… that the old — or those with good fortune to grow old — guard from the young is that God makes all of your suffering to you personally worthwhile.
As a philosopher, I can’t, of course, leave it at that. There seem to be three obvious limitations on God’s ability to justify every sinner. First is the natural law. The law may be part of the essence of the best possible world, and God is the Author of it (as well as in various ways Creator of the essences of things in the world), but it also constricts what God can do. Apart from rare miracles which seem to coerce nature (I don’t want to go into the subtleties of this right now), God must respect all the natural inclinations of things He Himself created. He can’t change a human into a pillar of salt; such a thing is simply an annihilation of the human and creation anew of the pillar.
Second is human nature and in particular human freedom, and it is a murky area not so much to me who have stewed in the juices of Mises and St. Thomas for quite a bit, but surely to lots of people. If people have free will, isn’t that something God ought to respect? And in doing so, isn’t his power thereby limited?
It is true that God is not going to grind the world back into prime matter and recreate it. But the way to let go of these concerns is to grasp that God’s power may be “limited”; but His control over every aspect of the world He had previously affirmed is not. “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Mt 10:30) is no joke and moreover, should not be interpreted as that God “knows” what’s going on but just “watches” passively. He has His hands on every lever and every stirring of the soul imaginable.
Third is the fact that all human, and even animal and plant, lives are interconnected on many levels. There’re the market and family and love with its spiritual union and mutual indwelling (which I like to phrase in an economistic way as the merging of values scales); there are complementarities and similarities within society that give rise to an astonishing variety of humans relationships. But then if God gives grace or whatever to Smith, then this action will reverberate via these inter-human links throughout the entire world.
Is it true that each person is separated from everyone else by just a few acquaintances? For every Smith and Jones, there exist at most 5 people A through E, such that Smith knows A, A knows B, …, E knows Jones. How is God able to foresee all of these complications?
Well, God is infinite and good (in this goodness being as much above humans as humans are above tables and chairs) and despite the awe-inspiring magnitude of the project He (glory be) decided to take on, viz., creation, He is sufficiently competent to untangle all of these links.
A related problem may feel particularly pointed to a person with a theoretical bent. Isn’t it possible that some Smith can be unsavable, because anything God could attempt to help him out would have such bad overall consequences as to make (reluctant) giving up on him the best choice on the whole? Again, Smith is sacrificed on the altar of the greater good. This is one of the themes of the previous piece and can be called the Nightmare of God the Utilitarian.
The Nightmare can be broken out of by means of a meta-argument. Suppose the contrary: I personally might be the guy slated from eternity to be sacrificed. But believing that or even that this is at least probable leads to horrible consequences, namely all manner of sin, despair, etc., as outlined below. But sins lead to damnation. So, it pays me to put this bullshit entirely out of my mind. But that would be hard to do, especially for those who take their philosophy seriously, if the Nightmare were real. Besides, why should I censor my own thoughts? There is no way God would have designed a world in which there was any intellectual trap whatsoever that could not be escaped. In this case, the only lasting escape exists if and only if the Nightmare is an illusion. Hence, it is an illusion. QED.