Friday, 9 November 2012

Is God Responsible for Everything that Happens in the Universe?

Almost all faiths are founded on the belief that the universe was created by a deity in one form of another, although it remains to be determined therefore whether He is responsible for everything which happens in the Universe. In this article I will focus solely on the Judeo-Christian concept of God as creator as this is the faith I am most familiar with, being brought up Catholic and sent to a Catholic boarding school. Although many people of all different faiths believe that certain events in the universe are fated, including humanity, I will not talk of that which I am unsure of, and do not want to offend people of serious religious faith.

In the book of Genesis, there are two accounts of the creation of the world. The first describes the seven days in which Elojhim created the world ‘ex nihilo’ from nothing. This powerful and deist depiction of God as a potent, creating force is entirely detached from the loving and compassionate depiction, Yahweh, who walked on Earth and spoke with man. The personified God who had a relationship with man shows a more anthropocentric view of creation than the Elojhim account. This created the idea that God as Yahweh created us for a purpose, since we were reportedly created ‘imago Dei’ in the image of God. Although both of these accounts are of the original Hebrew Scriptures, they portray very different images of God. In fact many believe that the Elojhim account, while first in the book of Genesis, was written at least 500 years after the Yahweh account when a Jew visited Arabia and took the story from their existing idea of an all-powerful deity. However the one similarity between the two tales is that both were creators, creating the Earth and animals ‘ex nihilo’.

Similarly in Christian Scripture, in John’s gospel, Jesus was described as ‘the word’ or ‘logos’ used in the context, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God, and the word was with God.” This suggests that in the view of Christianity, descended from Judaism, God created everything within the universe, in the form of Elojhim perhaps. However John took this view a step further, using this to portray Jesus as the interface between man and Elojhim, explaining Jesus as comparable to Yahweh (though not as paternalistic), and joining the two genesis stories to form one, strong legend. The Christian faith continues to call God the creator today even outside of the Scriptures, often through prayers and teachings. For example in the Apostle’s creed, Christians declare that they “believe in one, true God, Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth”. This assertion shows how Christians believe that God created the universe as an all-powerful and all-mighty force.

The reason for this concept of God as creator is that humans enjoy having a certain order and structure to their lives without a great sense of mystery. Although it is impossible to answer the many incomprehensible questions of the universe, different religions such as Judaism and Christianity envision a great creator to explain these questions. The linked similarities between Elojhim and Yahweh give a paternalistic and dominant view of the creator. This shows that God works with motive to give humans purpose. Because he is seen as the creator of the universe, many believe him also to continue to sustain the universe, thereby being responsible for the universe and everything within it.

I argue that God would not be responsible for everything that happens in the universe. For a start, it is of popular view that we as mankind have total free will, and therefore this would not be true if God was still responsible for us. Some may declare that even if God does not continue to sustain us in the world today, he still holds responsibility for us because we exist from him.  Therefore all things in the world have to be his fault, his problem. A popular extension of this view is Eternal Law, the position that all events in the universe were predetermined and we have no free will at all. The thing I find most troubling with this position is that it is a Christian view, even though it completely contradicts the Christian teaching of Man’s free will. I find it hard to believe that any rational Creator God would purposefully predestine such destruction as wars and famine having created us with such detail and accuracy. I also find it hard to believe that a God who is said to love everyone equally might set up the rape and savage murder of innocent young people through the actions of one man or woman. I feel that what we do in our lives is of our own choosing and that no higher being is responsible for our activities.

Hebrew Scriptures suggest that God was very powerful and also benevolent towards his ‘chosen people’.  In the book of Exodus, it is written “The lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” In addition, in the Christian gospel of St John it reads that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son” for the salvation of mankind. One key question in religious philosophy concerns the relationship between God and goodness. The Euthyphro dilemma is the problem; Does God create moral standards that he issues as commands, or does he command that which he already knows as good? Judaism would choose the first option, while Plato would say that good is already there. This dilemma is difficult to resolve, since religious believers tend to use God’s commands as a point of reference when deciding what is good, but are aware that sometimes their relationship with God might call on them to do something that they know rationally would be considered wrong. Take for example the story of Abraham. God called him to kill his son Isaac on a mountaintop to prove his faith, and Abraham conceded to do so, despite the immoral face of the action. The goodness of God therefore cannot be measured by human standards of goodness. They are set apart in a way which we cannot comprehend.

Many people believe that God is very powerful, often describing him as omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, especially Christians. However Hebrew beliefs do not include the all ‘omni’ part of the phrase, believing God to be only very powerful, very knowing and very kind. They had good reason for this. When you talk of God as being almighty, as though there is nothing he cannot do, difficult questions begin to emerge. Through the position of Eternal Law, everything good or evil, happy or sad, it is all of God’s doing. The correct response to the events of the universe according to the Bible is Faith, even when things seem confusing or disturbing. Accept in faith and do not question. A good example of this unquestioning approach can be found in the story of Job. God allowed the devil to test Job to prove that he was a true follower of God. God placed Job into his enemy’s hands, and Satan was given two attempts to make Job suffer. He first lost his possessions and his children, and then a decline in health and his reputation in the community. Even though Job’s wife wanted him to curse God for the pain brought down on him, Job did not buckle. His reply was that “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of God.”

However this view is difficult for many to understand. It takes huge restraint and patience for someone to experience such loss and still have faith in God. Personally I do not comprehend the perseverance and strength of this faith as my own beliefs will not allow me to belief that compassion and reason in a deity would lead him to allow such acts from the devil towards one of his creations. How can the builder of the universe choose to allow someone’s world to collapse around them? And yet we are taught to believe that God creates intelligently and deliberately with a clear plan and purpose.

The Judeo-Christian ideal of a loving and compassionate God cannot exist simultaneously with the statement that God is responsible for everything that happens in the universe, rendering one or the other false. This is because if God wants to help us with starvation or flooding for example, but cannot help, then God is not omnipotent and cannot be held responsible. However if God does have the power to help but does not, as now with Superstorm Sandy, then he is malevolent. The typical Judeo-Christian response to this is that without suffering in the world, there can be no such thing as compassion. However this implies that God is willing to choose who suffers, showing that he favors those who appear to us not to be in need. This depicts God as a cruel and unfair deity, very unlike Judeo-Christian teachings. The two concepts, whether God is compassionate or responsible for everything in the universe, are not compatible. They cannot co-exist. If you believe in God as a Jewish or Christian believer then you must believe in the former if you are to believe the teachings of the scriptures and of the church.  

Therefore I conclude that in the context of a Judeo-Christian approach to God, God is not responsible for everything that happens in the universe. 


  1. But if we cannot understand the concept of God's separate goodness, then how are we not to know that what He leaves in a way that you suggest is malevolent may be the most just and good action he could undertake to avoid consequential problems? If He is omnipotent, powerful enough to achieve the impossible, then surely He is able to be both benevolent and potent simultaneously.

    1. I suppose it is everybody's magnitude of faith which strengthens their opinion. You are obviously of greater faith than me, and therefore your opinion of God and his actions is more forceful than mine. However, how can a God who is both almighty and wishes the most goodness not then do something about suffering? If he has the potential to right any problems in the world, then why doesn't he? (and don't argue that without suffering there cannot be a concept of compassion in the world since I already argued against this).

    2. If you don't have faith in God then why bother writing this post? It is beyond your boundaries of opinion. You say you do not understand the reason for unquestioning faith in God, and so your depth of arguable knowledge is limited.

    3. Are you telling me I have no right to talk about religious issues simply because I am agnostic rather than of a specific religion. I am an agnostic theist and therefore I believe in a deity in a form, but I am not restricted to a teaching which i might not agree with. You have to remember that what is written in the scriptures is only inspired by God, but written by man, who may twist the religion into any way they wish. BTW Freedom of Speech Right anyone can speak freely about any topic they wish, even if they are uselessly uninformed. I was brought up in the Catholic faith and so I have a sound understanding of Christian faith.