you dive into serious theology and/or religions thought Satan really is on the low end of importance, tertiary character with very little actual detail. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are not properly speaking examples of Dualism where there's an actual conflict between good and evil, indeed evil is more like "cold" in that it doesn't exist just an observable absence. Satan is more "in story terms" an anthropomorphic catch-all for the various (and less easily handled) temptations of life. A convenient scapegoat. Yet since this is simpler and a bit more readily enjoyable once you take 2000 years of Word of Dante you have a very different entity in pop-culture that isn't really true to the original character.
    • He might not be called or considered a god by you and others, but for all intents, he is as powerful as one. In the myths described on the Bible, he is pretty much the embodiment of evil while god is the embodiment of good.
    • Obviously he not a '''God''' of Evil,. However he is still depicted as being a major force of Evil at least in the Christian scriptures. So yeah the point still stands.
    • Satan's basically the source of all Chaotic Evil in the universe.
    • Satan is actually evil because he seeks to destroy what God created. He tried to replace God as the almighty and was cast out due to his pride. Because of his bitterness towards God, Satan seeks to destroy what is good in the world.
      • Except he didn't. That's actually a frustratingly common misconception, as the only supposed "trying to usurp God and cast down" thing in the Bible does not refer to Satan at all, and "Lucifer" in Isaiah 14 is directly stated to be the King of Babylon in a proverb—it's simply a widespread case of Critical Research Failure to think otherwise, as most people simply believe that verses 12-15 refer to Satan when a full read of the chapter shows that's not the case. The Bible itself gives no indication that Satan "fell" or tried to usurp God in any fashion. In fact the one main point where he appears at all is in Job, where he actually works for God like a prosecuting attorney.

     Theodicy Problem 
This is a common problem posed in Christianity (first posed earlier with respect to a similar Greek cult) that sort of summarizes three major schools of thought on how God works, which may help a troper interpret where some of the replies are coming from and why they frequently contradict each other. Note that typically Christians will deny this is a problem at all or claim to have "solved" it, but all schools of christian thought tacitly operate on its validity from a functional perspective.

  • The formulation of the problem goes:
    • Given: God is omnisicient, omnipotent, and benevolent.
    • Given: Evil exists
    • Therefore: At least one of the first three postulates must be false

  • Specific 'solutions' to the problem are:
    • God is omniscient and omnipotent, but he isn't particularly benevolent. This is a popular philosophy of 18th century "watchmaker god" thought and some early cults that held on to jewish custom, but isn't popular with the majority of modern Christians.
      • God is omniscient and benevolent, but not omnipotent: "Free will" philosophies usually tend to run along these lines. God couldn't help it that there's evil, it's someone else's (usually humanity's) fault. This is the most popular Protestant interpretation by far in the modern world.
      • God is definitely omniscient according to the Bible (and how in the hell would the creator of everything not be omniscient?). Benevolent? Not quite.
      • Depends on your definition of benevolent. If you mean God is like some grandparent that gives you things, makes excuses for you and approves of you just because you're you, then you're correct - God is not benevolent. God is more like a know-it-all parent who has his idea of right and wrong which the child just has to trust in and obey. How do the child know those ideas are in the right? That's where the "omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent" part comes in.
    • A popular variation is "God works in mysterious ways", e.g. God is benevolent in his own Blue And Orange morality way, just not by our standards.
    • God is Benevolent and omnipotent, but not omniscient. He could solve everything in the world, but he didn't particularly see the first evils coming (unintended consequences) and is now playing it cautious with his adjustments. Any interpretation where God is sad about anything pretty much falls into this category.
    • A popular variation is "God is testing us" and "free will is a spanner in the works", both popular plotlines in Christian fiction.
      • This is pretty much just a rehash of can God create a sandwich so big He can't eat it? If God is truly omnipotent and omniscient, he would also know and be able to create a universe with quantum uncertainty built in such that he can't actually predict what happens next. And then He can produce prophecy anyway because he's powerful and intelligent enough to brute-force to solution he wants regardless of the uncertainty he put in place.
      • Aye and there is always Descartes' point to those traps that if God is omnipotent that means he can logic bomb... logic at will creating utterly contradictory Mind Screw solutions out of nothing... what makes puny logic superior to God? Yes this is pretty inconceivable to us, that's the entire point. But is also the "most logical" solution for the definition of "can do ANYTHING" if you aren't setting out to make a pedantic point about limited omnipotence.
  • A fourth solution, that Evil doesn't actually exist and that plagues and hurricanes and so on are actually good, is usually considered to fall under the "not benevolent" category.
    • Some of the hurricanes are brought as punishment, but plagues are a form of the evil that is of this world.
      • Well, of the world described in the Bible. Not from this world, where we live.

  • Again, this is a summary of the effective approaches to interpreting the Bible, not actual stated policy. Mentioning the fact that everyone has to pick a category is actually considered heresy by many religious groups, but is important to understanding the book as a work of literature.

  • For an act to be truly good, it must be freely chosen. Therefore, in order to do good, one must have the option of choosing not-good. Conclusion: Good cannot exist without the possibility for evil. Corollary: In Heaven, good can exist without evil only because the occupants have already chosen to reject evil and choose good. The corollary is further supported by the idea that evil influences (such as demons) have no sway in Heaven.
    • That doesn't make any sense. If evil is necessary for good to exist, there is no reason as to why Heaven is somehow immune to such "rule". Also, while the concept of evil need to exist in order for the concept of good to exist, free will have nothing to do with it, especially when you consider that free will by itself is a flawed concept, when the god described in the Bible is omniscient, therefore he already knows what people will choose, before they choose.
      • Evil does not exist. Evil is a word used to define a lack or absence, in this case the absence of good. Good exists on its own. Free will is not invalidated by omniscience, knowing what someone will do beforehand does not mean that the person did not do it of their own volition.

[[folder: Creation]]
  • The first two chapters of Genesis have always bugged this troper: two conflicting creation accounts right after each other. Plants before man, then man before plants. And somehow people accept these both as true. Huh?
    • Blame the poor choice of English for the Hebrew translation. Basically, Genesis 2 is an expansion of the time on Genesis 1, RIGHT before the creation of man. It should read, roughly, God created man (called Adam), sprung up Eden and then moved man to Eden. The Hebrew word is eretz (אֶרֶץ), which can be translated as earth (global) or land (local). The same word is in the account of Noah.
      • A similar linguistic argument is sometimes made about the claim that God created the animals after man in Genesis 2, but before man in Genesis 1. Ancient Hebrew didn't distinguish between the simple past tense ("God created the animals") and the pluperfect tense ("God had created the animals"), so it's not 100% certain that the animals were created after man in Genesis 2:19.
    • According to my Intro to the Hebrew Bible class the explanation scholars have for this is they believe that some of the books, such as Genesis, were created by different people at different times, and that if you look at what one particular source has written then their own narratives are far less contradictory. Concerning the chapters in question, the first chapter of Genesis is attributed to P, or the priestly source, which is commonly believed to have been written sometime around or shortly after the Babylonian exile, whereas much of chapter 2 was written by J, or the Yahwist, who I think is supposed to have written sometime around the late 10th to early 9th century BCE in the southern Kingdom of Judah.
    • The above, basically, although the exact identities of the writers of the various sources aren't always clear. Basically, the Bible we have today is a weaving together of the religious and folklore traditions of various groups - the primary two being the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. When the former was destroyed, some of its people fled to the latter, given their similar ethnic background and so forth. One of the things the writing of the
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