December 13, 2017.
This is a continuation of The Divine Love series. For a full-text PDF, click here!
Why does evil/suffering exist?
When I said that I believed that the fundamental truth of love could answer some of the most difficult questions that mankind has ever asked, I was not speaking in vain. Throughout history, the ‘problem of evil’ (as it has been termed) has been addressed in many different and much more comprehensive forms that will be seen here. Perhaps I myself will expound on what I write here later in life. But for now, I want to take a few minutes to discuss how love being the fundamental truth can even address and answer the question of suffering. At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive (unless of course you know where I’m going with this, as I’m sure many of you do).
I believe that at its most fundamental level, love is inherently a choice, and anything that does not involve a choice cannot be said to truly be love. I think it isn’t necessary to make the point (though I’m going to anyway) that an inanimate object cannot love. It would be senseless to say “my textbook loves me.” But going further, it would also be senseless to say that an animated object that has been programmed (as opposed to having chosen) to love someone. This one probably hits closer to home, and even could more easily deceive us. But let’s look at it more carefully. You could, in theory, program a robot to tend to your every need, to protect you from any danger and even to say phrases that make you feel loved. But can you truly say that the robot loves you in the same way that a spouse that has chosen to live and care for you for the rest of his/her life loves you? I do not believe so. The robot has been trained to do certain things- things that we know someone who actually loves us would do. But there would never be any sure way of proving/knowing that the robot would do the things that indicate love if it had not been programmed to do so (the analogy breaks down a little here because we can be pretty sure that the robot would in fact not do these things if it had not been programmed to do so). If the robot had no choice, there can be no true sense in which we can say that the robot loves us. It simply functions as it has been programmed to function. In the same way, we too cannot love if we are not given a choice.
But this concept goes beyond animated objects that behave according to predetermined programming. I believe this concept holds true for living beings as well, though it might be harder to understand through analogy simply because it is hard for us to imagine a situation in which an animal or even fellow human being would be in a situation in which they are not given a choice. Even if one doesn’t believe in free will or the ability to make choices, this is how we experience the world, and it’s hard to imagine a human that has been programmed as a robot would be programmed. Maybe the closest concept we have to this is the concept of brainwashing. When we think of someone who has been kidnapped and brainwashed to either believe a certain set of beliefs, or do particular tasks, or even love certain people as family that they would not have if they did not go through the process of brainwashing, most onlookers would look at the situation and conclude that the person doesn’t truly love the people who she was kidnapped by because it was not her decision to do so. She was not given a choice. I’m not suggesting that people cannot love “unlovable people” (if there even is such a thing as “unlovable people”). What I am suggesting is that love is a choice, and if someone is “forced to love” someone, it isn’t love at all- it’s something completely different. Love demands a choice.
With this in mind, I hope you can see how I believe this explains the presence of evil/suffering. Inherent in the concept of love, there must be a possibility of non-love, or rejection of love. For love to exist, free will must exist, and with free will comes the inherent possibility of evil. This does not make God the author of evil, evil simply must exist as a possibility if Love is a/the fundamental truth. Usually this question is asked in a theological context/discussion, such as “If God is an all-loving God, why is the world he created full of suffering?” Why couldn’t God just create an existence in which evil isn’t even a possibility? I propose that this is an illogical question if love exists at all. It is the same as asking why God can’t create a square circle. Omnipotence does not mean the power to do what is logically contradictory/impossible, rather it is the power to do anything that is logically possible.
At this point some may question the motives of God, or even his ethics for creating a world knowing that the possibility of evil would exist, but I think that we should take a step back before we make claims like this. To begin, if God does exist and is omniscient, this would mean that his knowledge and wisdom would fully exceed anything that we can boast today. We simply do not have all the information to make such a judgment/condemnation on an omniscient being. And if we do not have the power to make this ethical conclusion, we cannot use the conclusion to dismiss the possibility of God’s existence, or even make the claim that he is not who he says he is. Further, if a/the fundamental truth is Love, we might say that creation, regardless of risk, is good, as it corresponds with the fundamental truth. There is more that could be said here, but I think it would get away from the main topic at hand.
God is love, we were created through and for the love of God, and our vocation is to image the divine love in the present creation. However, since Love demands a choice, we all have the free will to reject our true vocation and choose not to love God. This rejection has consequences, just as anything that does not function as it is supposed to function has consequences. The consequences of our choices have led to the evil we see today. It should be noted here that evil is not the plan of God, nor is it his intention. It is a consequence of our actions. Again, I do not claim to give a comprehensive treatise on suffering and the problem of evil here, rather I only mention its origin. The rest of the conversation is still very complex, and deserves much more space and time if it is to be adequately addressed.
The next question that could be asked here is even if we allow that the concept of true love leaves open a door to suffering, if God is love, then why doesn’t he do something about it? This is a good question, and one we will discuss shortly. But first, I think we need to begin to wrap our minds around what Love truly means.
What is love?
This is a question that we probably all think we know the answer to, at least in some form, yet when we truly try to define it, it seems to elude our explanation. Further, our culture and society has taken this word and made it to mean many different things, much of which has nothing at all to do with love truly defined. I do not think this has been done completely with ill intention. Much of how society defines love holds some connection to the foundation of love, yet ripped from its own context and made to mean something different. Love is not a feeling, though it can produce feelings. Love is not an emotion, though it can involve emotion. Love is not just anything I think is good, though true love is indeed good. As I have said before, I believe fundamentally love is a choice. But what choice?
In what might be one of the most beautiful (however cliché) passages about love by the apostle Paul, we can begin to understand what love is:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
In context, Paul is writing to a congregation who seem to have forgotten what love is. Instead of being united in Christ, they were struggling with much division. The church had formed groups and become self-serving and arrogant, even with the gifts they had been given by God. He begins this passage with stress on the importance of love over all other “good” things, including great knowledge, divine revelation and martyrdom (v. 1-3). Reading through his passage on love, we get the sense of what he is trying to convey. Patience, kindness, not insisting on your own way, bearing all things. Love is a sacrifice, in every sense of the word. Love is deciding that you want what is good and true for the person whom you love. You want what is best for them, and are willing to sacrifice to make it happen. Love is a choice that demands an action. It is not the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see someone, though this can be involved. Love is self-sacrifice.
We typically think of this self-sacrifice in the most drastic of terms, and this can certainly be true. We will discuss that shortly. However, self-sacrifice does not mean self-abuse or slavery. That is an aberration of love. The parent who loves her child does not suffer because of this love; to the contrary, she is fulfilled through her love. Love, functioning properly, builds up and edifies, as we are in agreement with that for which we were created. Even when self-sacrificial love leads us to suffer on behalf of the one we love, our suffering does not out weigh the fulfillment we receive through our sacrificial act. Love is more important than me. Love is a fundamental truth.
I want to make one more note here before moving on. Paul says that “love rejoices in truth.” I don’t think this point should be overlooked. I mentioned earlier that some believe love to be anything that they think is right or anything that feels good. This is not the case. Love that is not in line with truth is not love at all, but rather a feeling driven by culture and personal emotion. If love is a fundamental truth, it cannot be contrary to its own core. It rejoices when the creation is functioning as it is intended to function. This is why many of the things that we might call love, such as a sexual feeling (as this is probably where we have the deepest confusion), lead to heartache and brokenness when used improperly. It is an aspect of love ripped from the framework that it was designed to work within. It is no longer functioning properly, no longer rejoicing in truth. In the moment it feels perfectly fine, yet the consequences again and again prove severe. Children around the world today grow up without fathers and in broken homes because someone confused lust for love. There are parents who scream and abuse one another in front of their children because they confused a feeling for a dedicated choice. Again, more could be said, but this is not the place. I take this moment to simply warn against the temptation of shallowly defining love to fit our current feelings and desires and to seek deeper truth.
(to be continued in part 3)
 This is the same solution to the common question of “Can God make a rock bigger than he can pick up?”, though the problem is concealed in the example. It is illogical to propose that an all-powerful being could do something that would contradict the concept of being all-powerful.
 I’d be happy to discuss this more in a personal setting.