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I believe that Theists are reluctant to agree that everything that happens is God's will, with the knowledge and consent of God, even planned in advance. This reluctance seems to stem from the reason that this will make all the evil things in this world (according to our estimation of what is good and evil) all seem that they were planned and orchestrated by God Himself, making God the creator of evil. The problem of good and evil is adressed by other answers on this site, however I am still no sure what the reason for the objection among theists for the belief I have stated in the question. Perhaps because it leads to fatalism?

One possible answer is that everything is God's will, and God, is like a surgeon, permitting pain to warn us of a serious disease within our souls, performing painful operations to rid us of the disease of wickedness within us, and getting us ready for a pain free, blissful afterlife? This is one possibility but I have not seen this opinion clearly articulated anywhere yet.

If this is the answer, then we can preserve the concept of God's goodness as well as the idea that everything that happens is according to a Divine plan.

  • It's worth mentioning that among Theists, there are many different takes on this. Do you have a particular view in mind? Even limiting to Christians, a Catholic and a Calvinist would probably give you different answers. – James Kingsbery Dec 5 '16 at 18:55
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Most traditional theist positions consider God omnipotent. So they do not resist the notion that absolutely everything is the will of God. But as @PedeLeao points out, it is a common context within theisms that the overall plan of God cannot be understood by human beings due to our inherent limitations, and that it is those limitations that create the illusion that God is doing evil things.

The position you point toward with your surgical analogy is close to the position of Leibniz in his Theodicy (which Voltaire mocks in Candide). It is summarized in the notion that we live in the best of all possible worlds. All evil exists only to make more good possible.

For instance, from this perspective, all suffering now allows for something better to be in the future or the past which would not otherwise be witnessed or understood. It is our limitation in being temporal that keeps us from seeing the whole thing in perspective and realizing that the overall balance is the best attainable. But that limitation itself has a purpose of its own: it allows us to experience freedom and courage in a specific way, by not knowing with certainty the outcome of our actions.

Your surgical analogy lacks an important component. God would have to be the source of the disease, as well. The disease itself has to be necessary for a reason. But redemption is possible only when there is something to be redeemed from.

For instance, heroism is largely invisible outside a context of struggle and danger. So if it is to exist, and to be understood, those contexts must exist to whatever degree the heroism itself is to be comprehensible. Similarly, it is more important to experience mercy and salvation than to be "more perfect" in our own limited understanding of perfection and therefore have nothing to forgive or to be saved from.

Fatalism isn't the only trap implicit in this viewpoint, or the worst one. Another problem within this position is that it puts us too close to the Platonic position that evil is not real, but only illusion, and ultimately pushes us toward a 'New Age' position that in a strong sense there is nothing evil.

But then, doesn't that simply make what we consider good, neutral? And if we have been tricked into seeing the neutral as good, is that not in fact evil? We are led into the nest of contradictions that lie at the base of Gnosticism, if we consider God omnipotent, and cling too firmly to the human intuitions of negation and duality.

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Your analogy of the surgeon reminded me of what Augustine said in the City of God:

"Now God is in such sort a great worker in great things, that He is not less in little things,—for these little things are to be measured not by their own greatness (which does not exist), but by the wisdom of their Designer; as, in the visible appearance of a man, if one eyebrow be shaved off, how nearly nothing is taken from the body, but how much from the beauty!—for that is not constituted by bulk, but by the proportion and arrangement of the members." (Augustine, City of God, Part II, Book 11, Ch. 22)

I don't want to say that that's necessarily incorrect, but to some extent it gives the impression that we should accept a little bad with the good, especially when he says "nearly nothing is taken from the body", and I really think that's unnecessary. A better perspective would be that there is not, never was, nor ever will be any single event which is not one of God's good works for which He should be praised.

In order to understand this perspective, it's necessary to understand a very fundamental principle which is taught from Genesis through Revelation, namely, God works good deeds through man's evil actions. Perhaps the clearest example of this is in Genesis when Joseph's brother's sold him into slavery. After being reunited with his brother's, Joseph clearly states:

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Gen. 50:20)

The amount of Scripture that could be cited on this subject is very extensive, so I'll skip to Revelation to find another example.

"The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled." (Rev. 17:16,17)

It might also be helpful to understand that a thing can be both good and not good at the same time if it is not in the same sense. As long as that final clause is remembered, it is not a violation of the law of noncontradiction. For that reason, an event can be said to be evil because some human being had wicked intentions to do what is wrong, and the same event can be said to be good because God had praise-worthy intentions to further what is good. The entire course of history is the glorious succession of God's good works, one right after the other.

We can admit there's evil in the world, but that's looking at it from the perspective of the guilt which accrues to man. If you look at it from the perspective of the guilt which accrues to God, there's no evil at all. It's also important to note that removing any evil event perpetrated by man would also remove one of God's works and thus diminish the perfection of His plan.

To answer your question: Is belief that everything that happens is God's will inconsistent with Theism?

On the contrary, the only way that Theism can be consistent with the problem of evil is by recognizing that everything that happens is God's will, because only a sovereign God can bring about good through man's evil deeds.

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