A different world?

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“Could God have created another world?”  It was a classic question set for theological students when I was at Oak Hill.  The question concerned God’s sovereignty and providence.  On the one hand it was argued that this world is exactly the kind of world that you would expect to see, it is fitting to God’s character and will.  People like John Piper have argued that God must pursue what will give maximum glory and joy to him because “God’s chief end is to glorify himself and enjoy himself for ever.”  For God to create a world that didn’t do that would be to create something less than perfect and good. Jonathan Edwards saw this world as an outflow of God’s love and grace.

On the other hand, some have reacted strongly against that suggestion. Surely God has complete freedom of will, unlike us human beings. Therefore, God must have had a choice about what he would create.  We cannot talk about God in a way that constrains his freedom.

For what is is worth, I lean into the former suggestion, that this is exactly the one and only world that God would create. If there were other worlds that give maximum glory to God, then he would create them as well as this one not choose this over the others.

Part of the question concerns the nature of freedom and what it means to say that God has free will. Theologians and philosophers talk about two types of freedom.  On the one hand there is Liberty of Indifference, this is the freedom to be indifferent between choices and so to choose between them. It means that I don’t have set desires, I an change my desire. I can choose to like or to dislike coffee and cabbage.  On the other hand there is Liberty of Spontaneity.  I cannot be indifferent to my desires, I cannot choose to like or dislike coffee, I either do or I don’t. However, I can choose to follow my desires or not. I can decide whether or not I will drink the coffee placed in front of me.

It is obvious that humans have Liberty of Spontaneity not Liberty of Indifference. We cannot choose to change our desires but we can choose whether or not to follow them. This is another reason why we need the Saviour and the work of the Holy Spirit. We are new creations in Christ and so God can and does change our desires so that we love the things he loves and hate the things he hates.

But what about God.  Liberty of Indifference sounds like a better, stronger type of liberty doesn’t it. Surely that’s the type he has, it’s one of the things that makes him different from us.  However, think more carefully. If God’s desires, if God’s will is perfect and holy and good, then do we want him to change those desires? The answer is obviously that we do not. If God needed Liberty of Indifference then that would suggest that wither there wasn’t objective good and that God’s will was arbitrary. 

So my inclination is to say that God has liberty of spontaneity too. He is free to follow his desires.  Indeed, because he is sinless and perfect, he does not experience the wrestling we do of either desiring good but being unable to do it or desiring evil and trying to stop himself from doing it. It is in God’s nature to do good. It’s not that he lacks something if he doesn’t have the other type of freedom, it’s that such a freedom is hypothetical and redundant.  It’s like asking the questions “Could God make a square circle?” or “could God make a rock that is too heavy for him to move?”

Now, I said at the start that this was a question beloved of theology examiners but is it just an academic question? What is the practical payback?  I want to suggest that the practical point is for us as we face the specific circumstances we are in and as we seek to live in God’s World. We are reminded of God’s perfect purposes and that although we may not always be able to see the how and the why, we can trust God that his plan is perfect and that he is working all things together for the good of those who love him and for his glory.