God, it is said, is no deceiver; Descartes famously based his worldview on that certainty, and the idea still seems popular, e.g. Swinburne (The Existence of God, 2nd edn. 2004: 241): "God, if he is not to deceive us and yet give us a real free choice between helping and not helping others, must make a world where others really do suffer." But it strikes me that, even if I grant that opportunities for displays of compassion, charity and self-sacrifice are desirable, nonetheless if any creator of such an opportunity had a choice between deceiving all the participants or else torturing one of them, then the choice of the latter (to avoid being deceitful) would display a marked lack of those very virtues (compassion, charity and self-sacrifice).
......What does the Bible have to say? Well all four Gospels tell how Peter denied Jesus; that is, that Peter lied about God. Did the disciples murder anyone, steal much or have naughty sex (et cetera)? No, so how bad a sin could it be, if Peter did it? The Old Testament contains several stories in which God's people (e.g. Moses) used deceit to outwit their enemies, apparently with God's approval (or even complicity). Matthew 13 contains a nice account of Jesus explaining why he spoke in parables; and if Noah's Ark (or any other bit of Genesis) was fictional then God was a bit of a deceiver because until recently people would have had no reason not to take such stories literally (and if not then it's deceptively fictional-looking nowadays). And was there not something like deceit in God's tempting of Abraham?
......But my grasp of the Bible is very weak, so those examples may not prove anything; but my point is really just a question: Why is divine deceit regarded as unthinkable? We would find it acceptable to tell our children white lies if that would keep them from harm, and surely (as Swinburne says of the alternative, in the first of these quotes) "God who is, ex hypothesi, so much more the author of our being than are our parents, has rights so much greater in this respect." Is it that, were the object of our compassion (et cetera) shown to be a hollow puppet we would feel that our goodness had been wasted? But suppose we were shown that after the purpose of the opportunity in question had been revealed to us; would we not then feel gratitude?
......It may depend upon what that purpose was; but suppose it was our opportunity to define ourselves as good—then our good acts, far from being wasted, would have become our good being; and being good we would not want the cost of that to be the suffering of another. And the purpose could hardly lie entirely in it being a genuine (or objective) rather than merely apparent (or subjective) helping of another, when even such a real act would add so infinitesimally little to the infinitely greater goodness of the transcendentally Real creator of the opportunity in question.
......Now, I'm not suggesting that the holocaust (for example) was hollow because (i) we should not, even were that the case, think that it was (although surely we should hope it was), and (ii) I don't think that the point of life (on Earth) is likely to be soul-building—I do think it's likely to involve some deception (if that is plausible), although nothing worse than what would follow from having chosen to be hypnotised in order to behave better (since we would have volunteered for it); whence the question, could it involve divine deception?
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery - *Introduction* *Opening Passages:* From Douglass's *Narrative*: I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot c...
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