Is God cruel and Manipulative?

I recently received a question from someone who was struggling with their son.  The son was claiming that God was cruel or manipulative for his actions in the Old Testament (such as denying knowledge of good and evil to Adam and Eve).  He was asking how he might respond to him.

My response is below:

I am so sorry that you are having this difficulty with your son.  I can imagine the heartache that it must bring you to see him walking away from the faith.  I wonder if your son’s reasons are not personal rather than intellectual?  Notice that the reasons that you have conveyed are not actually challenges to God’s existence, but rather a rejection of God due to disagreement over his decisions.  You may expect that if you were to answer these objections then he will go and find more, as the internet is littered with ill-conceived attacks on Christianity that are nonetheless persuasive to people who want to believe in them.

Perhaps it would be a better tactic to be to focus on the bigger questions of meaning and purpose.  I would suggest that if God is who he says he is, then perhaps he has reasons that your son isn’t aware of.  After all, his challenges rely on the crucial assumption that God does not have a morally sufficient reason for the decisions he makes.  I would recommend you share with him a lecture by Dr. Craig on the Absurdity of Life Without God and ask him what he thinks of it.

With respect to the actual challenges you have provided we can see a little more of what is going on with a critical evaluation of the text.  Notice, as your son pointed out, that Adam and Eve already knew what good was in order to know that it was good to follow God’s command.  They had a familiarity with God’s creation, which God had said was “good” repeatedly.  Up to this point, everything is overflowing with good.  What they did not have knowledge of was evil.  Most commentators take the fruit of the tree as a choice rather than as some sort of mystical food.  As a symbol, the fruit would represent their choice to either continue to trust God to decide good from evil or to decide for themselves.  They chose the latter, and humanity has been choosing making its own decisions about what is right and wrong ever since.  Take note of what Moses says that they knew after they had eaten the fruit.  He says they knew they were naked…they knew shame.

We can similarly think through the issue with Pharaoh’s heart.  Notice that the scriptures say after each plague for the first few that “Pharaoh hardened his heart” and it is in the last several that “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”  There is a parallel here.  How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?  He hardened his heart by sending the plagues and calling Pharaoh to submit to God’s decree that the Hebrews should be released.  Pharaoh, being an arrogant man, was hardened at being put in his place.

My prayers are with you and your son; that he is able to work through the issues that are between him and a faithful walk with God.

Sincerely,

Matt Bilyeu


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