Wednesday, August 17, 2005

AD: Love and Evil, Part Two

The fact that we must often choose the lesser of two evils is a powerful argument for the doctrine of original sin. If sin is merely a matter of the choices that we make, why are we so often faced with nothing but evil choices? This can only be explained by the idea that evil exists outside of and independent of our choices.

In my last post I mentioned that this presents a loving God with a difficult choice of his own: either He may remove evil as an option and with it, remove all human free will, or else He may allow us choose evil for the sake of the continued existence of free will. After all, in a world where only goodness exists to be chosen, no real choice exists at all. Continuing with the case presented earlier by my reader, this means even child abuse must be allowed by a loving God, because the other option—equal justice for all—would require that neither of them remain free to sin, which would be even worse.

This leaves the Christian with at least two conclusions we can put to practical use. One calls us to meet injustice with faith. The other calls us to meet it with mercy.

First, as beings fully immersed in the stream of time, ours is an inaccurate perspective. A man working thirty years at one station on an assembly line may become so focused on his particular task that he forgets his true job is to help hundreds of others to build a car. He knows it in his head, but in his heart he believes he’s in the bumper attachment business. If he thinks with his heart alone, he may view interference with his bumpers as an unforgivable offense, even if it ultimately results in a better vehicle. Similarly, we Christians know intellectually that God loves us all, that He has a plan to return perfect justice to all creation, that He can be trusted to implement His plan in a way most consistent with His loving nature, and we are only workers on one tiny portion of God master plan as it passes by us in the stream of time. What appears to us as undiluted evil with no possibility of redemption is in fact still a part of God’s plan, which He is using for ultimate good. But when the horror of this fallen world hits home in a personal or particularly horrific way, our hearts tempt us to wave all that aside and insist on justice here and now, at our little station on God’s grace assembly line. It is then that faith steps in to remind us of the little that we know: Even the most horrific evil must be allowed until God’s redemptive plan is complete, because without it goodness as a moral choice would be meaningless. We suffer for a reason: so our “joy may be complete.”

Second, if we consider the fact that "all have sinned and fallen short" in light of God's state of being outside of time (see the last post), and if we remember that all sin is not merely a question of choices here and now, but is actually the result of an inherited condition that causes us to choose to sin (remember the abuser who was a victim and his victim who will be an abuser), then we see that no particular good or evil act is ever quite as clear or simple as we would like to think. This is a compelling argument for the cultivation of mercy in the midst of justice. The survival of civilization depends upon our restraint and punishment of those who are most wholly given over to evil, but in the midst of imposing earthly justice Christians above all others should never forget that “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Athol Dickson
Author of The Gospel According to Moses - What my Jewish friends taught me about Jesus.


At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your challenge to meet injustice with faith and mercy. Too often we focus on what happens instead of on how to conduct ourselves worthy of the Gospel in the face of evil. I think if we can keep trusting God no matter what, He'll do amazing things. When we let our pain derail us, what wonders do we thwart? I wish it was as easy as it sounds, but faith is hard work. Thanks for such an understandable and balanced look at a hard subject.

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Janet, you've touched on such an important and practical suggestion for meeting evil when it comes. Grief and pain will come, and as Christians, we can choose to face it with God, or without Him. I can say from personal experience that anger with God, and leaving His presence at such a time, only prolongs the suffering and robs it of redeeming value. But if we cling to faith when grief and injustice comes, God can be trusted to provide comfort and ultimately, a sense of worth and meaning in the midst of tragedy. This does not mean it's easy. Faith is indeed sometimes hard work, as you said. But it is the only option that makes any sense at all in the midst of so much evil. Thanks for your comment.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger J. Mark Bertrand said...

I agree with Janet -- a very thoughtful, worthwhile handling of a tough subject. I appreciate the thought that's gone into it. My only question is this: is a world where people are "free to sin" really better than one where they are not? Sin seems more like an expression of bondage than freedom, and it's hard to imagine that God's motive in allowing child abuse is that, in addition to the range of good choices a person can make, He wants to be sure we can still make evil ones, too. If freedom must always include "freedom to sin," will we be less free in the New Jerusalem than we are now? Are we more "free" than Christ? I'm sure you've thought about these issues, and if you've already addressed them in print, please feel free to direct me to the source. Thanks again for posting such a good piece!

At 8:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Athol, as always, for provoking me to thought. I gave the issue of evil and free will a great deal of thought as I wrote THE NOVELIST, and I think I managed to put "faces" on the issues. Adam was given the freedom to sin or not, but we don't have that same freedom because we have inherited a fallen nature--one which will be eradicated, praise God, in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

And Scripture tells that God says He is the ultimate source of evil--and since God cannot sin, we assume that this means that since He is sovereign, he is the ultimate controller of evil. Indeed, Scripture tells us that He uses it for our good.

When I hear of horrible atrocities that defy earthly understanding, I take comfort in knowing that this earthly lifespan is really just a blink--and that heaven is a reality that waits for the believer on the other side of this painful veil.

Thanks, Athol. Looking forward to hearing from you again.

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops! Being brand new to this blogging thing I accidentally posted a reply to Mark's intriguiing questions at the "Love and Evil Part One" page. If you're interested in reading my thoughts on the questions he raised here, please see what I posted there. And thanks again Mark, for responding with such interesting questions and comments.


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