Last week, former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested. Again. He’s again a free man after posting bail, but this marks the second time he has been arrested. In case you haven’t heard the story, Sandusky is accused of sexually molesting several boys on the Penn State campus, at his home, and elsewhere. He now has a total of ten accusers and more than fifty charges against him. In 1977, Sandusky founded a charity – The Second Mile – ostensibly to provide support to at-risk children. He is accused of using this charity as a networking agency to connect with many of the children whom he allegedly sexually assaulted. Today, Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary testified (in a preliminary hearing for two Penn State administrators accused of perjury and failure to report these accusations to police) that he witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a boy aged between ten and twelve years old; this is perhaps the most convincing evidence against him. If the accusations prove to be true, Sandusky’s behavior could end up being one of the most sickening abuses of power on record.
Unfortunately, over the past few weeks another similar story has come to light. Bernie Fine, a former assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University, is accused of sexually molesting three former team ball boys. One of his accusers first made his story public six years ago, but only recently has enough corroborating evidence been found for the story to be made public. While the scope of the allegations against Fine is far smaller than that against Sandusky, both cases are saddening and abhorrent if true.
I could have written this at any time and found plenty of negative news stories to provide as examples. It seems bad news is everywhere, and when situations as these arise, a common question they produce is, “Why?” Some of these questions are practical in nature. Why would these men be placed in a situation with such limited accountability that it was able to go largely unchecked for years? Why was nothing done to stop them before now? And perhaps the biggest question of all, why would anyone want to do something like this? Many of the questions being asked, however, are of a more spiritual nature. Why would God allow something like this to happen? Why wouldn’t God put a stop to this?
The more the depravity of humanity comes to light, the more people often question its nature. If God is “all-good” and “all-powerful,” why does such evil in the world continue to persist? How much does God do to prevent evil in the world? Why doesn’t God do more? These questions have been asked for centuries and have received a variety of answers. The answers one chooses to believe shape just about everything one understands about the nature and character of God.
In my recent series, “Is God In Control?,” I’ve first discussed two views of God’s control and second explored one of them, determinism, in greater detail (if you haven’t read both of these, it would be a good idea to do so before continuing here). But why does all of this matter? Does it really impact the way we understand God? Why can’t it all just be a mystery?
Who’s to Blame?
The biggest problem with a deterministic view of the world is that it can minimize human responsibility. Think of it this way. If God caused something to happen, did the people involved really have a choice? I think of the movie The Truman Show as a primary example of this concept. If you haven’t seen the movie, Truman Burbank is the star of a reality show, but he thinks the world he’s living in is his real life. Whether the writers of the movie realized it or not, this serves as a great example of what our world would be like if determinism were true. People would be living their lives under the impression they’re making choices, when in reality they’re not at all. Life as we know it would simply be a distorted reality. The problem with this is where responsibility for these choices lies. If I thought I made a choice on my own accord but the reality is that God chose it to happen that way, did I actually make the choice? Am I responsible for the consequences resulting from that choice? Is it my fault if the choice was a bad one, or even an evil one? Assuming the charges against them are true, if God forced Jerry Sandusky or Bernie Fine to make the choices they made, who is responsible – the men or the God who determined these actions to happen?
The Author of Evil?
I once attended a Christian counseling conference, unaware that it was run by hyper-Calvinists. I remember one of the speakers at the conference passionately encouraging those in attendance, “Isn’t it beautiful how we serve a God who controls every minute aspect of our lives, who determines every detail?” I was appalled. I wanted to shout, “NO! That’s a horrible picture, and it’s not what God is like!” I didn’t, obviously, but I realized that day that many who believe in determinism haven’t stopped to consider the necessary implications of their beliefs. It only sounds beautiful when you haven’t stopped to consider the evil in the world. It sounds beautiful when we give God credit for everything that’s right with the world, but it stops sounding so good when we realize that a deterministic view of the world also requires that God has intentionally, purposefully caused every bit of evil that exists in this world.
Why It Matters
In Part 2 of this series, I explained in greater detail why the idea of God being controlling (and thus being responsible for evil) counters what the Bible teaches and creates inconsistent theology. Essentially, the point is this: God does not (and would not) decree that people do something that God instructs the same people not to do in the Bible. This would make no sense; it reminds me of the stereotypical elementary school bully, grabbing his victim’s arm and forcing him to hit himself, all the while saying, “Why are you hitting yourself?” God is not this bully. God does not tell us to avoid doing something and then decree us to do it. Instead, God gives us freedom, and a necessary consequence of freedom is evil. This isn’t because God created evil or caused evil, but simply because inherent in free will is the ability to do evil.
The danger in determinism is that we relinquish our responsibility for human choices and place the blame on God. Rather than realizing humans made mistakes, determinism allows the excuse of “I guess that’s just God’s will.” Not only does it allow God to receive blame for something God shouldn’t, it also allows humans to rely on what ought to be an invalid excuse for their actions. “That’s just the way God made me” isn’t and shouldn’t be an excuse.
So how does the understanding of human freedom affect the way we live? In several ways. First, we must each understand that we are responsible for our own actions. Because we have the ability to make decisions without being coerced or forced into doing so, it means that our decisions are important. It would be easy to be lazy and just sit back for the ride if the script of our life was written without our control. This isn’t the case, though. Second, when bad things happen to us or to others, we must understand that evil in the world is a necessary consequence of freedom. Why does God allow evil to happen? Because of God extinguished all evil, God would remove human freedom. We would no longer be beings with the ability to love; we would instead be robotic minions. Just as evil is a consequence of freedom, love is also. Love can only exist when given the option to do otherwise. God calls humans to love Him and others, but this is only possible with freedom.
What, then, should we do? We should make wise choices and we should love, because our choices matter.