A question I was recently asked and have been asked many times over the years is, “How can evil exist in a world created by an all-knowing, all-powerful and benevolent Creator?” All of us have probably mulled over the question, “How can God’s divine goodness co-exist with evil that plagues all humanity?” Trying to satisfactorily address such a weighty subject in a short blog is impossible, but from years of studying Scripture, reading men more brilliant than myself, philosophical observations, and living in a world where evil and good, love and hate are diametrically opposed, I will attempt to tackle the question hoping to shed some light.
The Bible teaches that the supreme ethic that God has given us is love: love for Him and love for our fellowman. Jesus was once conversing with the Pharisees and the Sadducees when He was asked what the greatest commandment of all was. Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40). Jesus taught that we cannot truly love our fellowman until our love is first anchored in the One who lived the supreme ethic and demonstrated such love in His life. Jesus taught that our love for our fellowman must first flow from our love for God, whose nature of holy-love is moral not amoral.
Now even those who deny God’s existence will embrace Jesus’ words that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In doing so even the atheist is contending that the ultimate ethic is love. The late atheist Christopher Hitchens stated that man has an innate awareness that we are to love one another, but he had no idea where that innate realization came from. Well, it stands to reason this innate awareness of love as the supreme ethic points to the existence of a Divine Lover who created man and planted it in his heart. So for one to say there is evil in the world is acknowledging that evil is known and measured against a standard or ethic of love. And it is love which places worth on other persons as being of value and something which must be valued and treasured.
Love for our fellowman, which flows from a love for God, is the pinnacle of all spiritual, intellectual and emotional attainment in the honoring of human worth and dignity. However, it is not really love where it is not freely given. That which is compelled is not love, for love must be freely expressed by choice. There can be no true love without an inherent weaving into the fabric of ones being the freedom to willingly give and receive love. You cannot have love without the freedom of the will. If we are forced to love it is not love but a mechanical compliance. If one was made to comply with the ethic of love then one would never be able to willingly express or experience the emotion of love by free choice. If we are forced to love then we would never choose willingly the supreme ethic. Our response would be robotic not free.
The story is told of Alexander the Great once commanding one of his generals to love him. The general replied, “I honor you, I respect you, I fear you, I will follow you into battle, but you cannot command me to love you.” Love must be freely given, it must be a choice for it to be love or otherwise it would be emotionless conformity. Love is not real unless we have the ability to not love.
Now the choice not to love also allows for the potential for evil to occur. So if love is the supreme ethic and freewill is indispensible to loving God and man, and God’s goal is for His creatures to freely love Him and our neighbor, then if God intervened to suspend the possibility of evil He would be violating our freewill which is a necessary component for love to truly exist and be experienced. Yet if we ask God to suspend that which we see as evil then the Lord must violate and suspend the one necessary element which is essential for love to be expressed willingly – freewill. Otherwise, it would not be love but force. In essence we are asking the Lord to suspend the one fundamental intrinsic dynamic that allows us to love – freewill. When love for God and one’s fellowman is embraced as the supreme ethic and free will to choose or reject that ethic then that helps shed light on why contrary consequences result when making the choice to reject love, which, again, includes the possibility of evil. But love cannot reign supreme if it cannot be chosen.
When one chooses to love the Lord and their fellowman in spite of witnessing evil consequences that can occur when one rejects the ethic of love, it is then one truly appreciates and experiences the emotions and sentiments that are enjoyed when one willingly embraces such an ethic. When we ask God to suspend the potential of evil we are asking Him to deny our free will, to deny our ability to choose love for the sake of love. Again, to force us to love is not love but compliance to that which is of a mechanical and robotic nature. It is during times of the rejection of love that we see the horridness of evil, but in contrast the magnificent overcoming power of love. It is in our capacity of the freedom to choose that the contrast between the two is clearly distinguishable.
And one truth that remains and reigns supreme, “We love Him because He first loved us…and He demonstrated His love for us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (I Jh 4:19; Romans 5:8). It is from that truth the ultimate ethic of love must first flow.