Greg and Amy explain how God’s purposeful justice displays his glory.
Question: Would a perfectly good God permit the eternal death of many people without the chance for faith in Christ? Are they the collateral damage in the best of all possible worlds, where the most people freely choose the path to eternal life with Christ?
Greg: Well, this question makes a presumption, and it also asks a question that is hard to answer because only God knows the answer to it. The presumption it makes is that what God is most concerned about is getting the most people into Heaven. That is his chief concern. I’m not convinced that it’s his chief concern. Now, I think I’m fairly representing somebody like William Lane Craig, who makes that statement many times—that he thinks what God is most interested in is getting as many people into Heaven as possible who freely choose him.
It may be that God has a different goal, and consequently, the different goal is going to inform the question. Clearly, multitudes are going to spend eternity without God, and many are going to be in Heaven with God. Somebody’s saying, what can justify the bad compared to the good? And my answer is, none of us is in a position to make that assessment. We don’t know how many go to Hell. We don’t know how many go to Heaven. And we don’t know what God’s purpose is across the board, ultimately, because God hasn’t told us that. Now, we might presume it’s to get the most people into Heaven. It’s curious, even with that view—and a lot of people hold that view—we don’t see any difficulty with the number of people who freely choose not to turn to God. They will be punished appropriately. But Craig does make the point when he deals with the problem of evil that there are all kinds of things that we see as evils now that could possibly have tremendous ramifications for a more significant good in the future, and sometimes we are able to see that as we look back. But sometimes that good may be years or centuries down the line—the good that is accomplished by the bad that God allowed—and the good justifies the allowing of the bad. The balance tips, but the only one that could understand that clearly is God himself, who sees all things as they are. So, I think the question in itself can’t be answered because, no matter what one thinks the basic purpose of people on earth is in God’s plan, it can’t be answered because we don’t see enough to be able to answer it; and secondly, a lot depends on what you consider to be the chief good of all of this, and that also is a matter of debate. Different people are going to answer it in different ways.
Amy: I don’t think there is any collateral damage, because I think God is free to save anyone he chooses and to bring that about in the way that he chooses. I believe there’s purpose in everything that God sovereignly decrees in this world. There are different ideas of what would be a best possible world and what God’s goal is, and I firmly believe that his goal is the glory of his grace. If you just look at Romans 9, I think there’s even a purpose for people being punished in Hell. I don’t think that is an accident or any sort of collateral damage. I think it’s actually there to reveal things about God to his people—to reveal his justice, to reveal his righteousness, to reveal his wrath—so that his people understand the—I mean, right now, un-understandable—grace that he’s offered us. We don’t understand the grace that’s been given to us because we don’t understand our own sin. So, even the little bit that we understand does not do justice to the weight of God’s glory—of his grace.
Greg: It’s another way of saying that good news is not good news without the bad news. There’s a contrast here. We see those punished justly for their rebellion and those not punished in virtue of grace that is so great that it cancels out the punishment. It is something other than the punishment we ought to have received, yet it is a punishment that Jesus took upon himself.
Amy: And even the bad news for people going to Hell—I mean, from their perspective, that’s bad news—but even in that case, justice is good. God is a good judge. Even that justice is a good thing, and it upholds his righteousness. It shows his righteousness, and we are looking at that from the perspective of people who are suffering the judgment, but in reality, objectively, that justice is a good thing.
So, none of this is collateral damage. It’s all serving a purpose that God has, and we get hints of that throughout the Bible, but the passage in Romans 9 is where he talks about how he raised up Pharaoh in order to demonstrate his power through that situation, and then, at the end, Paul says, “What if God, willing to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And he did so to make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom he also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles.” So, there’s an example of there being a purpose. There is a reason that all of this is happening.
Greg: So, it isn’t the balance of the good outweighing the balance of the bad. Your point is that the bad isn’t bad. It is subjectively bad for those who are punished for what they did wrong, but it is a good thing because God is manifesting his glory—on the one hand, in his justice and judgment, and on the other hand, in his grace. In both cases, God’s glory is manifested.