A friend of mine posed these questions, and this is my response to his questions. I’d be curious for what you think about these questions.
"If God is perfect, then how is it even possible for him to create a world that is imperfect? If hell exists because God, who is perfect, cannot withstand the imperfection of human beings, then how can he even withstand the existence of our world altogether? Doesn’t it make sense to believe that an imperfect world could only have been created by a correspondingly imperfect being?"
*Note* - This is a LONG POST… Skip to the end if you want the summation of my position on each question, otherwise, here you go!
Good questions. This is what I believe:
I think that the closest understanding to an answer to these questions stems from two things: understanding what God’s perfection is and the gift of Free Will.
I’ll begin first with God’s perfection. What does it mean for God to be perfect? Well, let’s look up definitions first. Perfection (according to Google searches for definitions) stands for “the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.” Now, what does that mean for God to be perfect? God then, by definition, is understood to be in the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects. Now, it’s interesting to consider the second part of the definition of perfection, to be as free as possible from all flaws and defects. The wording implies that there will always be a degree of imperfection that cannot be attained (this is an important point, it will come back again). So, the question then is raised, which is God categorized as, the initial part or secondary part of perfect’s definition? Understanding the Christian/Catholic perspective, God constitutes the initial part of this definition, that God IS the standard of perfection, that God alone is flawless and lacking in all forms of defects. For the sake of continuing on, I will assume that this is what you mean by perfection. If not, then the discussion would have to lead elsewhere, and would make this already long post into something even longer XD
Now, what about the word “imperfection?” Imperfection means “a fault, blemish, or undesirable feature” or “the state of being faulty or incomplete.” Or, by using our previous definition, imperfection is “the condition, state, or quality of NOT (emphasis added) being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.” Now, you asked in your question that God, in creating the world, created an imperfect world right from the get go. I would raise the question, why do you believe that? What makes you believe that at the moment of creation, that God created a world that was imperfect? According to the Jewish Scriptures and Christian and Catholic bibles, the world that God created was not imperfect, “it was good.” *note*- God, in being perfect, by classifying things with His words, is flawless, hence calling the world “good” means that the world is TRULY good. If God had created the world imperfectly, that means there should have been a lack, something that was flawed and defective in the order of the universe. Yet, at the time of creation, when God created all of these things, what would have been considered the “imperfection” or “flaw” as you stated? That would be my first question in response to your questions.
Continuing on, we know that there is the conception of heaven and hell. So, my next question is about your second question, or more like a clarification. Your second question seems to have a number of assumptions that do not reflect Catholic teachings. First, you state that “God cannot withstand the imperfections of human beings.” From what your statement notes, the stress is placed upon God’s inability. I believe that is a huge misunderstanding of the nature of hell and the nature of the imperfection of man. Rather, the stress should be emphasized on the fact that MAN cannot withstand the perfection of God. All across the Scriptures, when there’s a situation reflecting the interaction of God and Man, it is not God who shies away from Man, but Man who cannot withstand the glory of God (Israelites cannot withstand glow from Moses from presence of God, Isaiah being “undone,” Uzzah stricken for attempting to touch the Ark, etc.). The flaws are what defines the separation between God and Man, and it is the flaws that are faulty, not the perfection.
Secondly, I also want to move into the nature of what Hell is, and this leads into free will. Now, what IS hell? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (summation of the core doctrines/dogmas of the Catholic Church [NOT EXCLUSIVE]), Hell is, “Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (CCC 1035) and, “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end” (CCC 1037). By definition, hell is a place that one enters when one willingly turns away from God.
Why am I bringing this up? My point is simply that what we understand as the “imperfect” world comes not from God, but from Man’s inability to properly choose to follow his proper order. Or, to state another way: Imperfection comes not from God, but from beings that choose to turn away from God. This is the key in trying to wrap one’s head around the nature of sin, suffering, and all the defects of the world. God did not create sins/imperfections, HOWEVER, He allows for these things to happen based on the gift of Free Will.
But why? Now, this is actually leading into a separate discussion, but I will try to condense my points as much as possible, as they are vital to this discussion. First, that nature of free will is the ability to “will” action as a being chooses without impediment. God, in His perfection, (important!) DOES NOT NEED ANYTHING. By what we understand of perfection, God is flawless, lacking in all deficiencies, complete, total, and whole. YET, in His infinite love, He offers EXISTENCE to beings that DO NOT EXIST. He provides beings the ability to experience existence, to be ACTUAL. In addition to that, not only does He allow these beings to exist, He also provides (remember, each of God’s acts are PERFECT) certain existences the gift of Free Will. But, what is the gift of Free Will for? What makes this gift, of ALL gifts (outside existence), so vital? To my understanding, simply because the act of willing commits one’s whole being undeservingly and completely toward whatever one has willed to do. Thus, God, rather than pre-programming humans (and angels, which is interesting because we are not the only beings with free will), gifts His creations with one of God’s powers: the ability to “will,” to actualize. In giving that power, God then PERMITS the ability for something to NOT “will” what is God, what is perfect. That then PERMITS the POSSIBILITY of what we classify as “sin” and “hell,” or the willful choice for what ISN’T God.
Does that mean God created sin? Logically, NO. As there was always the POSSIBILITY of sin, conversely there has always been the POSSIBILITY of ALWAYS following what is perfect as well. As Catholic/Christians, we understand that the gift of existence and choice obligates (is morally or legally binding, necessary, essential) us to God, for we owe our existence to God. Without that, who cares? If we were not morally or legally bound to God, then to what does sin avail? BUT, since we believe that Humanity’s existence and gifts come from God, we believe there is a moral obligation to follow God. But, we understand that humanity chose NOT to honor that obligation, and thus willfully chose to separate from God. That does not conclude that it was impossible to follow God’s will though, and hence, the power of Free Will. Summing that up, the imperfection of the world falls not on God, but on His creation that failed to honor its moral/legal obligation and then paying for its responsibility.
Why doesn’t God then take away that Free Will, or the consequence of it? I would say that God does not take it away, or force a different circumstance/decision because that then would override the gift of Free Will that He gave to us Himself. In doing so, God would contradict the very gift that He placed within us that He himself declared “good” and would thus reveal that this gift was incorrect, “flawed, deficient,” and imperfect, and with a decision like that, would depict a scenario of God contradicting Himself, which would be a separation of His actions, and thus God would be flawed. Thus, the separation of beings into “heaven” and “hell” are in actuality God’s justice in permitting and respecting the decisions of Free Will that each individual person willfully chooses.
In conclusion, 1) God did not create an imperfect world, but rather, the world became imperfect through its own decisions. 2) It is not God that cannot withstand the world’s sin, but rather, we cannot withstand God’s perfection, and thus shy away in sins/turning from that which we owe our existence to. 3) Imperfection is not created by imperfection, perfection creates perfection, but through the agency of free will, could be marred not by the original perfection, but through the responsibility of not fulfilling one’s obligation.
What about you?