The Divine Love, Pt. 3: God’s Answer to Evil.

December 14, 2017.

This is a continuation of The Divine Love series. For a full-text PDF, click here! To begin with Part 1, click here.

So, why hasn’t God done anything about evil?

Now I believe we are in a good position to address this question. The question often comes as an indictment against God rather than as an honest question about the nature of reality. But we will take it as the latter. Even if love inherently opens the door for evil and our choices have led to a world full of evil and suffering, why will God, being all-loving, not do anything about it? Why not stop the evil that has been created by us? Does he not have the power to do so?

This is a good question. Sometimes as Christians we might get the answer confused and say something about justice and punishment, or the coming judgment. And no doubt, these answers must be included in any robust dealing with the question. However, I do not believe these to be the main thrust of the Christian answer to “Why doesn’t God do something about suffering?” The Christian answer is that he has done something. He has done something so powerful, that both evil and death have been dealt the death blow (pun intended). The Christian answer to the problem of evil is the cross. However, many Christians do not understand what happened on the cross. I must admit that until recently, I hadn’t really given it a proper amount of thought. Many of us have been fed a superficial version of the victory that God won on that day nearly two thousand years ago, a version that has led to poor theology and mistaken understanding (in my view, at least). I believe the fundamental truth of love gives us the framework to truly understand what happened on the cross, and the implications for us today.

With the groundwork that has been laid previously, I think we can quickly start from the beginning to recap the necessary elements that will give us a better understanding of the cross. My thesis is that a fundamental truth is love, and that God is this love. We, then, were created from and for this love. Love inherently demands a choice, and thus each one of us has the free will to either serve in our true vocation in the love of God, or to reject this vocation in favor of another ethic, often one that is self-serving. No one has perfectly lived in accordance with the fundamental truth, and thus evil and suffering abound in our world.[1] The consequence of our rejection is ultimately death. We are separated from God, who is love, the fundamental, because of our rejection of this truth, and justly so. However, because God is love, he did not look at his creation and decide just to let it go because of our choice. Yet, he cannot just snap his fingers and make everything “right” again- for that would remove our free will and destroy any aspect of love we might have. In effect, that would mean the destruction of humanity as we know it. So what can he do?

Love is self-sacrifice. What God did on our behalf was so profound that no one, human or beyond, truly understood what was happening when it happened. Though the plan had been formed before the foundation of the world, though the prophets had been sent to testify to what would surly take place, and though the people through whom all nations of the world would be blessed had been called, the plan, and the success thereof, was not known until after it all unfolded. Paul, possibly quoting an older hymn, has this to say about what God did to answer the problem of evil:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
(Philippians 2:3-11)

The Christian virtue of love is what it is only in light of what we learn from Jesus. Unfortunately, some still misunderstand what Jesus did to this day. To answer the problem of evil, God himself became man, to suffer what we suffer, to be rejected as we have rejected, and to die an unjust death on a cruel cross, completing his experience as part of his own creation. The death of Jesus on the cross was the ultimate self-sacrifice of love. In the gospel of John, Jesus says:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
(John 15:12-13)

God does not only teach us what love is, he continually embodies it for us. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was not about appeasing an angry god, as some systems claim, but rather it was God acting in accordance with himself as the fundamental truth. The death of Jesus was the ultimate point of the Divine Love.

At this point, we should take a step back, because the story does not end here. Going back to I Corinthians 13, quoted above, I want to point out something else that is happening in that context. As Paul is describing love, he is describing it as a better way, in contrast to spiritual gifts such as healing, tongues and prophecy. This says something about love that I think we miss amid the controversial nature of “spiritual gifts.” What Paul is describing as love is not just an abstract idea- it is a true power. In fact, it is more powerful and more important than physical miracles that the Corinthian church experienced. That power that they experienced would eventually come to an end- but love never will. Even when our true vocation is restored, and we live completely in harmony with the Divine Love, this love will still continue to be, just as it has always been. The Divine Love is truly eternal, and there is true power in it.[2] And it is this power that won the victory on that decisive day of history.

If you think about it, by our own superficial logic, we wouldn’t see the plan of God coming. If the problem of evil is caused by sin, and someone was coming claiming that he was going to deal with sin and defeat the power that it held, we would probably think this person would come in great power and fight a battle (whatever that might look like) to win victory over the power of sin and death. Indeed, this was the common Jewish conception of the coming Messiah, the one who would restore the world to its original intention. However, this shows our own misunderstanding of the fundamental truth. The omnipotent God came not as a conquering King, but rather in humility, as a servant to those he created. God acted in accordance to his very nature in effort to set a message of good news to all nations, that though we have rebelled and given ourselves over to the power of sin and death, there is hope. The God-Man has come and won the victory through his self-sacrifice of love. The Divine Love. This was always the mission of Jesus, as he quotes from Isaiah after healing many people:

This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
(Matthew 12:17-21)

Note the gentleness and love that is seen in the coming Messiah, yet also pictured is his decisive victory that brings forth hope. For so long, many Protestant and evangelicals have proclaimed a message of divine wrath and Jesus’ sacrifice as a satiation thereof. We have focused so heavily on the gruesome nature of the cross, the pain and agony that Jesus went through, and the blame that we all share for crucifying him, that I fear we have missed the big picture that the cross embodies. The cross was the acting of the Divine Love, God himself sacrificing for us because of his love for us. The pain and suffering that Jesus went through prior to and during his death only highlights the love he had for us to willingly die, as a sheep lead to the slaughter, knowing that through his sacrifice of love, the power of sin and death would be defeated, and a new hope would arise- a hope that we know we can be restored to our true vocation through Christ (more on this later). Jesus won the victory on the cross.[3]

“None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:8-9)

There is a true power that comes from love, and through that power death’s hand has been tied. You might say, how does Jesus death say anything about defeating death? Jesus died- how can that mean victory over death? And this is true, if the story ended there. But since the beginning, the core message of Christianity has been not that Jesus died, but that Jesus died and was raised to life again. The resurrection is the lynchpin of Christianity, and without it, the message has no power. Paul makes this point clear in his letter to the Corinthians:

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
(1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

But through the power of Love, Jesus was raised, and thus Paul can go on to say:

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
(1 Corinthians 15:20-28)

This is the message of victory, and the victory is won through the Divine Love.

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(I Corinthians 15:54-56)

It was through suffering and self-sacrificial love that the power of sin and death was defeated. It has been said before that instead of giving a clear, simple answer to the problem of suffering, God came to suffer with us. Just like the friends of Job (for the first seven days at least), sometimes the best answer to suffering is simply to sit and bear the suffering with those affected. That’s not to say there isn’t a much to be developed theologically from the death and resurrection of Christ, but just to say that we shouldn’t miss the actual event due to our theological treatises. We may never in this age have the perfect answer to suffering- but we do have the perfect example. And it is through Him that we understand everything else.

(to be continued in part 4)
________________________________________________

[1] Forgive my brevity at this point. This concept is in no way simple, I am only approaching it in this manner because of the foundation I have already laid previously.

[2] If you will not think me irreverent, I actually think the Harry Potter series provides a good analogy to the Divine Love. The foundation of the entire plot is the power of the self-sacrificial love of Harry’s mother.

[3] For a more robust treatment of the Christus Victor theory of atonement, see N.T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution began. Much of this section relies heavily on this book.

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