“How can God be omnipotent and yet we still have Free Will?”
“How can the battle already be won, yet I can still go to Hell?”
“If God is all forgiving, how can there be a Hell?”
“Why is Jesus the ONLY way to Heaven?”
I’ve asked these questions, and many more, over the course of my faith journey, as I continue to try and make my childhood faith my own. While I was in college I would often pester Father John Oliver, a very nice priest at the student center, with my incessant questions. He was very patient with me and continued to answer my “deep” questions with God’s simple answers.
I’ve continued to contemplate these things and read as much as I can about what early Church Fathers, Saints and others more holy than I have to say about such topics. I think I have started to finally grasp things a bit.
Let me share what I have come to understand so far, with the caveat that I’m still a young student of God with many hours of study ahead of me.
The Theology of Now
Putting events that occurred prior to the existence of time into some sort of chronological order sounds a bit oxymoronic, but it helps me understand things better if I can fit them into some sort of logical sequence. Here’s my best shot…
1. God exists.
2. God loves and creates the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).
This is an exceptionally deep event to understand and I have only started to broach this subject, so I cannot state anything more at this point other than the fact that it is through God’s immense love that the Trinity comes into existence.
3. God creates Angels in the Spiritual Realm.
The best that can be determined from the book of Daniel, Revelations and Jesus himself, the Angelic war happened something like this…
God creates the Angels in the Spiritual Realm. Since there is no matter, there is no time. This is called the Theology of Now, as everything occurs “now.” Angels are created with complete knowledge of all that they need and with Free Will. They each have their responsibilities.
As a matter of fact, the title Angel is not a description of their being as it is their function, which is as a Messenger. Therefore, not all “Angels” are actually Angels. There are cheribums, seraphins, etc., all with specific duties that do not involve being a messenger.
After the creation of all of the Angels, they are in the presence of God and he informs them that he will create the Material Universe. In this Universe will be Matter and included with Matter is a thing called Time.
In this Material Universe God will also create Humans in his image and he tells the Angels they will serve Mankind.
4. The Angelic War.
One high level Angel, named Lucifer, does not wish to follow God’s will and rebels. A third of the Angels agree with Lucifer. Another Angel, a lower level Angel, yells something to the effect of “Who are you, God?” The phrase is actually “Who is like God?” which, in Hebrew, sounds out the name Michael. This Angel, which we call Michael because of his battle cry, leads the fight against Lucifer and his followers who rebelled and they are forced out of Heaven. These rebellious Angels are now fallen and called demons. Lucifer is now called Satan.
As Jesus says “I saw Satan fall from the sky like lightning.” In other words, he lost… he lost hard!
Satan and the demons are cast out and are no longer in the presence of God. This is called Hell. And since there is no time, once the Angels chose, that was it. They cannot repent. They cannot seek forgiveness. They are, in the Theology of Now, now no longer with God.
With this understanding, consider that the catalyst for Satan’s expulsion from the presence of God is because you and I exist. And therefore, think about how much Satan really, really hates you. If it weren’t for you and me, he’d still be in Heaven.
So outside of time, that’s it. Lucifer and his buddies made a choice and were expelled from Heaven. End of the story, right? War is over.
Not quite. Because, there’s this whole thing called Time.
5. The Material Universe & Time
In this Material Universe, things are not created in their finished state. They are created with the expectation of growth and change. This included Man. We learn and grow. But, the greatest gift we have is Time. Unlike the Angels, when we reject God’s will, we have Time to fix it, to readjust our path.
As God says, “I knew you before you entered your mother’s womb.” This means that we start outside of Time and enter time through our conception. We live our life, we make our choices and, when we die, we exit time and back into the Theology of Now, where we will be in one of three places (per Catholic teaching):
- In the state of being in the presence of God, which we call Heaven.
- In the state of being cleansed from that which offends God, our Sin and our Attraction to Sin, which we call Purgatory. Once purified we are able to be in the presence of the perfection of God in Heaven.
- In the state of being not in the presence of God, which we call Hell.
So, what do we do in our life?
6. Bubble Wrap
I was packing up some things one day. I looked at a rectangular piece of Bubble Wrap and one of the questions in my head, “How can God be omnipotent and yet we still have Free Will?” was finally answered.
It occurred to me that our life is like a piece of bubble wrap. Every decision we could ever make as well as every effect to every decision we could make is included in our piece of bubble wrap. That’s what God sees. That is his omnipotence.
Each bubble represents a decision. Let’s say one of the bubbles represents that decision “Will I engage in premarital sex?” If you press the Yes bubble, all of the bubbles related to if you pushed No disappear. If you were to press the No bubble, the opposite occurs.
So God can know everything we could do and their effects, yet it is our decision, our Free Will, that determines which path we will take.
At the end of our bubble wrap is one, single bubble which is the entry into Heaven. The rest of the bubbles go elsewhere.
After the first sin, the Original Sin, where we separated ourselves from God, one of the consequences to this separation is a thing called Concupiscence. Our intellect used to inform the will. Now, however, after our separation, our will informs the intellect. To put it simply, this means we want to do something before we actually think whether we should or not.
Satan will use this, and Time, to lure people away from a Heavenly path.
It’s critical to remember that Satan doesn’t care how we don’t get to Heaven, only that we don’t get to Heaven.
Satan will use concupiscence to present sin as something enticing, something positive, something alluring. Satan will attack us with everything he has, until our last bubble is popped, trying to keep us from God’s presence. He will never give up on us.
And because demons were once Angels, they are much smarter than we are. Now, they can’t see the future nor can they read our mind, but our human nature is so predictable that they can easily know how to push and pull us into paths that lead us away from God.
It is apt that Jesus called us to beware of “wolves” and we are “sheep.” Wolves are smarter and more devious than sheep.
Only through the protection of God’s grace are we shielded from Satan’s enticements. However, God will allow temptation as an opportunity for holiness.
8. Jesus is the ONLY Way
When I was a kid I was confused as to why Jesus claimed to be the only way to Heaven.
That’s because I thought of Heaven as a place, not a state of being. If Heaven were a place, like any other location, we could arrive from a variety of different directions.
However, Heaven is not a place. It is a state of being… a state of being in the presence of God. And since Jesus is part of the Trinity, the Word of God, the Word made flesh, it only makes sense that the only way you could be in the presences of God, you must follow God (via Jesus).
Following anything other than God will not lead you to being with God.
But how do we get there? We follow the Law of Moses. We follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. And we try to be “perfect as your father in Heaven is perfect.”
How can we possibly do that? We’re imperfect.
And that’s the point. We can’t. We can NEVER reach Heaven without God’s assistance. That’s the way God intended it to be.
In order to be in the presence of God outside of time, we must rely on God IN time, follow only God, through Jesus, during our life, live a holy life, take up our cross and remove anything that stand between God and us.
God helps us achieve this in many ways. He gives us his actual, physical, resurrected presence in the Eucharist. He gives us his mystical presence by imbuing the Holy Spirit into the Church at Pentecost. He has given us his Word in the Sacred Scriptures which tell us our salvation story.
He gives us Sacraments such as Baptism to remove the stain of original sin. He gives us Reconciliation to offer us forgiveness, to cleanse our souls so we can receive his graces as we continue our conversion to living a holy life. He gives us Matrimony, which mirrors his relationship with the Church, where we can dedicate our family life to God, express selfless love and be open to the gift of children, raising the next generation with an understanding and appreciation of the faith. And many more.
If we choose, we can take advantage of the numerous ways he has provided of feeding us physically and spiritually as we exist in Time, so that we will end up in his presence for eternity.
Then, we we reach the end of our bubble wrap, we’ll only have one bubble left… the one that leads to Heaven.
So, that’s what I’ve come to understand so far. It certainly doesn’t answer all of my questions, but it has answered some of them. And, as I continue to learn I’m sure my understanding or interpretation will continue to mature as well.
Until then, I’ll just keep praying and hoping I’m pressing the right bubbles.