Prompted by the new book by Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil?, I have highlighted a couple of potential keys to addressing the “problem of evil” emphasized in his book in the article, The Problem of Evil and Mystery of Will.
The Christian response to the age old problem lies in the story of Adam and Eve. Created in God’s own image, they were given a choice but were forbidden from exercising it. Anyone with a modicum of understanding about human nature knows that forbidden fruit is a temptation that is hard to ignore. It should come as no surprise to us (or God) that Adam and Eve gave into the temptation and ate of the fruit.
God surely must have known that they would exercise that forbidden choice! Yet, he banished them from the idyllic “garden” He created for them and cursed the world, subjecting it to difficulty, pain, suffering and death. We are looking for a clue to the question that screams from our guts, “Why?!”
This indeed is the harsh reality in which we live. There can be no denying it. Recognition of this harsh reality is not uniquely Christian. It is a universal truth. The explanation of it is what differs. The atheist might simply say that we all die and “then worms will eat our bodies”. That’s just the way it is. The Hindu might say we suffer because of karma, and we all die, and die again, and again, and again, and again. The Buddhist might say we suffer only because we haven’t reached enlightenment because pain and suffering are just a figment of the unenlightened imagination. All worldviews must contend with the fact that we live in a less than idyllic world.
The Christian says we suffer pain and death because Adam sinned. “And we’ve been attending funerals ever since,” Clay Jones says; and “Only one thing is going to prevent you from watching absolutely every person you know die from murder, accident, or disease, and that will be your own death from murder, accident, or disease.” What a harsh sentence!
If the Bible is an accurate reflection of God and of reality, why in the world would God have cursed the ground and subjected His creation to futility?
The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that God subjected the world to futility “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption….” (Romans 8:20) This suggests that the choice that led man to corruption and the cursing of the world to futility was part of the plan all along. In this second half of “the story” we try to make some sense of it.
To begin with, we read in Genesis 3 the following:
“The Lord God said, the man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the Tree of Life and eat, and live forever. So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.”
I am only getting started on this book, but I have stopped to focus on one little piece of the puzzle that is quoted from Genesis. We are given a clue in Genesis 3 when we are told that God was concerned that Adam and Eve might eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. This is one key for unlocking the puzzle according to a Christian worldview.
I have wondered, what would have happened if Adam and Eve had immediately eaten from the Tree of Life after eating from the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil? The answer isn’t immediately evident, but I believe it is suggested in the text. They would have been locked into their corrupt state forever.
That clearly wasn’t God’s plan, but why allow the possibility of corruption in the first place?
I think the answer lies in the fact that God must have known the choice (and choices) we would make. God’s plan accounted for the distinct possibility (frankly not just possibility, but probability) that man would choose to go his own way and do his own thing rather than enjoy the peaceful harmony with God he enjoyed in God’s good creation.
In making that decision, man introduced evil into God’s world. By making that one choice, man realized he could make any number of choices that were not in harmony with God’s good creation. Man was thereafter corrupt. God’s response to that choice was to subject the creation to a curse that would make man’s life on earth difficult, painful and, perhaps, even a living hell.
But, God did this, we are told by the Apostle Paul, in hope that we would find the way out of the bondage to corruption. At this point, we might be tempted to view this point like a cruel game, like rats caught in a painful maze with only one hidden way out. But there is a method to the madness, as the saying goes.
At the same time that God subjected the creation and man to difficulty, pain, suffering and physical death, God cut man off from the other tree in the garden – the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve were not forbidden from eating or the fruit of the Tree of Life. It was available to them without restriction, but they chose the other tree that led to their corruption. And, in that state of corruption, at that point, partaking of the tree of life may have locked them into living forever in that state of corruption.
Instead of allowing men to live forever in a corrupted state, God locked them out of the garden and blocked them from the Tree of Life.
But for what purpose?
We get a glimpse of that purpose in Romans 8: the creation was subjected to futility “in hope that the creation would set itself free from its bondage to corruption and attain the freedom of the glory of children of God”. That hope is contained in another choice: the choice to repent from going our own way, exercising our own choices, and to submit to God.
But God didn’t leave us trapped in a maze with a hidden door. God became the door. God became one of us to show us the way out.
According to the Christian worldview, God became flesh, subjected Himself to the same curse under which we live, including death, but He rose from the dead in human form revealing to us the end game of His plan – that we too might rise from physical death to new life and live forever, not in the corruption into which we are born in our physical bodies, but in the perfection into which we are born again by the Spirit of God.
God offers us himself as the way out.
Our physical lives are but a mist in the vast eons of time. Our lives not even a mist in the unending expanse of eternity. This is why Paul says: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”; and further, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….”; and further still, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him….”
God had to lock man out of the idyllic garden and block us from the Tree of Life to save us from ourselves and to give us the opportunity to “attain the freedom of the glory of children of God”. He prevented us from being doomed to corruption forever by limiting our corruption to the finite period of our physical lives.
Lest we be satisfied with our finite lives, God subjected us and the world in which we live to futility so that we might long for something else, something as it turns out that God planned for us all along!
In the very beginning of Ecclesiastes, the wise writer observes the harsh reality of the world:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes almost sounds like a “new atheist, but he observes that God also set eternity in our hearts.
People universally long for something better than what we experience in this world. This is evidence of the sense of eternity God set in our hearts. CS Lewis put it this way:
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
If we didn’t know the difference between good and evil, we couldn’t choose good. If we lived forever in a state in which evil was a viable option, we would forever be corrupt and would be unable to choose good. If we didn’t live in a world in which we are subjected to the harsh consequences of evil, we might be satisfied with our corrupt state. If we didn’t have eternity in our hearts, causing us to long for something else, we might not be motivated to look for the way out that God hoped we would find.
God made us for eternity with Him, and He has created a world in which we can choose good (choose to enter into His design). We obviously couldn’t do that without having a choice. We couldn’t choose good, God’s design, without knowing the difference between good and evil. We couldn’t have known the difference between good and evil without choosing evil (the opposite of God’s design). We wouldn’t have motivation to choose good if we continued to live in an idyllic setting, and we wouldn’t be motivated to choice good over evil if the consequences of one choice over the other were the same.
Though it isn’t really central to this piece, I should note that we also don’t have the ability fully even to exercise our choice for God’s design in our present, corrupt state. We have to be born again, born of the Spirit, and only in this way do we gain entry to the nature by which we can actually become the creatures God intended us to be. God does this work in us, but we must exercise our wills (be willing) to receive it.
Finally, we are told that God is love. And, we are told that we are made in His image. We are made, then, for love. Love is a choice. We could not know love, and we could not love God, without having a real choice. And this is God’s plan from the beginning. We are creatures with potential – a potential for eternal life in fellowship with God, and a potential for eternal corruption in opposition to God. He opened gave us the key to open the Pandora’s box of evil, and subjected us to the futility of that choice – a life in opposition to God’s design – in hope that we would repent, turn from our own ways, and choose the good, choose God.
In a world in which we have nearly an infinite number of choices we can exercise to satisfy and exert our own wills over God, the one choice that leads to the eternal life that God intended for us from the beginning is to embrace God’s will over our own. This is the choice God hopes we will make. This was God’s plan from the beginning: to allow us to choose Him.
We were locked out of the garden and blocked from the tree of life in our corrupt states in hope that we would open the door at which God, in Jesus, stands and knocks that leads to eternal life in harmony with Him.
 Genesis 3:22-23
 Romans 8:18
 2 Corinthians 4:17
 1 Corinthians 2:9
 Ecclesiastes 1:2
 Ecclesiastes 3:11
 1 John 4:8
 Genesis 1:27