Question: Why can't God affect free-will or love to make it risk-free? After all, he's God...and he can do anything! Right?
Answer: Your question is well taken. Most people understand God to be an all-powerful being, meaning that he can do anything. So, why doesn’t he use some of his God-magic to find a way for people to keep their free-will, but at the same time insure that all people choose to love him? That sounds like a win-win—especially since it meets our mutual objectives: God wants to save us, and we want to avoid eternal punishment. I see more benefits, too. For instance, since no one would have to go to hell, we could finally get rid of the idea of going to hell. This would be a huge boost for God’s popularity. Additionally, the Bible’s insistence that Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 14:6) would become a moot point…and we know that gets under people’s skin. I must admit, your suggestion seems to have no downside. God would save everyone, he would relieve the anxiety of humankind and he would improve his poll numbers—all in one fell swoop.
There are probably a number of reasons why God did not do as you suggested, and I will not talk about those today, but there are a number of reasons why God could not do as you suggested, and we will find your answers here. Am I saying that there are things that God cannot do? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. This will take a little qualification, of course, so stick with me while I show you how this stuff works.
Your question reveals that you have your own definition of God, particularly where you infer that God can do anything. Now, he can do anything…but anything does not include everything if everything includes that which is non-logical. Remember, God is also Truth itself (John 14:6), and logic is a necessary part of truth. So, if God performed anything illogical, he would be acting against his nature. What this means is that there is a whole category of things that God cannot do. He cannot do anything that is illogical, absurd—or things that are, in any way, against his nature. But what does this have to do with free-will, love and salvation? It underpins everything!
Your question assumes that God could have performed an illogical act by setting things up differently than he has. You would like him to change the nature of love so that it would work without risk. He cannot. Love is one of God’s attributes (1 John 4:8), and as such, love was perfectly defined before creation, it is manifested in creation and it cannot change after creation. So, by its nature, love has risk; it has always been like this. It gets its nature directly from God, and as an attribute of the Self-Existent One, even he could not change it. Why not? Any change in the nature of God would either make him non-perfect (because of the change from perfection) or reveal that he was previously non-perfect (because of the change to perfection). But fortunately, he is at perfection. Therefore, any change would reveal him to be non-God. What this means is that we are quite stuck with him as he is, and we are quite stuck with his attributes as they stand.
So far, I have been making general assertions about God, but perhaps we can see better how this works by examining a specific case. Let us examine a (clichéd) question which is popular among pseudo-philosophers: “Can God create the rock that is so big that it cannot move it?”
This is a useful question for people who don’t want to deal with God. How so in particular? By the use of clever wording, people who ask this question of God have forced him into a yes or no proposition, and they propose to defeat him as follows: If God could not make a rock that big, then that is obviously something that God could not do. But even if God could make such a rock, then he couldn’t move it, and that, too, would be something that God could not do. See—it’s as easy as that. Throw out a few of the right words, and you can defeat the God of the universe! Our intrepid “philosopher” is confident that he has shown God to be nonsense…and he is therefore free from following godly morality.
What that philosopher does not realize is that, just because he can construct thoughts that are logical in a sentence, does not mean that the concepts themselves are logical. In philosophy (as opposed to in fiction writing) language does not invent anything; it describes what is already there. So, using cogent language to describe a too-big-rock does not make that untenable edifice an intrinsic reality. This renders the rock-idea absurd. Please note, however, that the rock-idea has not been defeated; it has been disqualified as a non-logical construct.
This is the kind of thing you’re trying to do with free-will and love; you are trying to morph them into illogical versions of themselves. God did not invent these things; they are part of his nature. Therefore, both love and free-will entered the created universe in their necessary forms; they are an intrinsic part of the logical universe as they stand, and any universe that would allow them to be thus changed would itself become absurd. Then nothing could stand.
Here’s another thing about love. If there were no volitional beings (that is, people with free-will), there would be no proof of love. God could have made us like robots—incapable of error or rebellion—but such beings could never truly love him, because love requires volition, and God can only receive glory from volitional beings. So, instead of making emotional robots, God made us capable of rejecting him—because love must be a choice to be love, and a choice requires options. People are imperfect. The result is that people choose wrongly, and the world is a mess. But this is a natural result of God’s ultimate purposes. It is not reason to change the core of God, the way he does things or the nature of his people.
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end of man (man meaning people, of course) “...is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” We can only accomplish this if we, as volitional human beings, work God’s plan to advance his kingdom. God calls us to be disciples—and to make disciples of others. That’s the job (Mat. 28:19). A disciple should pray, study God’s word, fellowship with believers and tell everyone about the redemption of sin by Jesus Christ. In this respect, God’s kingdom only advances as we work our ministries. Therefore, God needs our “permission” (on some level, one will always need permission from a being with free-will) to work his plans through us. Since the kingdom of God advances by this, the permission of the saints, it would be counterproductive to amend either love or free-will. God wants the job done through, not around, their agency. If this is not true, then either God’s plan or his execution of his plan was flawed. According to his nature, this is not possible.