Category Archives: Moral Issues

The contradiction between omnipotence and free will

In the last few months, and in more than one context, I have heard it mentioned that the existence of free will is paradoxically opposed to the concept of an omnipotent God. The argument goes something like this:

IF God can do anything
AND God is in control of all things

THEN human free will cannot exist.

In this article, I intend to prove that no such contradiction exists, and that it is, in fact, quite possible for God to be in control of the events surrounding us while still preserving our free will to choose how we respond to those events.

One paradox at a time

Before I begin, I want to make it clear that I am only going to address the perceived disparity between an omnipotent God and free will. I am intentionally avoiding other similar problems, such as the classic omnipotence paradox (Can God create a stone He can’t lift) and the omnipotence vs. loving God paradox (Why do bad things happen to good people). I may circle back to discuss these topics in future articles.

God’s influences on world events

People of many faiths petition God to intervene in both their own personal lives, and in the lives of others. I will attempt to create a list of ways in which God can manipulate the events of our world without usurping the decisions of the people inhabiting the world.

I have grouped God’s influences into the following broad (and frequently overlapping) categories:

  • Control of nature
  • Control of random (or uncertain) events
  • Control of unforeseen events
  • Control of our health
  • Control of our personality
  • Control of our subconscious
  • Control of societal trends
  • Control of supernatural events

Control of nature

God is in control of the elements. Will today be sunny or rainy? Will this winter be harsh or mild? He can cause or prevent earthquakes. He can control precisely where and when lightning will strike.

God is also in control of the Earth’s flora. Which plants will thrive where, and when? I may plant, fertilize, and water a seed, but God is in control of how well a tree grows and when it ultimately dies.

God is even in control of the animal kingdom. This point may be a bit contentious, but I don’t believe that animals, regardless of intelligence, have free will. God can influence whether or not a fly gets into my house when I open the door. He determines the success of my fishing trip. He influences how long it takes for my dog to learn to sit.

Control of random events

Are there even any truly random events, or is what we perceive as randomness actually deterministic in a way that is beyond our current understanding? Either way, I believe that God can orchestrate events that we are currently unable to predict. How long till my car needs a new transmission? Who will win the lottery? How much traffic will I encounter this morning?

Control of unforeseen events

While obviously related, I have decided to call out “unforeseen events” as a separate category from random events, with a random event being defined as an event whose outcome is selected from a known pool of possibilities. Unforeseen events, then, are events that are completely unexpected. This includes calamities, such as a fire or a meteor strike, and windfalls, such as an anonymous gift.

Control of our health

We can somewhat influence our health through the choices that we make, but these decisions (diet, exercise, toxins, treatments, etc.) only effect likelihoods and percentages. Nothing about health is certain. My health and my very life is in God’s hands.

Control of our personality

Any parent of multiple children can tell you that there are some personality traits that are identifiable from a very young age. I do believe that I am free to somewhat mold my personality through conscious mental disciplines, but God has stacked the deck in order to push me toward certain ways of thinking and behaving.

Control of our subconscious

My mind is a multifaceted, complex apparatus. I am in complete control of my conscious decisions and behaviors. But there is a good portion of my mental processes that happen without conscious effort. This includes such things as recalling long-forgotten memories, continuously replaying annoying songs in my mind, or driving to work on “autopilot” in the morning.

It’s my belief that God’s influence on my subconscious thoughts is actually one of His primary means of communicating with me.

Control of societal trends

While God doesn’t control the actions of individuals, I’m confident He is able to shape populations to His will by exercising all of His means of influence in conjunction. In a Hari Seldon-like manner, God can direct events and circumstances in such a way that large populations of people, as a whole, will head down a certain, determined path.

Control of supernatural events

I have not witnessed anything supernatural, in the sense that it is unexplainable by known natural laws. I do believe that such events occur, though. I suspect that God rarely exercises his ability to instigate supernatural events, and reserves that option only for instances where it is not possible to enact his will through one of the more natural avenues that I have already enumerated.

Putting it all together

God can mold my natural habitat to influence me. He can instigate events that will direct me down certain paths. He has already pre-tuned my emotions and personalities to predispose me to certain ways of thinking and behaving. He can inject thoughts directly into my subconscious. All of these techniques can be used to influence not only me, but the people around me, thus further intensifying his control of my circumstances. And if this all isn’t enough, He can exercise His trump card of the supernatural.

I have free will to make my own decisions. God is in control of my circumstances. There is no contradiction.


– danBhentschel

Rubio’s Rebellion

I won’t say “rebels.” These are senseless acts of defiance.  And I won’t legitimize them.

– President Snow, The Mockingjay

Our society has a romanticized view of rebellion. Rebels are the heros of many of our favorite stories, both historical and fictional. We have a deeply seated sense of right and wrong that transcends laws and governments, and it is generally understood and accepted that, as individuals, we have not only an entitlement, but even a responsibility to ensure that right is upheld when laws and governments fail to do so.

Knowing when to rebel

As a parent, I am the evil dictator of my family, and I am constantly dealing with small rebellions among my constituents (children). Needless to say, I don’t view these attempts to usurp my authority as heroic endeavors. What’s the difference between my children throwing their broccoli on the floor vs. colonists in Boston dumping tea into the ocean?

Righteous rebellion should be based on the following:

  • A clear understanding of the issues in question – Rebellion should be based on understanding, not emotion. See Breaking rules makes you seem powerful.
  • Prior failed attempts to resolve the issues diplomatically – Ensure that you have explored all avenues to attempt a diplomatic solution before resorting to rebellious acts.
  • A desire to improve life for the general population – Breaking laws for selfish motivations is not rebellion. It’s crime.
  • Unassailable moral high ground – Make sure that you are clearly in the right. Authority exists for a good reason, and should only be challenged for an equally good reason.

Rebellion and democracy

… government of the people, by the people, for the people …

– Abraham Lincoln

We can sympathize with rebellion in an autocracy, but how about in a democracy? In a pure, ideal democracy, all public policy is decided by the affected parties. Isn’t rebellion in a democracy a contradiction of terms?

There is no such thing as an ideal democracy, though. In the United States, rebellion is somewhat viewed as a part of the democratic process, as a sort of check on government to ensure that it is accurately reflecting the will of the people. Take, for example, the opt-out movement in Common Core standardized testing.

The opt-out  is an attempt by a large portion of the population to express disapproval for state and federal policies. It is generally viewed as a legitimate concern, and as an appropriate response. And the government, at least in New York state, has taken notice, and is currently engaged in formulating a response.

On the flip side, though, there is also a definite sense in the US that rebellion is inappropriate in certain circumstances.

Rubio’s rebellious attitude

So when [God’s rules and government] come into conflict, God’s rules always win.

– Presidential Candidate Sen. Marco Rubio

The US citizenship is highly conflicted on this statement. There are many who see Rubio’s words as foolish and irresponsible. In what way is Rubio’s comment different from valid rebellious sentiments? I expect that your response to this sentence hinges on your interpretation of the phrase “God’s rules”.

For me, and for a large portion of society, “God’s rules” is synonymous with “moral right”. If your interpretation falls along these lines, then Rubio’s declaration makes perfect sense. Naturally, it is correct to rebel against an immoral government. So the question is not whether or not Rubio’s goals are correct, but rather, whether or not his measures are correct.

What is moral right?

Morality is a nebulous thing. Is morality universal, or can it vary with time, geographic location, or even perspective? Is morality decided by the population, or is it independent of popular opinion?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

 – Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson asserts that unalienable rights exist, and lists some of them. I think that very few would argue that individuals don’t have the right to life, to liberty, or to pursue their own happiness. However, the manifestation of these basic rights is not obvious.

The right to life

The right to life is the clearest, but even that is not a simple issue. Debates abound about the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

The right to liberty

Most civilized nations support the concept of individual liberties, but confusion arises when the liberties of one individual encroach on those of another. Hence we have speed limits, zoning ordinances, and public decency laws.

The right to pursue happiness

As with the right to liberty, the right to pursue your own happiness can encroach on others’ rights to pursue their own happiness. In fact, given the large variation in how individuals seek out happiness, I believe that this basic right is unlikely to ever be universally protected.

Universal morality

I have stated that we, as a society, seem to believe in the concept of universal morality. I have also argued that we, the human race, seem to have a very difficult time agreeing on what this universal moral code is. I believe very strongly that God’s word, the Bible, reveals to us this moral code, not in an individual verse or passage, but in study and understanding of the text, as a whole.

Morality is all about interactions, and the Bible is one of the most comprehensive studies of human interaction in existence. Its pages are full of beauty and horror, heroics and atrocities, relationships forged, and relationships broken, affecting hundreds of individuals across the span of thousands of years.

In addition, the Bible contains detailed lists of moral guidelines, along with reasons for the recommended behavior and potential consequences of ignoring the advice. The Bible relates general probabilities, and also specific examples from historical events.

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.

 – George Bernard Shaw

I happen to agree with Rubio’s comment in that:

  • The citizens of a country have a responsibility to police the morality of their country’s laws.
  • God’s word, the Bible, is the best source for inspiration and research when attempting to discern universal morality.

– danBhentschel

Thank you, Jesus!!

The event

This article is written as a response to discussion on Facebook about an event that happened in my house yesterday. Here is a quick recap of the event timeline, for background information:

  • 4:59 AM – I receive an email from my server stating that two of my 17 hard drives have failed. Because of my redundancy setup, no data has been lost.
  • 5:00 AM – Marlene’s alarm clock goes off, and I hear a beeping in the basement.
  • 5:02 AM – I find the basement is filled with smoke, and the server is powered off.
  • 7:00 AM – I have disassembled and reassembled the server, and found that the culprit was a SATA power cable (feeding two drives) that caught fire, as seen below. The server is back up and running, and no data has been lost.


My personal response

I am very happy with the sequence of events. No one was hurt. Nothing valuable was damaged. Because of the specific timing of things, the server (which hosts a number of parts of my life, including this blog you are reading right now) was only down for 2 hours. And I feel that I have learned a valuable lesson from the experience: I now know the hidden cost of using dirt cheap power cables in my system.

On the whole, I am thankful to God that this scenario occurred in exactly the way that it did. I can think of many ways it could have played out worse, resulting in more inconvenience, higher financial impact, and even injury or loss of life.

But didn’t God cause the situation in the first place?

Hmm… Good question! My best answer: I don’t know!

Seriously, he might have. In order to explain further, let me relay my own personal viewpoint of how God works.

DISCLAIMER: This is my own model of God’s influence in my life. I don’t claim that it is true. As with any scientific / mathematical model, I have created it to explain my observations, and find it useful as a predictor, but I am open to revising or rewriting the model as inaccuracies are discovered.

Given: God created the universe. I’m not going to discuss this here, and without this presupposition, the rest of the discussion is irrelevant.

  1. God designed the universe with physical laws that govern the way things work. We have discovered many of those laws, but many of them are still left to be discovered.
  2. God is able to intervene, as He sees fit, to make events happen that are beyond the scope of the laws he put in place. How often He does intervene is unknown.
  3. God has created humans with the capacity to make choices outside of this system of physical laws. For more on my perspective, see Supernatural me.
  4. Sometimes, God allows the results of our choices to play out completely according to physical laws and according to interactions with other humans, whose actions are outside the physical laws.
  5. Sometimes God intervenes, for His unknown purposes, to prevent or to cause actions other than what would otherwise occur as a result of human decision and physical laws.

I don’t always know when God has intervened in a situation and when He hasn’t. There have been times when I was strongly convinced that He had; this is one of those times. I believe that God orchestrated at least the timeline of this event, if not the actual occurrences themselves. The convenience of the timing has exceeded my own personal coincidence threshold.

Why would God cause your computer to catch fire?

I’m not going to get drawn into a deep philosophical discussion on “Why do bad things happen to good people?” That’s beyond the scope of this article, and often involves conjecture and assumptions about God’s purposes and other peoples’ situations that I don’t find very productive.

The best that I can do is examine my own life and try to figure out why events have transpired as they have for me. I know, it’s a bit of a cop-out. By most standards, I live a blessed life. I won’t say my life is easy; I find it quite challenging enough, thank you very much. I can’t directly compare with another person’s life, though, for obvious reasons. We work with what we have.

I feel that this particular situation was valuable to me. Let’s examine the results:

  1. I learned a lesson about computer parts.
  2. My faith in God grew.
  3. I shared my experience with others.
  4. I wrote this blog post.
  5. ???

Hmm… Notice #5? Now this is important. I don’t know all the results of this incident. There is no way that I could. I can’t see what my life (and the life of others) would have been like if my computer had not caught fire. I can come up with multiple scenarios, ranging from plausible to ridiculous, but it’s all just conjecture.

It comes down to faith

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.

– Romans 8:28 NIRV

Notice that in this verse, it says that God works in all things. I consider this to be different from saying that God works in each thing. I can’t analyze each individual event in my life and find the purpose of every circumstance. The very concept is meaningless. I liken it to trying to decipher the picture in a 1000 piece puzzle by examining a single piece.

In the end, I see the pieces fitting together in my life, and it is meaningful to me. I can share that with you, but none of you will see it with the clarity that I do. You must come to your own conclusions based on the circumstances in your own life.

I can’t prove God’s hand in my life, nor do I feel the need to do so. I believe it is there: guiding, shaping, comforting, protecting, loving. I thank God both for His intervention, and His lack of intervention, as the situation may be.

 – danBhentschel