B: One good thing, perhaps even the greatest thing, that God appears to give us, is our “agency,” which some people call “free will” or “the freedom to choose.” If God is omnipotent, shouldn’t He be able to control us? If we can control ourselves, that is a kind of power, and as God has all power, He therefore can control us, if He wants to. But He apparently chooses not to: every choice you or another person makes goes unchecked by God, insofar as certain rules are maintained (such as immutable truth, contemporary laws of physics, etc.). Details
There has long been in existence, to put it mildly, the idea that God has “commanded,” i.e., required, that people live according to some sort of moral code. In reality, most people believe in this idea (not only that, but most agree on basic tenets of the code as well, which include being kind to others, being honest in dealing with your fellow man, restraining oneself from over-indulgence, etc.). If this idea is true, then this moral code is a gift from God and therefore itself is good also. In short summary: God gives us commandments (the sum of which constitute this “moral code” of which I have been speaking) for our good, which includes our happiness; i.e., God has a “blueprint” for how to achieve His happiness. (Note that this is the “Moral Law” referred to earlier.) As one might expect from an omnipotent being, God is perfect in His compliance to His own laws.
Please take note of the use of the word “commandments” for the individual bits of God’s moral code. Recall that because of our agency, God cannot require us to do much of anything, so how can they be called “commandments” instead of, say, “suggestions?” The answer has to do more with Eternal Truth than with God’s enforcement: if we want to enjoy God’s happiness, we must follow His moral code; else He cannot endow that happiness upon us, because Eternal Truth dictates that it is otherwise impossible.
And you see that this is where the agency bit comes in that I mentioned just a minute ago. Not all of us agree with God about happiness resulting from the keeping of those commandments He gives us. In fact, all of us, from time to time, choose to not believe what God has told us, by doing something that He has said will not help bring about our happiness. Now, isn’t that odd? Why would one ever choose to disbelieve an omniscient Being? But we all do because we’re not perfect, unlike God.
And, get this: God allows us to be imperfect! Having sworn to us our agency, He will always allow us to make whatever choices we have in this life. If we don’t really believe that the things that God gives us, including His commandments, are good, then we don’t have to, and we can act accordingly.
A: And it’s for this same reason that there is so much evil in the world. I think God botched that one, giving us free choice.
B: What, do you think we shouldn’t have the right to choose?
A: Some people shouldn’t, anyway, seeing that they’re so evil.
B: Yeah, the downside with having agency is that occasionally some people misuse it, or they use it in a way that we don’t like. Actually, everybody misuses their agency at some time or another, as I implied just a minute ago. Should God just yank our agency as soon as we make a bad choice? Wherein is our agency, in that case?
A: Not every bad choice. Just the really bad ones, that the really bad people make.
B: I don’t want to go too far afield here, but that may raise some complications, such as, where to draw the line? And if every bad choice resulted in an immediate rebuke, would people make good choices because they want to, or simply to avoid that rebuke? One point to take note of in this case is that God may want us to learn how to use the agency He has given us to choose good, independent of any coercion or encouragement from Him or anybody or anything else.
Consider an analogy: you give your kids all kinds of great gifts. Why? Because you want them to be happy. Also, you’d like them to use those gifts to do good things. I mean, you don’t want ‘em to use those gifts to injure others, would you? But wouldn’t it be even better if they would choose to use your gifts for good of their own accord, rather than you having to tell them how to use them properly all the time? It’s this kind of thing that I think is God’s intention for the gifts He gives.
A: Yeah, but He might do well to remove the gifts from His kids if they misuse ‘em, just as I would if my kids were doing wrong with my gifts.
B: That’s a good point, and I think that He does remove some gifts. Some of these restrictions may not occur until the next life – for instance, if God doesn’t want people to be sexually “immoral,” according to whatever is in the aforementioned moral code that is pertinent, perhaps He will confiscate the ability to be immoral in this way in the next life. And you’ll notice that some people who over-indulge in some things – such as drugs, alcohol, and sexual promiscuity – may have their agency to continue to do so removed prematurely even in this life, say by having permanent brain damage, untimely death by drunk driving, or a sexually-transmitted disease.
In general, however, everyone is allowed their right to choose, even the best and the worst of us, and aside from certain special cases as those mentioned in the above examples, God never takes this freedom away. By the way: you’ll notice that by allowing even the worst people to keep their freedom, He gives them a chance to turn their lives around. Yes, even mass-murderers like Hitler or Stalin could have chosen to become good, or at least better, people after they’d committed so many horrible deeds. (Whether they would have had to somehow atone for those crimes is a different story altogether, however, and one upon which I will not comment at this time.) Changing our tendency of choices and thereby becoming essentially new people is called “repentance” in religious circles. If such a thing enables us to enjoy God’s happiness when we had been so used to its absence – which would presumably be a kind of misery; wouldn’t it be natural to assume that the happiness enjoyed by One omnipotent could be potentially enjoyable to us as well? – then the opportunity for repentance is another of God’s greatest gifts, provided that all of our previous mistakes are atoned for in some way. (Here’s a hint: they are.)