By Richard E. Noble
The notion of punishment, whether civil or divine, is intrinsic to the notion of Free Will. Without the notion of Free Will there would be no justification for retribution either by Man or by God. Man could still separate his ‘criminals’ as a matter of practicality but he could not in all fairness hate them, or justifiably kill them or brutalize them, for they would all have simply done what they were programmed to do. The same would be true for God, using justice as our guide. God would be no more justified in punishing a predetermined or preprogrammed creation than would the State. Clarence Darrow was an advocate of this point of view.
Theologically the problem becomes even more complex, especially in Judaic-Christian thinking, whereby a ‘One’ God is assigned infinite attributes; All Knowing, All Loving, All Powerful, All Good etc. Let’s take the case with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The prosecution says that Adam and Eve made an exercise of their Free Will, chose Evil over Good, and therefore deserve whatever punishment God deems fit. The Defense says, even disregarding the notion that the punishment should suit the crime, and the obvious injustice of children being punished for the sins of the Father (and Mother), we have a clear case of entrapment here. God, who is the Creator of all things, not only created Adam and Eve, and the Garden of Eden, not only their imperfect natures and their base inclination to choose Evil over Good, but He also created the circumstances of their crime, and planted the Evil (evidence) in the Garden. Also, in order for a choice to be Free it must not be influenced by any form of coercion. Did God explain to Adam and Eve the consequence of their making the wrong choice after being placed into the Garden of Good and Evil? Did He inform them of the infinite nature of eternal damnation in Hell? And prior to being placed, with no exercise of their Free Will, into the Garden of Good and Evil, were they ever given a choice in ‘Existence’ or Being at all?
In effect, we have a God who arbitrarily Created Adam and Eve without any exercise of Free Will or choice, placed them into the Garden of Good and Evil without choice, subjected them to an Evil of His Own creation, gave them no fair warning of the consequences of their actions, provided them with insufficient reason and inclination to make the proper judgment, and punished them while all the while knowing fully what choice they would make. If any crime has been committed here it has been perpetrated by God not by Man and Woman.
The prosecution, in the form of men like Saint Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin and others counter; God, among His other infinite attributes, is All-powerful and therefore He can do as He darn well pleases. He can and may send all of mankind to an Eternity of Hell and torture if He so pleases. His power trumps all else. And where do you get the right to challenge His Authority?! You are not God.
The Defense; We are not challenging God’s authority nor are we trying to be God, we are simply trying to use the reason and common sense that He gave to us to gain a proper understanding of His attributes. It may be that God can act in this All Powerful manner that you describe, but if this is so, obviously He cannot be advertised as All Just, All Loving, and All Good. And if what you say is true then you open up the speculation that God can also be All-Evil, which we do not believe.
Prosecution: For God there is no Evil, whatever He chooses, is Good.
Defense: In which case there is no Evil or Good.