When we look at the world with all of its problems and the evil that fills the globe, it’s too easy for us to ask why God doesn’t “do something about it.” We look for answers and solutions and even become impatient with God because we see Him as the one who has the power and resources to change things.
Yet our very awareness of how things are not the way they ought to be and our longing for things to be better testifies to something profound about our nature. If evil is a metaphysical necessity for finite creatures, why do we so strongly oppose it and long for a world without it? Why do we cry foul? Why do we long for a restoration of a Paradise Lost? Why do we think in terms of good and evil?
These universally intuitive human desires and capacities cannot be adequately explained by an impersonal evolutionary development because they reach beyond the physical to the metaphysical in unexpected ways. We are beings who think, feel, and choose in profoundly deep and relational ways. As helpful and insightful as scientific inquiry has been, universal longings for love and meaning are unexplainable on scientific grounds. This is where we find a significant discontinuity between humans and animals.
But before we’re too quick to look at what’s wrong with the world and blame God, let’s not overlook the fact that God gave the earth to humans to “rule over” (Genesis 1:28). The repeated phrase, “I give you every…” in Genesis 1:29-30 reveals how originally the earth was God’s gift to us for our benefit. And when originally given, it was (in God’s estimation), “very good” (Genesis 1:31). In a sense, the earth was and is our’s to do with as we choose for the present moment of history. I realize that ultimately “The earth is the Lord’s…” (Psalm 24:1:I Corinthians 10:26), but we have been entrusted with it as stewards “to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15).
As beings made in God’s image, we have God-like capabilities to rule the earth in creative ways that make it serve beneficial purposes. But we don’t always use those abilities for good. The same mind that can be used to invent life-saving machines and medicines and instruments of war and torture. We have God-like moral sensibilities in our ability to recognize right and wrong and participate in benevolent activities. We are capable of distinguishing justice from injustice, love from hate and freedom from oppression, but our vision of these things is easily blurred in self-serving ways. We are paradoxical beings, Jekylls and Hydes; combinations of dust and glory. We have plenty of empirical evidence for these universal realities but what is there to account for this narrative?
Struggling this exasperating enigma, frustrated Scottish writer, Richard Holloway, groaned,
“This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.”
Although everything and everyone in this world is marred by corruption, God has not completely abandoned us to self-destruction. Evidences of God’s kindness continue to be experienced in “rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; food and hearts filled with joy” (Acts 14:17). There are also restraining functions of a kind of natural law written on the human heart( see: Romans 2:14-15). God has implanted a lawful order in us and “all human beings have some sort of cognitive access to that lawfulness” (Mouw). Our Maker is mercifully kind even to “the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:36).
I don’t profess to have found a fully satisfying explanation for what theologians call the mystery of iniquity (μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας). Yet to admit to evil is to admit to a standard for naming and judging it. Evil is either a negation of the good, or a privation of the good. It was Augustine who argued that evil is parasitic in deriving its existence and meaning from what is good. Before one invites you to discuss a problem of evil, he should be asked to establish the grounds for the discussion by explaining how an authoritative standard of goodness exists for naming evil. This is a reasonable request that must not be superficially passed over. Conflicting visions of what is good are foundational to personal and social problems.
The question worth answering is how we (and our dwelling place) became corrupt. Are we guilty of ungratefully spoiling God’s good gifts? Have we selfishly abused our stewardship of the planet and our lives? Caring people ought to be asking deep questions about why things are the way they are and what can be done about it. Those who work in government, law, and religion are all significant participants (for better or worse) in dealing with human crises caused by our corruption. We should also ask if it is right to expect God to change things when God gave us the responsibilities with His gifts.
How should we understand reality?
When I look at the world, I cannot endorse the overuse of the science of biological evolution to explaining realities outside of the reach of science. I chosen to reject the myopic optimism of humanism and the dark pessimism of cynicism — in exchange for — the grounded realism of a Christian worldview revealed in Scripture. But please understand that although I believe that the Bible offers the most realistic and hopeful perspective for history and the world, I am not interested in using it as an imperialistic or oppressive tool to impose on moral creatures a belief system they have not chosen. God made humans as morally culpable beings who will ultimately answer to Him as Maker and Savior. While I believe in the need for law and order and I practice Christian influence by bearing witness to God’s love and grace, I don’t believe in the human use of coercion to force beliefs on anyone.
There are surprisingly few places to turn for thoughtful answers to deeper questions about good and evil; human suffering, and life and death. I always welcome opportunities to explore the plausibility of competing world views on these important matters. Without suggesting that I have all the answers, I have only found one source to be wide enough to explain the complex dimensions of the human story and large enough to address the innate longings of the human heart.
More than a document
The source I have found is more than a theory about reality. It’s more than a document with information in it. The source I’ve accepted is personal. He is “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the First and the Last.” (Revelation 22:13). He is the Living One; He was dead but is alive for ever and ever. He holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:17-18).
All things were created by him and for him and in him all things hold together. God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.(Colossians 1:16-17, 19-20). He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (I Timothy 3:16). In him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
In Jesus Christ we find forgiveness, freedom, love and meaning. We find the rational accounting for our origin, meaning, morality and destiny — deeply connected with reality. Jesus continues to extend an open invitation:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
“To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God” (John 1:12-13).
gratefully in Christ,