I tried to find the conversation, but was unable to locate it given how frequently those subjects are talked about over here. But as I recall, the person I was debating with responded along the lines that if God stopped us every time there would be a victim to our sin, then we wouldn’t really be “free” because we’d never face the consequences of our evil, and we’d have to be free in order to have genuine love toward God.
Whether this summary of that argument is completely accurate or not, similar arguments have been put forth by other Arminians and non-Calvinists. That is, that somehow it is necessary for God to allow bad things to happen if He wants us to have freedom to choose Him. For instance, this blog post says:
On this proposal, God values free will--and the quality of the choices that flow from it (e.g., real love)--and thus tolerates the bad choices that can also result from it (i.e., sin and the suffering it causes).For an even more “respectable” source, C.S. Lewis in The Case for Christianity wrote:
He couldn't wipe out the latter without wiping out the former as well.
He thus tolerates evil for the sake of allowing good to be freely chosen.
If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.Careful readers will see that this does not answer the problem I put forth. Suppose for the sake of argument that all of what Lewis and the other Arminians argue is true: God needs to allow the possibility of evil to exist in order for there to be “genuine” love, as defined by Arminians. This still does not mean that God is required to allow victims of sin to be victimized. Sin occurs the moment someone intends to engage in sin. This is why Christ said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, ESV). God does not need to actually allow the adultery to occur in order to permit men the option to be good or evil. If they intend evil, they have already made their choice.
This was all brought back to mind as last night I re-read the passage in Exodus 16, when God gave manna to His people. If you recall, God gave a command regarding manna: they were to only gather a single day’s use at a time, except for the sixth day (when they were to gather double the amount, since they would not be permitted to gather any manna on the Sabbath). Sure enough, people being who they are, we read: “On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none” (Exodus 16:27, ESV). And what was God’s response? “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?’” (Exodus 16:28, ESV).
Now the “you” in the passage refers to those who went out to gather manna, not Moses (God was speaking to Moses as the representative of Israel). But note what we have here.
1) It is unlawful for the Hebrews to gather manna on the Sabbath.
2) God does not give any manna on the Sabbath.
3) Some people still went looking for manna.
Now, because God had not given any manna, it was impossible for them to gather any manna. Indeed, it says “they found none.” Yet:
4) God says they broke His commandments and laws.
The people did not need to gather any manna to break the command not to gather manna on the Sabbath. In fact, they did not even need to be able to gather the manna—it was literally impossible for them to gather manna!—yet they intended to do so, and thus were lawbreakers.
This stands as clear evidence that it is not necessary that there actually be victims to a sinful act in order for the sinner to have a) made the choice to sin, and b) to be justly labeled a lawbreaker. After all, none of God’s manna was “stolen” or kept from someone by these people collecting it early. They literally harmed no one, as it was impossible for them to harm others since God withheld the manna that day. Yet they intended evil, and that was sufficient for God to label them as lawbreakers.
Given this, the “free will defense” against the problem of evil is shown to be the hollow shell that it is. For even if we fully grant the premises that writers like Lewis have put forth, the free will defense fails to account for this obvious rejoinder. Even if a free choice is needed in order for one to be able to “genuinely” love God, when an evil person chooses to harm another, that choice does not need to be allowed to be enacted. The intention alone is sufficient to establish the free relationship, ensuring that we are not “robots” under that scenario. Adding a victim to the process does not help anything.
Because we can accept for the sake of argument that God needed to give free will in order for Him to have loving followers, but we see that does not require God to allow any man to be murdered or woman to be raped or child to be starved, then clearly this view is insufficient to resolve the problem of evil (and this doesn't even begin to touch why "natural evils" like famines and earthquakes would need to exist lest we have no genuine love toward God). Ultimately, the freedom to choose does not require the freedom to act on those choices. And we can see that even in our own daily lives: If you see a man raise a weapon to strike another person, you are justly allowed to intervene—even using lethal force, if required. We do not first have to allow the victim to be struck before we can intervene.