By popular demand I am re-posting a series on The Problem of Evil that was lost during the shut down of the blog site earlier this year. Hope it’s as good or better than the first time.
There is clearly something wrong with this world. Between acts of genocide, suicide bombers, widespread pollution, random street muggings, sexual abuse and smart bombs that stupidly kill children, we can all tell that some sort of pervasive evil has twisted the minds and hearts of human beings. We long to believe that the world and those who live in it are basically good, but the most of the everyday evidence seems to run in the opposite direction. Can God be good and yet allow so much pain and suffering into the world? Is there any reason to hope that something better lies beneath the surface of what we see and experience?
The Bible tells us that things were not always this way. According to the Bible, before there was an Earth, before there even was a universe, there was an Eternal Lover, a Being whose very nature was and is love. “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” this Being declares (Jer 31:3). Before there was an earth or any human being, this loving God envisioned what it would be like to have a universe full of creatures that could love and be loved. Like a woman who falls in love with a baby before it is born, God loved the creation before it was created. “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
The Bible goes on to tell us that God prepared the way for the creation by filling it with innumerable tokens of His love. There are the flowers, almost infinite in variety, with hundreds of shades of every imaginable color, with incredible perfumes running from light and delicate to rich and dusky. There are the fruits, grains, nuts and vegetables, with their infinite variety of smells and tastes (Gen 1:11-12; 2:8-9). There are the animals ranging from the awesome and magnificent, like the lion, the tiger and the bull elk, to the unbearably cute, like the koala, the kiwi, the chipmunk and the meerkat (Gen 2:19-20).
The incredible delight one finds in the plants and the animals is not a necessary feature of existence. We could live without a variety of colors and tastes. We could live without animals. But life would not be nearly as enjoyable. We could also live without the songs of birds, but who would want to (excepting perhaps the annoying screech of the sulphur-crested cockatoo)? And that is only the beginning of God’s gifts.
I could speak about mountains and lakes, beautiful sunsets over the ocean, the smell of fresh-cut grass and many other delights. The Bible tells us that these unnecessary but enchanting features of our world are the gifts of an extravagant Lover, who wants to fill the lives of those He loves with exquisite joy (Eccl 3:13; 5:19; Jam 1:17). And in spite of the evil we experience in the world today, these tokens of God’s love are still there to be noticed and enjoyed. But if God’s intentions were so good, why is there so much pain and suffering in the midst of this beauty?
It all goes back to a choice that God made. When it came time to create beings, God had to decide whether these beings would be controlled by Him or whether they would be truly free. One wonders at times whether it would be better if human beings did not have free will. As “robots” we could be programmed to be good and kind and to function in a way that enhances the good of the whole creation. In a world of such beings things would never go wrong.
But there is a problem. Full robotic control leaves no room for love. Imagine your spouse were a robot with a computer for a brain. Imagine you could program him or her to have the perfect body and to respond with loving words and actions in all circumstances. While this may sound like the perfect partner at first blush, the delight in such an arrangement would quickly wear off.
“I love you so much,” you say to your favorite robot.
“I love you with all my silicon,” the robot responds.
When you realize the response isn’t free, the words rapidly become empty. Genuine love requires free will. Genuine love is only meaningful when it is chosen and given as a gift to the other. Genuine love occurs only when someone is also free not to love, or to love someone else. But when someone else is free to love you they are also free to hurt you and reject you. The possibility of love requires the possibility of evil. Freedom is the greatest of all risks.
The bottom line is that love and freedom go together. In order to have one you have to have the other. So when the God who is love, who is the Eternal Lover, decided to create, He also decided to make Himself vulnerable to the choices of His creatures. He made all things good (Gen 1:31), but he also allowed His creatures the freedom not to love, the freedom to reject Him. Ultimately, evil exists not because God is a tyrant, but because He is committed to openness and freedom. Evil exists in this world not because God is powerless, but because He wanted human beings to be powerful in ways that mirrored His own freedom of action.