Tag Archives: human freedom

The Problem of Evil and Its Origin V

The climax of the story of Jesus, and the whole reason for His coming to earth, took place one Friday in Jerusalem, a sequence of events dramatized in Mel Gibson’s recent movie, The Passion of Christ. As the “God-man” he was designated to experience all the consequences of human evil in His own person (1 Pet 2:21-24). His death on the cross would sum up all the pain, all the suffering, all the regret, and all the rejection that evil has caused the human race. He would suffer loss of meaning, loss of relationship and all the misery of human sickness and death (Isa 53:1-12). His anguish was much more mental and emotional than physical (in contrast to Gibson’s movie).
Arriving at Golgotha, the place of execution, Jesus was nailed to the cross through the wrists and ankles and put on display between two common thieves. Three hours later He was dead, more from emotional and spiritual anguish than from physical causes. Rich friends of Jesus then secured His body and placed it in a cave-tomb nearby, closed off behind a huge rolling-stone door.
The story reaches a climax about 36 hours later, early Sunday morning. Several women decide to visit the tomb and anoint Jesus’ body with spices, to preserve it and show Him honor, even in death. But when they arrive at the tomb the stone has been moved away and the tomb is empty. One or two men are standing nearby in dazzling apparel (one witness calls them angels). The women are told not to seek the living among the dead. Jesus has risen from the dead and will appear to His disciples again.
God’s answer to the problem of evil, therefore, is the answer of love in the most self-sacrificing form of that word. He does not seek to change the world by force, but by the power of a loving character, exhibited in the self-sacrificing actions of Jesus in our behalf. He wants to be acknowledged as God, not for what He has or the power He can wield, but on account of His character, which is evident at the cross. Why is this event so important? Stay tuned.

The Problem of Evil and Its Origin IV

As powerful as God was and is, the options for dealing with the consequences of freedom in the universe were not many. What was God to do? God decided to neither rule the universe by force nor to sanction the evil that infected it (see previous blog). Instead, according to C. S. Lewis, the great British scholar and novelist, He did a number of things to gradually turn the tide away from evil and in favor of love and justice. These are outlined in the Bible. 1) He has provided the conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong that few humans are without. 2) He has provided some, from Abraham to Moses to Paul, with visions and dreams that helped clarify the central issues of good and evil. 3) And He provided the story of a people (Israel, the Jewish nation) and the struggles through which He sought to teach them more clearly about Himself.
Then God did the most amazing thing of all. 4) In Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem in the Middle East, a baby appeared, whose birth we celebrate every year at Christmas time. As the story goes, he was born in a manger, and visited by both shepherds and wise men. He was then forced to flee with his parents to Egypt because he was a threat to the reigning king (Matt 2:1-25; Luke 2:1-20). The reason the Christmas holiday is the high point of the year in Western countries is the conviction that this man, this single, solitary man, was the most important person who ever lived. His name was Jesus.
When Jesus reached adulthood, he went about doing good (Acts 10:38). He had an amazing ability to heal the sick (Matt 8:1-17; John 4:46-54) and, on occasion, even raise the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 11:1-44). He brought delight to a wedding couple by turning water into wine (John 2:1-11). He fed thousands with a handful of bread and a few fish (Mark 6:30-44; John 6:1-15).
He also taught some memorable things. There were great one-liners like “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12), “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other” (Matt 5:39), and “Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:35).” He told unforgettable stories like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:18-23). He had memorable encounters with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42) and a dead man named Lazarus (John 11:1-44).
But none of that is the reason Jesus’ life was the most important in the history of the world. It was the strange habit Jesus had of going around talking as if He were God. Others have healed people, some have even claimed to raise the dead. But Jesus went beyond that, claiming an eternal relationship with God and doing things that only God can do.
Jesus is often referred to as a good man, or even the best man who ever walked the face of the earth. But neither description is accurate. Jesus could not be simply a good man. If a mere man claimed to be God he could not be a good man. To quote Lewis, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
If Jesus were merely another prophet, a man among many, he would be a fraud for claiming to be God. But if He is what He claimed to be, God Himself taking on human flesh, then the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the greatest events that ever happened in the course of human history. And they are the key to explaining how a loving God, who is powerful enough to stop it, could allow so much pain and suffering in this world.

The Problem of Evil and Its Origin II

As outlined in the previous blog, God created the world and filled it with loving gifts for the human race. He gave the original humans the gift of His love, but He also gave them the gift of freedom (Gen 1:26-28; 2:9, 16-17). He placed His loving heart in their hands to cherish it or reject it. God opened Himself to pain and suffering in order to experience the genuine love of His creation.
And, according to the Bible, things went terribly wrong. First, in heaven there was a being called Lucifer who became enraptured with his God-given abilities and position and led an insurrection against the government of God (Isa 14:12-14; Ezek 28:13-15). Echoes of that insurrection can be found in Rev 12:7-9, NIV. “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down– that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”
Second, Lucifer/Satan did not give up the conflict when he was cast out of heaven, instead he transferred the insurrection to earth by enlisting the support of the first members of the human race, Adam and Eve. In the primeval garden he raised doubts about the character of God and turned Adam and Eve’s trust away from God to themselves (Gen 3:1-7). In the process, their loving relationship with God was broken, and pain and suffering were introduced into the world, resulting in decay and death (Gen 3:8-24). To make it even worse, Adam and Eve’s rejection of God left them subject to the domination of Satan, who had enticed them to no longer trust in God’s love for them.
From that point on in the Bible it could be said of every human being, “Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen 6:5, NIV). The world became a place of greed, exploitation, murder and chaos. From that time on the earthly evidence regarding God’s nature was a mixed bag, tokens of love mixed with portents of suffering and death. And worse yet, the Bible tells us that the world is the chief battleground of a universal civil war, and its citizens are held hostage by rebel forces. Evil does not exist in this world because God is evil, it exists here because the world is enemy-occupied territory.
The question arises at this point. Why didn’t God simply put a stop to evil when it occurred? Why didn’t He stop it in heaven before it ever got to earth? Why not just eliminate evil-doers on the spot and give their squandered freedom to others more worthy?

The Problem of Evil and Its Origin

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.