Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Note: This is not going to be a quick read. Any answer to the question addressed is going to require some theological/philosophical consideration.
Stephen Fry is a well-known actor, activist, humanist, and athiest. When asked what he would say to God in a face-to-face, he replied, “Bone cancer in children, what’s that about? … How dare you create a world where there is such misery that is not our fault?” There’s more to the quote, but this sums it up.
“How can evil and a loving God coexist?” At some point, we have to confront this question in our own faith. Some can accept the problem of evil as being a byproduct of a fallen world. Others – especially those who have experienced evil firsthand – have a hard time justifying the two.
Most answers offered sound something like this: “The creation groans with the pains of childbirth up to now. Man, as a free moral agent, transgressed God’s law and brought the consequences of sin upon humanity. God cannot look upon evil, and certainly does not cause it. Every good thing and every perfect gift comes down from the father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
While the principles in this explanation are correct, it fails to address the question on at least two levels. One, it does not answer how God could allow evil to affect humans. We exist, technically, against our will. Two, it utilizes jargon. It’s easier to say religious-sounding things to answer difficult questions, but anyone struggling with this problem knows how frustrating this answer can be. It doesn’t address the question, and sometimes comes across as avoiding it altogether.
The following is based on personal study, as I’d wrestled with this problem, too. To be very clear: God loves us, and the existence of evil does not change that at all. This question was answered for me through an unrelated study that put a few things into perspective. Here’s the condensed version:
God created reality, and it was flawless (Gen 1.31). In fact, Jesus described heaven as being a return to this flawlessness (Matt 19.28). The code of reality was intact. God didn’t force us to love him, he gave us freedom to choose for ourselves. According to Romans eight, nature was fundamentally affected by the choice we made. This choice essentially introduced a bug into the code of reality. God didn’t create evil, we did.
Even though our choice has consistently been rejection – and we’re solely responsible for messing everything up – he still gave up everything to give us a second chance. Yes, Jesus sacrificed himself on a cross. This was extremely selfless and loving in itself. But this was NOT the only sacrifice he made.
Jesus – the one who designed and built reality (John 1) – permanently demoted himself for humans. He gave up his status to die for us (Heb 2.7). He’s in the father’s chair right now, but will step back down after the end of time (Heb 1.14; 2.8-9). He is still God, but permanently lower because he’s still human, too (I Tim 2.5; I Cor 11.3; I Jn 3.1-3; Heb 2.11-18).
So, how can evil and a loving God coexist? We’re stuck with the way reality is now, but he fundamentally changed himself to give us a second chance. He works full-time to get his family home (Rom 8.27; I Tim 2.5; I Jn 2.1-2). We changed the terms, but he changed the consequences. The most powerful entity in the universe stepped down – forever – knowing most of us would ignore it. When we look at it that way, it puts our own culpability into perspective and demonstrates God’s infinite capacity to love.