Choose It, Or Not
By Anthony Casperson
“Oh, one more question. Why is there evil in the world?”
The player’s cleric in an RPG had died and met their deity, but the character was about to be revived. In this brief stint in front of the power that the cleric had devoted her life to, she decided to ask this question of him.
The Game Master obviously didn’t have an answer, and put this sentiment into the mouth of the being he controlled. “Um…you see…Oh, it’s time to go. Bye.” And the cleric returned to the material plane alive. Without answer.
This question, or some like it, is often asked when painful situations enter a person’s life or when one attempts to deny the existence of an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God. (Though, sometimes those two directions to the same question intertwine.) And considering the cleric’s crisis of faith in the RPG show, I’m assuming the latter was the major reason for asking the question.
This sparked a time of reflection in my mind. How does one respond to this difficult question?
Well first, if the person is truly in pain and merely putting voice to the hurt, it’s best to show care and concern rather than to give a rational answer to the question. Love beats rationality when it comes to caring for a hurting person. Care first. And if questions still remain after the pain has subsided some, answer them.
Also, if the question is raised as a means to deny God in his fullness, then we must begin without a desire to merely win an argument. We can answer every question flawlessly, but without God’s love in the revelation of truth, we are nothing more than another voice shouting in the hurricane of human speech. Truth is important, but even those who doubt God’s existence are still members of the human race whom he made to represent him on the planet. He loves them enough to die for them even if they hate and reject him in return.
Therefore, for the rest of the blog, I’m focusing on answering this question in all seriousness and concern for those who use the question to deny the God of the bible. And, with prayers for his grace to shine through, reveal the truth of the matter.
One of the other ways that this topic of the Problem of Evil is brought up in conversation is with a person asking, “Why did God create evil?” To which the only answer can be that God did not create evil.
Though technically 1 Tim 4:4 comes in a discussion of not forcing ritualistic purity on others (particularly in regard to not eating certain types of meat), when it says that everything made by God is good, it speaks to the truth of the created order as fully good with respect to coming from God’s hand. God can only make good things.
The passage agrees with Genesis 1:31 when God takes a look at the whole of his creation at the end of the sixth day of his creation week and calls it very good. (God rests on the seventh day, so this is God’s entire masterpiece of creation that he takes in.)
There is nothing that is not good in all of his creation. So, he cannot have created evil, nor did it exist at the end of his creation process. But this then makes us ask, “Then were did evil come from?” “Why does evil exist if God didn’t make it?” But this new question betrays our misunderstanding of evil.
Often, when we think of evil, we consider it as the opposite of good. A thing that stands opposed to the good/godly things of the world. But evil is not something that can be added to make something less good. Rather, it’s a removal of good. The absence of good.
Let me give an example of something similar so that we can, perhaps, carry the concept over to good and evil. Hot and cold. While we think of cold as a thing, it truly is the removal of heat. On a subatomic level, it’s the slowing of particles. The less movement, the less heat. Remove the liveliness of the molecules, and the coldness of death is felt. The coldest one can achieve, called absolute zero, is when there is absolutely no molecular vibration at all.
Think about the back of your refrigerator. That hot coil hidden behind is where the heat is sent so that your food can remain cold. We are not introducing cold, rather removing heat. Cold is not something we add to combat heat. It is an absence, or at least a slowing, of the vibration that takes place on the molecular level.
(And please don’t talk about adding ice cubes to a drink. It might slow the molecular vibration of the drink for a time, but that is because the heat of the drink is diffusing into the ice so that it can excite those molecules until such a time as the drink and the water, which had been slowed into ice, vibrate at the same frequency. This example is about a proof of the transfer of heat rather than an introduction of cold. You’re not cooling down the drink. You’re heating up the ice cubes by transferring the drink’s heat to them. And thus, really only watering down your drink.)
While we might think of adding cold to something, it is no different than adding a hole to an object. Our terminology might make us act as though something is being added, but the action is actually removing a piece of the whole. A hole makes the whole less whole. And it certainly doesn’t make it holy. Though our language makes it sound otherwise, this is a subtraction rather than an addition.
You could also think about this in terms of light and dark. Darkness is not an object in and of itself. It’s a removal of light. You don’t add darkness to make the room dark, you remove the light.
This is what evil is to good. Not truly an opposite object, but rather the removal of good. A hole in the godliness of the created order. The removal of metaphysical liveliness that ends in spiritual death.
The “correct” answer to the question of why evil exists is, “It doesn’t exist. Evil is an absence of good, not a thing that exists.”
I can hear all of you now, “That’s semantics. You know what a person means when they ask why evil exists.” The question might be better asked, “Why does God allow good to be removed from his created order?”
In response to this, we get to talk about the fun concept of free will and choice. Yay!
Ultimately, we humans, the highest of God’s created order, his image-bearers, we who stand as his representatives among all of creation, have been given the ability to choose to act in line with God’s goodness or not. We are free to choose to do as we wish, but there are consequences for that ability.
Whenever we make a choice that fails to live up to the perfection of godliness, regardless of how far away from that standard we fall, we’re removing God’s goodness from the situation. Every choice removed from the complete goodness of the One we represent is an act of evil, even if some good is still in there. The removal of any good makes it less good than the perfection we were created to be. Our choices “create holes” in the goodness of the created order.
Evil “exists” because humans are capable of choosing the lesser option. God allows good to be removed from his created order because he loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. A relationship that must be chosen. In order for we image-bearers of God to live in true relationship with him, we must be free to choose him. And with that choice comes the ability for us to act in a less-than-good manner.
If God were to make a world where the less-good option was never taken, there would be no choice. And that would be a place of utter perfection, but no love.
An example. This blog is something I created. These words are written as perfectly as I can make them. (I’m not 100% perfect like God is, so my example falls short there, but stay with me in the illustration.) They are my thoughts given form. And I have stamped my name upon it. But it will never love me. Never choose to pursue me. Never desire to have a relationship with me.
A perfectly unloving relationship.
This is what the universe would be without humanity’s ability to choose. Perfectly without love.
God desires this chosen relationship with we who represent him so much that he’s willing to let us choose to ruin it all. And he makes a way to repair it through the cross of Jesus. Another choice that we can make, where anything other than the choice of good is evil.
“Why is there evil in the world?” Because God loves us enough to allow us to choose him.
When we want to look at all of the evil around us and point at God to blame and question him, we need look no further than behind our pointing finger to see the answer for our questions. Humanity’s ability to choose anything less than God’s good is the reason why evil “exists.”
But in that choice, what is also revealed is God’s love. Choose it, or not.