Atheists are quick to criticize God for His alleged deficiencies, claiming His tyrannical nature prevents people from living without fear. According to atheists, God’s behavior mirrors many of the worst dictators in history, which should preclude anyone from worshiping Him.
This criticism is flawed for several reasons; the first of which is the atheist’s presupposition of an objective morality. By operating under the assumption that tyranny is bad, atheists are assuming there is an objective standard by which all actions should be measured. As I pointed out in a previous article, it’s impossible to establish an objective standard of morality without God. Any attempt to establish a secular moral framework inevitably leads to arbitrary rules guided by our feelings rather than reality.
There’s another problem with the atheist’s charge that may be more appealing to libertarians. If God exists, He owns everything, including us. If one is operating under a private property framework, then God is completely justified in setting the rules we should all live by. If He created us, why wouldn’t He have a say over how we live our lives? On a libertarian view of private property, God is justified in using His property as He sees fit. It would be incoherent to claim God should abide by our own morality when He is the source of any property we have acquired, including our own bodies.
Fortunately, for our sake, God is not a tyrant; He is the author of freedom—and not just under a libertarian theory of private property but because of God’s very nature. There is a biblical defense of free will—one of the many gifts God has given us. Romans 2: 6-8 is just one example, but I’d rather focus on how God’s nature points to freedom to head off any controversy over biblical interpretations, and because I believe appealing to God’s nature is a stronger argument in defense of free will for people who don’t belong to a particular faith.
God loves us by His very nature. If we define God as a maximally great being, it follows He has no imperfections. He is perfect love, which leaves no place for unrighteous hate. God is also omniscient or all-knowing. His moral perfection and perfect knowledge mean God knows true love requires freedom. Love cannot involve coercion. It would be illogical to claim God forces us to love Him because love requires an act of the will. It’s not just a feeling. It’s a choice.
While it’s a joy to know God gives us the freedom to love Him, we’re also free not to love Him. And this is an important insight into why hell exists. Hell is a place where we are eternally separated from God. Hell exists because God does not force people to love or unite with Him. Put another way, God does not send people to hell. People choose hell because of their own free desire not to love God. Imagine if a suspect claimed they kidnapped a random stranger because they loved the person—and used that as a defense in court. All rational people would find this defense ludicrous.
What political implications can we draw from God’s love for us? If God is unwilling to take away our freedom even at the risk of some people ending up in hell, then this should give us caution in constructing a political system that undermines our own freedom. If God permits free decisions that could produce eternal consequences, why should we be so eager to limit the freedom of others to avoid the problems of the temporal?
There’s an obvious objection to this: Government should order itself to ensure people make it to heaven, and that’s more important than a vague notion of freedom. It’s the noblest of goals. But I see at least two major problems with this view.
First, it puts government dangerously close to playing God. If God is willing to permit free choices—regardless of the outcome—why should we think the government of all institutions is in a position to organize society in way that will steer people to choices that will give glory to God?
Everything we know about government suggests it will fail to achieve its desired outcome, assuming there is an alternate universe in which government majorities primarily care about their constituents’ afterlife.
Government officials are ill-equipped to organize society in a way that will maximize the number of people who choose to love God. Given the law of unintended consequences, it’s reasonable to assume government direction of our behavior could lead to fewer people being saved. Good intentions are just not enough to justify government coercion, especially when the issue involves salvation of souls.
A government that protects our free choices—provided they don’t violate the rights of others—is the best political system we can devise. Whether we come to God is not a matter for government. Rather, it’s decision we need to freely make on our own or with the help of those prepared to give a defense of the hope that lies within.