The Swamp . . .

Truth is a Man

Here’s another “sneak peak” of the autobiographical piece, The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author, I’m working on.  Last week I posted the forward which can be read here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Please keep in mind this is only the first draft.


The Swamp

My earliest memories are of the swamp.  Viewed through the lens of a child the swamp is at once magical and terrifying; filled with beauty, wonder, darkness and terror.  In this way, swamps are a microcosm of the universe.  For our cosmos is both majestic and frightful—awe inspiring and unnerving.  The swamp is beautiful in its own way, full of unexpected pleasures, yet, also leaves one with a sense of dread.  Like the rest of existence, it is a paradox; an unlikely combination of darkness and light.  It is in this setting, surrounded by thick…

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Let Me Be Forward . . .

Truth is a Man

I’ve never successfully completed an entire book–although I’ve enthusiastically outlined and written introductions to at least five!  This, of course, fails to include the vast number of book ideas that seem to enter my head every week (sometimes every day).  With the coming of the new year I resolved to narrow this list down to three projects.  I then made the decision to focus all of my efforts on completing one of these projects by this summer.  It was extremely difficult but, after much deliberation, I settled on a little book I’ve tentatively entitled The Diary of A Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author.  

In the coming months as I slave away writing, and re-writing, I intend to share “snapshots” of my progress.  I would very much like your feedback.  To get things started, I’m pleased to share the forward of this unusual little book:


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On the Paradox of Creation or, Between Light and Dark

DSC01983If one reads the Bible carefully, it is easy to see that the coming of Christ into the world was a type of second creation. In the first part of Genesis, God speaks into a dark void, into an abyss of nothingness, and draws forth everything. In the beginning of the Gospels, eloquently stated by St. John the Apostle, God sends the Light into the World, a Light not overcome by the darkness. In the first creation the world springs forth from nothing. In the second creation, the world exists, but is spiritually dead and physically dying from the sin thrust upon it. The Light comes into contact with the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it.

In the first creation, human destruction begins in a garden. Adam and Eve rebel against God and choose their own path, they choose autonomy. The first man and the first woman speak for all humanity at that point and direct the human will away from God. In the second creation, human glorification begins in a garden. It is here that Christ says, “Not my will, but yours” to God, deifying human nature. In the second creation, human glorification culminates in yet another garden, the garden of the tomb. In this final garden, Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener (though not inaccurate). In the first creation, in the first garden, man hid from God and blamed woman; in the second garden, God finds those who have been hiding for so long and instructs the woman to give this news to man.

All of creation has found itself somewhere between these two gardens. We have teetered towards the Garden of Eden or the Garden of the Tomb. When we war with each other, send countless bodies to an early grave over land disputes or selfish ambition, we move closer and closer to the pride and arrogance that forced us out of paradise. While disease and the elements serve as a natural consequence of our rebellion, we remain in the Garden of Eden when we fail to help out the victims of these acts. We push ourselves closer and closer to the Garden of Eden when our own flaws, our own evilness, or worse, our apathy aides in the suffering of these victims.

There is a reason God would not allow us to return to the Garden of Eden, not as some punishment, but as an act of grace. If we were capable of even glimpsing at what we lost we would despair and lose hope. We would go mad and find nothing but regret. There is a reason that only the greatest of saints have ever been allowed a glimpse into what was lost, and it is only because of their humility. Yet, even those who saw the paradise we lost still felt burdened.

We attempt to return to the Garden of Eden, but as some hapless subject in a Greek mythology, the harder we try to move back to Utopia, the further we move away. We have created a myriad of utopias, all attempts to get back to some perfect state. The 18th and 19th centuries gave us political ideologies that implanted these utopias into the minds of revolutionaries. These revolutionaries acted as midwives and in the 20th century we saw the early births of these utopias. In the end, the 20th century became the bloodiest century in human history. We lost 4% of the human population (over 109 million deaths, though many government sanctioned murders are simply not included). In our attempt at various utopias, various Towers of Babels back to the Garden of Eden, we only intensified our hellish experience.

Yet, in other parts of creation we have tended more towards the Garden of the Tomb. While we can never return to the site of our greatest tragedy, we can move forward to the site of our greatest triumph. We have, at times, made strides towards this new paradise. We love and cherish the arts, beauty, poetry, redemption, and the like because they all point to love. Within love there is only beauty, no ugliness, because love is the ruling virtue in the Kingdom that has come and shall come.

Yes, evil happens, but those who move towards the Garden of the Tomb will bring goodness to these evil acts. They will feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and help the helpless. As we move further away from the Garden of Eden and more towards the Garden of the Tomb, we begin to sense the redemption of creation, we begin to see it in our own acts and in the acts of others.

Paul succinctly wrapped up the two gardens in Romans 8. He contrasts the past/present with the future, of a present groaning caused by a past offense that will be removed in future glory. Creation in its current state, then, is quite the paradox; it is beautiful, yet fallen, groaning while knowing it will be made new.

What is good and beautiful is logical and rational, even supra-rational (that is, beyond our ability to reason, but not irrational). Beauty comes from God and God is incomprehensible and supra-rational. God is not irrational in that He doesn’t make any sense, but God is supra-rational in that He is beyond our reasoning. The beauty that flows forth from Him, an uncreated energy of God, is supra-rational.

Evil, on the other hand, is always irrational, yet masked in logic. A dictator commits genocide, which is irrational, but provides an incredible calculus to justify his actions. On a smaller scale, a man will cheat on his wife and provide some logical matrix that justifies his actions. A child steals from his parents and justifies his actions. Evil is always irrational, always illogical, but always defensible via some twisted use of logic. Therein lies the problem of evil and why Christians struggle to respond to it; we are always attempting to provide a logical explanation for something that is by nature illogical. There is no reason in evil, no logic to be found, and therefore it cannot be explained as, “Well A, therefore B.”

One cannot explain darkness by appealing to the properties of light, except to say that darkness results from the lack of those properties. Likewise, one cannot explain evil by appealing to logic and reasoning when evil lacks the properties of logic and reasoning. We can certainly explain things about evil in a logical manner (as to why it is here, what caused it, why it’s bad, and so on), but none of this addresses the ding an sich (thing in itself) of evil, mostly because there is not ding an sich of evil. Evil, in an ontological sense, doesn’t exist and therefore cannot be deduced to a series of equations and argued away via propositions.

Rather, for those of us who live amongst this groaning creation, awaiting the day of reconciliation, the answer to evil is to overwhelm it with good. The answer to the problem of evil is not a logical one, but an existential one. The answer to the problem of evil is not to explain what went wrong in the Garden of Eden, but to point to the Garden of the Tomb and move toward it. The solution to the problem of evil is not to hide behind the bushes of logic to hide our naked ignorance (as Adam and Eve did), but to embrace the mystery of the risen Lord and go and tell others what He has done (as Mary did). There is a paradox behind our beautiful yet fallen creation, and the more we embrace that paradox and recognize it for what it is, the better equipped we are to move our world towards light, towards the Garden of the Tomb.

Through the Fires of This World or, Evil Persists, but Shall not Prevail

IMG_0966For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by Romans 8. I would go so far as to say that it is possibly one of my most favorite passages in the Bible. Yet, as much as I have read it, it wasn’t until recently that I began to realize that Romans 8 serves as Paul’s theodicy (and really the only explicit passage in the New Testament that tackles the problem of evil; though I could argue that the entire Bible actually serves as a theodicy). The entire passage is about how though we must suffer through this world and how creation itself groans in anticipation for its own redemption, there is a better future. Paul does what many Christian thinkers have been unwilling to do, namely admit that evil exists, it is a problem, and there is no greater good to it.

We exist in a world that is filled with the absurdity of evil. A married couple can be split apart by their own selfishness in just a few years, or ripped apart by life itself after decades together. A man can go to work, spend his time there, work hard to save up money, come home an empty shell to his family, and repeat this process every single day, becoming nothing more than a husk with a title. We live in a world where the more we progress in technology and wealth, the more we regress into isolation from each other. A child in a distant land can starve to death, die of a disease, or be brutally murdered by a group of young boys who have been deluded and drugged into committing war crimes for a maniacal warlord. The evil listed here hardly touches the surface of what the world faces on a daily basis.

Romans 8 is beautiful because Paul doesn’t attempt to deny the ugliness of this world. This is part of what is so beautiful about the Bible, is that as a Holy Book it is also very earthy and acknowledges this world for what it is. Every major Biblical character – with exception to Christ – has his or her flaws on display. Ironically enough, many critics of the Bible point to these flaws and say, “See? Even your great heroes of the faith sinned and the Bible celebrates it!” The point of their sin is missed, showing that everyone commits evil, even the greatest in the faith. Of course, Christians do themselves no favors when we attempt to downplay the evil of this world or say that for every act of evil there is an equal or greater good to counteract it. The simple, brutal, and depressing truth is that sometimes evil happens and nothing counteracts it, sometimes the light goes out and darkness rules.

The Bible presents a different approach of evil, one that simply treats the world as evil and every act of good as Divine intervention. That is, every instance of healing in this world, every instance of good, every moment of happiness is a miracle. These positive aspects are droplets of water to the parched souls who wander through this mortal desert in search of the imperishable and boundless oasis of life. These rays of light penetrate the darkness of our cells and give hope to life beyond this dungeon.

In the closing passage of Romans 8, Paul offers the following benediction:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is such a beautiful answer to the problem of evil. We shall suffer evil, but it shall not overcome us, for even when we die, even when evil has seemingly held the last laugh, we are lifted into the arms of a loving Christ who has already descended to Hades and robbed it of it keys and power. Not even death, with its illusion of finality, can overcome the love of Christ.

If Romans 8 is my favorite passage or chapter in the Bible, then Matthew 11:28-30 are possibly my favorite verses. Christ famously states:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Life is labor, life is burdensome. The biological reality of this world is that from the moment we are conceived we begin the process of dying. From the very moment we come into existence a clock begins to tick that counts down to the days of our death. From a spiritual and psychological reality, we are all alone. No one can truly understand us, even in our most intimate moments. Ultimately, we all die alone, even if surrounded by others, for none of them can ever know what we are experiencing. Yet, here is Christ telling us that in the darkness of this life, He serves as the light toward whom we walk.

We all must travail the fires of this world, but there is hope of a soothing balm in the end. We will all walk upon the cold and dark path, only to come upon a warm and bright fire. We will all hunger and thirst, physically or spiritually, but we must seek the feast of eternity, where hunger and thirst do not exist. Nietzsche’s nihilism cannot grasp the depth of Christianity, for our answer to the argument of evil is found in nothingness and silence. The answer is found in the nothingness of the tomb, where the only sound heard is the weeping from devils over their defeat. Yes, we live in a world full of evil, we live in a world where evil persists; but this is a world that is not void of God’s love.

In Matthew 16 Jesus tells Peter that the Gates of Hell (evil) shall not prevail against the truth of Christ being the Messiah. A simple question can change how we view this passage. Typically, this passage means that no matter how much evil attacks us, we will prevail against it. Yet, this is not what Christ is saying. After all, how do gates prevail on the offense? Gates are purely defensive, they do not march, they do not increase territory, they do not prevail in conquest. Rather, gates prevail in defense, they prevail against invasion, and we are told that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Gospel. That the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Gospel means that the Gospel is not on the defense, but is on a march against evil. Love will always prevail, it will always conquer and vanquish death, it is only a matter of time.

Love is on the march whenever we display this love to those who are trapped behind the gates of evil. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, when we allow Christ to fill us and we become Christ to a world in desperate need for a Divine Lover, we have loosened the gates every so slightly.

Some view the admission of evil as proof that God does not exist, but Christians ought not be ashamed of admitting that evil exists, evil of the most gratuitous sort; Christians can admit to gratuitous – albeit finite – evil because we can quickly point to the lavishly inexhaustible love of God.


What Are We Really Asking With the Problem of Evil?

I often begin to ponder the problem of evil on this site and even wrote a long 10 post series on it. In addition to that, as some people may have noticed, I’m quite critical of most theodicies that Christians offer concerning the existence of evil in this world.

I think modern theodicy has shown quite adequately that the existence of evil does nothing to threaten the existence of God. Christianity teaches that humans have free will and the existence of free will always allows for the chance for evil to occur. While some may debate whether or not we have free will, that deals more with the correspondence of Christianity to the real world, not with the internal consistency. In other words, to prove we don’t have free will would do more to question Christianity as a religion itself; there would be no need to bring up the problem of evil.

Thus, when we ask why God allows certain horrible actions to occur, we could equally ask why we continue to do them. Likewise, if God did step in to stop the most atrocious of evil actions, then the somewhat “acceptable” evils not would become atrocious and we would ask why God doesn’t stop those. Eventually, God’s duties would be relegated to ensuring that our ice cream never fell off the cone and that our internet never went out. Of course, this would destroy all free will which would negate a very important part of the Gospel. In addition to the above, what is evil is often subjective. If God were to stop every instance of evil then would we have a monarchy or a democracy? Some would argue a democracy, others a monarchy; whichever system God put in place, some people would consider it an evil. All individuality would be lost if God stopped every instance of evil, but this would be necessary if God stopped all gratuitous evil. Thus, by logical necessity (since God is consistent), if he is to allow free will then he must allow for gratuitous evil.

The above argument makes sense and, in my opinion, is a very solid theodicy. Yet I’m left feeling incomplete with it. In other words, what I have offered above is the best intellectual response that exists to the problem of evil, but it’s not satisfying. That’s not to say it’s wrong or that atheism has finally won; all the problem of evil can do for atheists is prove that an internal contradiction exists with Christianity, likewise the lack of a satisfying answer doesn’t mean the answer given is wrong. Rather, I think my answer isn’t satisfying because I’m asking the wrong question and approaching this issue with the wrong method.

I, and many others, aren’t really asking “Why does God allow evil?” We’re asking why he doesn’t stop it, specifically why doesn’t he stop the most egregious evils, yet in the Bible we see him stopping other evils. This is the wrong question to ask because we’re asking for specifics from an individual. We often forget that God is not some abstract concept that we study, but an actual person. Thus, when he acts, he has reasons for acting and sometimes doesn’t want those reasons known, or sometimes those reasons cannot be known. While some may roll their eyes (as I did) at the whole “his ways are higher,” it does make sense for specific evils and why he’d stop some and not others. Just as an infant cannot understand why his parents force this horrible mushy substance into his mouth, so too are we incapable of understanding why God acts the way he does in certain situations; it’s not that he purposefully hides it from us, it’s that by nature we’re incapable of understanding.

Yet, even this leaves me unsatisfied. Why do horrendous evils still occur? These evils are seemingly superfluous; certainly if God had a reason for allowing them we would eventually discover the reason, even if it took many generations to discover it. Yet, there are ancient evils that still baffle our minds. Here we are, a few generations removed from the Holocaust and rather than gaining clarity and seeing why God allowed it, we’re ending up with deniers of the Holocaust, celebrants, and we’re even more confused as to why it happened than we were when we first discovered it. While God’s ways are mysterious and we won’t always understand the specifics, I’m not sure this is a good answer, even if it is the right one. That is to say, while the answer is true, I’m not sure it works as an answer to the real question in the problem of evil (“Why doesn’t God just stop evil?”).

Ultimately, this points to the wrong method in answering the problem of evil. We often approach the problem of evil as an academic problem, something we see on paper that can be solved, and we especially do this in the West. But the problem of evil has only become academic because it really exists in our own lives first. We contemplate “why evil” long before we learn how to read, long before we gain critical thinking. Job was capable of questioning why God would allow evil without the aid of David Hume or Epicurus. A young girl who loses a parent (or both parents) can question the goodness of God without ever being introduced to the complex debates on theodicy. In other words, this is an existential problem long before it becomes an intellectual problem; in fact, I would argue that it’s primarily an existential problem with only the logical problem of evil (how can God and evil co-exist) composing an intellectual part.

Yet, if we pull back from the issue of evil for one second we’ll see that this is how almost all problems are concerning the questions that matter. Where do we come from? What is our purpose? Where are we going? These are primarily existential questions, not intellectual ones (they can be handled intellectually, but are then incomplete). We’ve been blinded to this because prior to Descartes and, really, Gettier, we adopted a Platonic way of understanding the world and our understanding of the world. Plato believed that our knowledge came form interacting with the ideal forms, which then translated down to this earth. Descartes also treated knowledge as an intellectual practice. In other words, every form of epistemology (save for one) that have existed in the Western world has placed an emphasis on the intellect, the mind, the nous. Even postmodernism or experimental forms of knowledge that place an emphasis on experience still, at their base, rely on the intellect (even if they later devalue it to the subjective).

Is it no wonder then that we’re woefully ill-prepared to answer the problem of evil? The problem of evil strikes every aspect of our existence, yet the epistemology we approach it with only does so from one aspect of our existence. This would explain why the answers given in any theodicy (save for Greater Good theodicies) make sense and work, but are still unsatisfying; it’s not that the answers are wrong, it’s that they’re incomplete.

In order to take on the task of providing a full theodicy, however, we first have to develop a new epistemology that addresses knowledge as gained and interpreted through every aspect of our being. Such a theodicy does exist (it’s implicit within the Early Church teachings and some Russian philosophers), but hasn’t really been systematized. In other words, while these works exist in English, the concepts really haven’t been translated. Such a teaching is still lost on the modern world and while touched upon by a few Russian thinkers (Pavel Florensky, Ivan Vasilevich Kireevsky, Vladimir Sergeevish Soloviev, to name a few), it’s difficult for Westerners to understand exactly what they’re teaching.

How I wish I could offer up this new epistemology, one that I think would work to give a more complete theodicy, but I haven’t really developed this epistemology or worked through it. I merely point all of this out to show that I think we’re approaching theodicy in an incomplete manner. If we’re approaching theodicy with an incomplete answer, then we need to stop exacerbating the problem by trying to use a failed method and revisit some of our more basic philosophies. While I think we can deal with the logical/intellectual problem of evil, that problem is ultimately superficial; no one quotes Hume at the death of a child, yet everyone questions God in such an instance. We can use Plantinga’s defense (or even better defenses) when in a debate with an atheist, but we can’t use it when counseling a man who’s been diagnosed with cancer. This means that while the free will defense, or other theodicies, are true, they’re inadequate and incomplete. But we can’t complete them with our current methods or epistemologies, we need something new. But who knows if or when that’ll ever come about.

So I leave this post not with answers, but with more questions. What will this new epistemology look like? Will it work? What will its ramifications be? Most importantly, is it true and we’ve simply ignored it for all these years? These are answers I do not have and may not have for many years. Thus, my apologies for introducing an even bigger problem to the debate, but I find it necessary.

The Problem of Evil and Pascha (Easter)

Icon of the Resurrection

(Apologies on the long post, but the Resurrection warrants it. Feel free to bookmark this post and come back to it if time is needed to read it. This is also partially an excerpt from a yet-to-be-published manuscript I’ve written [if anyone is interested, let me know], so I hope you enjoy)

It may seem an odd time to write about Easter, considering it’s nearly midnight (EST United States) and that Easter was a week ago. However, for those who don’t follow the Western calendar, Easter, or better known as Pascha in the East, will begin tonight at midnight. The Pascha service is always celebrated a week after Passover for the very simple reason that this is how it occurred in the Bible.

That being said, as some may note I recently wrote about the failure of Greater Good Theodicies. As for a workable solution for the problem of evil, tonight’s celebration serves as both the explanation and the solution for the problem of evil. While philosophers have debated as to how an all-powerful, all-benevolent God could allow evil to exist for centuries, that all-powerful, all-benevolent God answered these philosophical inquiries by dying on a cross and raising from the dead.

How is it that evil exists within this world? Sadly, it exists because we allow it to exist. When we talk of “good” and “evil,” we must remember that we are talking about substance vs. non-substance, that is to say that “good” actually exists whereas evil is simply the privation of that good. What is good? Goodness is an attribute of God, thus God is good; God is present and active in all the acts of goodness that we see. Thus, when we choose evil, we are choosing to work against God. Since we were endowed with free will (which deserves another post on why free will creatures who can sin are better than determined beings who cannot sin), we can actively choose to limit God’s interactions with this world. While this doesn’t limit His presence and while His sovereignty is not infringed (as He can act against our actions, though not in an overbearing way as to negate free will), it does mean that God allows us autonomy. In fact, that is the root of all sin, that we desire autonomy from God. God grants us this autonomy, and the consequences of our desires is what we call evil. We are the cause of evil.

But what of natural evil? What of tsunamis and tornadoes? What of animal suffering? The answer to this goes back to creation; as we were created in the image of God to hold dominion over the earth, our actions were tied to the outcome of creation. In our sin, we negatively impacted creation and subjected it to sin. While we in the West love individualism, we must understand that individualism is not an accurate picture of life. We are tied to each other and creation. While we are each individuals, we are not autonomous individuals. Tomorrow when I eat carrots and green beans, my choice in that impacts those who canned the food, picked the food, grew the food, and even impacts the land itself. Thus, in our choice to sin and choose autonomy from God, it only follows that nature would also be impacted. (All of this deserves an academic approach, and one is coming within the next months; suffice it to say, however, that this post is not meant to be academic).

The new atheists have taken this argument of evil up as their rallying cry. “God is not great,” they explain. “He’s evil because He allows evil, therefore He doesn’t exist.” All of this, however, only shows unwillingness on the part of the atheists (and other critics) to explore the Biblical reason for evil. The Bible is clear that God is very aware of the evil in the world, but He uses it to display His love. Sometimes He takes what was meant for evil and turns it into good (Romans 8:28). While this doesn’t deny gratuitous evil, nor am I saying that every instance of evil is allowed because it will cause a greater good, I am saying that the ultimate reason for allowing evil is because He created us with free wills, wills that are free to choose Him or deny Him.

In His perfect knowledge, God allowed evil to occur so that we might experience His love in a fuller way.[1] While the Fall wasn’t necessary for us to feel God’s love perfectly, it does allow us to see that God loves us via sacrifice. The Fall opened the doors for God to sacrifice by sending His only begotten Son to live, suffer, and die on our behalf. While the Fall was not necessary, our sinful action(s) necessitated a loving response from God.

Thus, God allowed evil so He could experience evil and in so doing we could experience His love. We all endure evil, but how quickly we forget that God has experienced evil greater than any of us could fathom. He has been the victim of His creation. Furthermore, when He took on human flesh He participated in our sufferings. The same flesh that is destroyed in genocide is the flesh that Christ took on. It is not as though God allowed evil and then removed Himself from the experience; rather, He allowed evil and then put Himself at the center of its suffering.

We look into the Garden of Eden and see God allowing humanity to fall and ask “Why?” God points to the Garden of Gethsemane and says, “This is why.” The Son took on all the sins of the world and was separated from the Father. What greater evil is there than for an innocent to suffer for the sake of the guilty? Yet Christ did this out of His love and His own willingness. Though we experience evil, evil that we think others could never fathom, God has suffered much more. This is not so He can brag or say, “Tough it out, I’ve had it worse,” but instead so we know that He can truly sympathize with us and that we can trust Him to get us through an experience of evil.

It wasn’t just the physicality of the cross that was the greatest evil – because others have suffered more – but the spiritual nature of the cross and what was occurring on the cross that none of us have ever experienced that makes it the greatest evil to have ever happened on this earth.

Imagine a child walking with her father while eating her ice cream. She trips a little and the ice cream falls off her cone. To her this is a great evil, but the father, being older, has experienced much worse. She can sit there and wonder, “Why would my father allow me to trip and lose my ice cream?” or she can trust him. She can turn to her father, she can cry to him, she can reach out to him and beg for him to hold her since he too has experienced evil. And being a loving father who has experienced far greater evil, he can sympathize with her and help her through it.

Or we can think of when we lose our parents to a disease. For many, the loss of a parent comes after we’ve become adults and experienced some life with them. But the evil that befalls us pales in comparison to those who lose their parents at a young age or to those who have their parents abandon them. We all experience personal evils on a different level. We all react to those evils differently, so it’s hard to say that one evil is worse than another. But we can look to the cross and say that, without a doubt, the greatest evil to ever occur on earth occurred on the cross when the creation murdered the Creator, the guilty crucified the innocent, the perpetrators of evil destroyed the Good.

Yet, while the cross is the greatest act of evil, it is also the cure to the problem of evil. On the cross we see evil try to reign triumphal, but it had been defeated without knowing it. The empty grave of Christ stands as a testament to the defeat of evil.[2]

While we experience actual evil and suffering from it, we must remember that the love of God can overcome any evil. When we come before the Lord on our knees and cry out, “Dear Lord, why has this befallen upon me,” He doesn’t chastise us, He doesn’t turn His back to us, He responds, “My child, I love you and I have endured it as well; come and lay your weary head upon my chest.” Rather than questioning God’s very existence because of evil, we should humbly and lovingly turn to Him for comfort, for He has already endured our pain and so much more.

Christ wasn’t bashful concerning the problem of evil, rather than attempting to explain it away by some complex theodicy He offered Himself as a theodicy. In Matthew 11:28-30, He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Thus, God does not shy away from the problem of evil, but instead He answers it by telling us to come to Him. Only within the Christian faith does the problem of evil have a real solution; in some other faiths (or lack of faiths) the solution is to explain that evil doesn’t really exist, or that we must appease some totalitarian god. In Christ we learn that we are the cause of evil, but that He is the solution, not through appeasement, but through rest.

The answer to the problem of evil isn’t found in a clever syllogism or in a preacher’s aphorism, rather the answer is a Man; the ultimate answer to the question of evil, the best theodicy one can give, is a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

He is a God who can be trusted. We know why He allows evil to exist on a grand scale, but why specific evils? Why does He allow pain and misery to come upon our individual lives? Job asked this same question and only God could provide an answer. His answer was, “Trust Me.” After all, who are we to find fault in God (Job 40:2)? He is perfect and we are imperfect. His ways are not our ways and His knowledge is infinitely more than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is good because God is love, so in times of evil He is all we have to rely on.[3]

The critics of God would have a point about evil if God allowed evil and left us there. If God allowed evil to enter the world and offered no way out of this world, then truly He would be cruel. He would be no better than a child burning the antennas off ants. But that is not the God we worship. God has offered a way out of this evil world; He has offered a way that defeats evil. The ultimate answer to the problem of evil is Jesus Christ; He faced evil on the cross and defeated it when He rose from the grave. Evil has already been defeated, we are merely waiting for the fulfillment of this defeat (Revelation 20:10, 14).

God is Love

The explanation to the problem of evil – God’s love – might seem a bit weird, but we cannot forget that love is behind everything God does. While He does do everything for His glory, it is equally true to say that He does everything out of His love. We cannot separate the attributes of God, thus everything He does displays both His glory and His love.

God created everything out of love. He created because He loved the Son and wished to honor the Son, but the Son wasn’t sitting on the sidelines. The Father spoke everything into existence through His Word (Jesus Christ) in the power of the Holy Spirit. God accomplished this out of love for Himself, with the Persons of the Trinity working in perfect harmony. But He also created simply for the love of creation. He is an artist. We look at certain things in nature and wonder, “Why would God do this?” But when we look at a painting, very rarely do we go, “I wonder why the artist did this.” We simply sit back and enjoy the art. It is the same with creation. We don’t have to ascribe a pragmatic purpose to everything; we can simply sit back and enjoy the artistic display of our Lord. Creation is art painted by the love of God.

God then created humans out of love. He didn’t have to create intelligent beings who were capable of having a relationship with Him, but He chose to. He did this out of love for us. He created us as a display of His perfect love; we are to love His creation, love each other, love ourselves, and love Him.

In all of this, He allowed us to fall. It is His love that allowed us to fall, for how loving would God be if He forced us to follow Him? Contrary to recent claims, God is no tyrant. When Adam and Eve rebelled, He didn’t kill them and start over. God didn’t create little robots that would follow His every command. Some people post the question, “Couldn’t God have created free beings who just didn’t have the capacity to rebel?” Common sense would dictate that if we never had the capacity to rebel then we wouldn’t truly be free, at least not if that was our starting point.[4] No, God gave us the freedom to rebel because He would rather have a willful servant than a mindless slave (Isaiah 1:18).

He allowed us to rebel because He knew it would allow Him to display His love. He knew that in our rebellion He could display the ultimate sacrifice – the giving of His only begotten Son. He wanted to display His love for us that even while we rebelled against Him, He would die for us (Romans 5:8). Even while we spat in His face, even while we hurled insults, even while we mocked Him, even while we questioned who He was, He loved us so much that He would sooner remain on the cross than come down and destroy us.

He took on the form of a man out of love. The Son emptied Himself of His divine attributes so that He might experience life with us. He is not some transcendent God without immanence, some unloving God who refuses to experience life as we do. Rather, God “got His hands dirty” by taking on flesh, but He did this out of love. He experienced our pain. He blistered under the heat. All that it is to be human, He did so, but without sin.

He became human so that He could ultimately die for us. Once again, love is the motivating factor. Out of love, Christ stood before Pilate falsely accused. Out of love, Christ bore a crown of thorns and was whipped. Out of love He marched up to Golgotha to hang on a cross. Out of love He let the soldiers put nails through His hands. Out of love He bore our transgressions. Out of love He was forsaken on our behalf. Out of love God came down to this earth and died for His rebellious creation. Out of love He rose from the grave. And out of love He bestows the effects of His actions onto us.

The Father’s love for the Son is what moved the stone away from the tomb. It was their love for each other that Christ raised physically from the dead to sit at the right hand of the Father. It is out of love that Christ’s resurrection is our way to salvation, the way to perfect reconciliation with the Father. God didn’t have to offer this to us, but He chose to because He loves us.

Because God loves us, we too are supposed to love others. He calls us to be representatives of His love this side of eternity. We are to love everyone. It is easy to love the lovable, but we are called to love the unlovable. We are a parent to the orphans. We are a liberator to the oppressed. We are a friend to the lonely. We are a comforter to the criminal. But we are also to love the corrupt CEO who fires employees so he can make a profit. We are to display love to our oppressors. While we must fight against the corruption of this world, we must never forget that we are still called to love our enemies. We are a lover to all, from the highest of society to the lowest, from the most virtuous among us to the darkest criminals in the deepest cells. To all, we are an example of God’s love on this earth.

It is love that compels God to bring us into eternal fellowship with Him, into the Divine community of the Trinity. How kind it would be of Him to merely destroy our souls once this life is over. How justified He would be in such an action. But he invites us into a perfect eternal fellowship with Him where we will forever love Him. Love is the focal point of every action of God. Everything He does, from His justice to His creation, from His revelation to His transcendent nature; every action of God is tied up to His love. If love is the focal point of God’s actions, then it should be the focal point for our actions as well. Though we will fail at this – because who can love like God? – we are to strive toward loving others as Christ has loved us.

An Eternal Love

God is the purpose of life. When we wander around, wondering what our purpose on this earth is, we can realize that He is everything. He is our end and everything else is a means. He fulfills us, He gives us rest from this weary life. Christ calls out to us, to us sinners, and says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It is a comforting thought that God would care for us so much that He would make such an invitation. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in this world. All of us have our hearts clouded by sin and by pain; to this Christ makes the invitation to come and rest in Him.

The invitation of Christ isn’t an invitation into a bunch of “do’s” and “do not’s,” but rather an invitation into a relationship. We enter into a relationship with Him and with His body, the Church. In so doing, we begin to live as though the Kingdom has come. This relationship is more than the following a moral code or saying a prayer for the forgiveness of our sins and then hoping for Heaven; certainly these are a part of the relationship, but they do not summarize the entire relationship. A honeymoon is only part of the married life; it is an important part, but not the entire thing. Likewise, asking Christ to forgive us our sins and walking the “straight and narrow” is a part of being a Christian, but not the entire thing. We obey Christ out of love, not out of obligation.

God’s love for us transcends time. He loved us before He created us (1 Peter 1:18-20). What sinner would dare dream of a God who would love us before we even existed? God is what sinners dare not dream. Everything in Scripture points to God’s working toward the fulfillment of His love in Christ on the cross. His plan is what we could never fathom. His love is eternal and we can never be separated from it. What better way to conclude with a passage from Paul (Romans 8:18-39):

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May it be so as we pursue the Eternal and seek to be with Him unto ages of ages. Amen.

[1] One could make the argument that God could display His love in a perfect fashion even without the Fall. This is a view that I agree with, that is to say, the Fall was not necessary in order for God to perfectly display His love. Rather, God allowed the Fall so as to not inhibit our free will, and in so doing found a way to perfectly display His love in a fallen world.

[2] When I refer to evil as an actual substance, I am merely doing so for the effect of writing. Evil is really the lack of good and has no substance of its own; philosophically speaking it is an accident, lacking a property or substance.

[3] For those curious in a philosophic answer to this problem, I would encourage two books. The first is God, Freedom, and Evil by Alvin Plantinga and the second is God, Why This Evil? by Bruce Little. Both explore the philosophic reasons and explanations for the problem of evil within the Christian tradition. While I am emphatic that Christ is the ultimate answer to the problem of evil, I do not say this to the exclusion of the philosophical attempts to explain evil. These are important, but it must be recognized that these will always point back to Christ.

[4] In Heaven we will lack the capacity to rebel, but that is because we have chosen such a life. If God created us without that capacity then we would lack free will. But if we willingly choose to become like God through theosis, then we are willfully giving up our sin nature, thus indicating that in Heaven though we lack the capacity to sin, we are still free.

The Failure of Greater Good Theodicies

For whatever reason, I find the study of evil to be quite fascinating. Perhaps this is because I see it as the greatest obstacle to an acceptance of theism. After all, if God is all good and all-powerful, why does evil exist?

Rather than offering up my own theodicy (which is a theory I’m working on, something that will take a while to develop), I wanted to point out what I see as a problem in the traditionally “Greater Good” theodicies.

For the unfamiliar, a Greater Good Theodicy (GGT) teaches that God will allow an evil if and only if He can use it to bring about a greater good. The problem is many GGT theodicies end up saying that all evil is allowed because God wants to bring about a greater good.

Were I an atheist, I’d simply point out that, logically following, the greater the evil the greater the good; therefore, why isn’t this world full of more evil? If all evil begets a greater good, then perhaps God could allow 1 in 3 children to die of cancer, which would cause people to become scientists to discover a cure for cancer, which would help all humans. Were I an atheist, I could pick apart the logical problems with GGT.

However, as a Christian I can point to some bigger problems with GGT and show how it’s highly inconsistent with what we believe about God. For instance, let’s assume that God allows an evil to occur because it brings about a bigger good; this would mean that God is a consequentialist, possibly a Utilitarian, meaning He doesn’t really care about you.

If God knows that the death of a child will somehow lead to a cure for a deadly disease and He allows it, that means that He allowed the death of one person for the “greater good.” He allowed a child to suffer and die a horrendous death simply because He wanted us to discover the cure. Of course, this is the same God who spoke audibly to the ancient prophets and this is the same God who is infinite in knowledge; surely He could find some way to allow the child to live, have us develop the cure, and not rob us of our free will. Yet, according to GGT there is not another way, which just seems cruel.

In such a situation, it means that God used the child as a means to an end. Such a view inherently contradicts the view that God is love. If God is love and He is infinite in His love, and if God is personal, then it’s a contradiction to say that God will use us as means to an end, showing little concern as to what happens to us. While God will use us to accomplish a goal, He doesn’t use us as means; rather, we become co-workers with God or adversaries against God. Either way, we’re active participants where our involvement matters to God, not simply pawns that He moves across a chessboard in order to win a game.

And this is why, as a Christian, I must reject the GGT. I must say that, in fact, gratuitous evil does exist. I must say that, it’s true, some evil happens without a greater good to counteract it. Some might point to Romans 8:28, but I would point out that (1) it says this only happens for those who love God and (2) it only says that God turns evil into good for those that love Him; Paul doesn’t say that God turns this into a good that is greater than evil.

In the end, then, we must rethink our theodicy when it comes to the evidential argument for evil. We cannot rely on the GGT because, while logically coherent in itself, it becomes illogical when applied to Christian beliefs as it contradicts our view of God.

I would advocate everyone to look at Bruce Little’s Creation-Order Theodicy as a possible solution, though I believe (as he states in his book) that there is a lot of work required to shape up his theory. For those curious, that is where my studying is heading.