journey post 26—Honest to God, part 4: The terrible corollary to freedom
Understanding why the world created by God is filled with evil requires that we first know—or have some idea of—what God is truly like. It’s easy to misinterpret what people do when we don’t know their heart motivation. It is the same with God. This is why I’ve invested time in these posts seeking to introduce you to the father heart of God.
Humans have done a fair job of mucking up the image of God, thereby hiding what he is really like. The resulting dysfunctional theology pictures him primarily as judge, waiting to throw most of our mortal souls upon the scrap heap of eternity and light a match. We long for a “better place” to go to, but the prospect seems dim. We grow up in dysfunctional families and environments with an image of God suspiciously like our parents; we are told to believe in Jesus so he will take us to that better place, but the prospect of facing the judge leaves unease because we know he knows what we’re really like….
When Jesus came to his own, he found them struggling under heavy burdens placed upon them by those who were charged with shepherding them and teaching them the ways of God: these were instead leading Israel further from God and making him appear a hard task-master—a situation not unlike today. Jesus excoriated the teachers who “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,” who work diligently to make a single convert and then “make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” God intended Israel to be a light to the world. But Israel’s teachers clouded the light.
Above: Jesus rebukes the teachers of Israel
Jesus came into a world that finally rejected him. He came as the light to reveal God. He came to his own people, “but his own received him not.” They “preferred darkness rather than light,” says John, the apostle of love; they preferred evil and ran from the light and then tried to snuff it out.
Far be it from me to assume that I know all the ways of God. I do know this, however: he is my Father and I am his adopted son. This is the perspective from which Jesus taught his disciples to view God. Seeing him as Father does not mean that his sovereignty, holiness, or righteousness aren’t important. It does mean that we shouldn’t lose sight of the heart behind the majesty—his father heart; it is that heart that enables us to understand the Scripture, “For God so loved the world that he gave …”
Today, many have missed what Jesus actually did before he went to the cross: he reintroduced his people to God. He came with a message of good news (or, “gospel”) that God his Father (“Abba”) was establishing his kingdom, sending his Messiah to announce it and secure it in the only way possible: to die for the people as the ultimate sacrificial lamb, as ransom and redeemer. His own people didn’t receive him. But to those who did, (the outsiders, the outcasts, and those who didn’t share the bloodline of Abraham): to those who believed in his name, “he gave the right to become the children of God.” (See John 1.)
Jesus taught the disciples to see God as their father (“Abba”)
This was so counterintuitive that one of his close followers, Judas—when he realized that Jesus was not the king he expected and that he was not going to lead a great army and overthrow the Roman oppressors any time soon—sold Jesus out. When Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross, some of his other followers were still envisioning great honor for themselves, and they cowered as their dreams collapsed.
Jesus not only reintroduced God by his teaching (“blessed are the poor in spirit,” “love your enemy,” “the first shall be last,” etc.): he came to show them God, he came to live out, in the only way that humans might finally get it, the heart of his Father. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
Knowing his father heart helps us realize why he is not the puppet master God or the powerless God, nor is he the one who delights in raining down fire and brimstone. Neither is he one who can overlook evil: he’s hardly ready to give Hitler a pass. No, he is not what human imagination or logic dictates. He is who he is.
So why didn’t God reveal himself completely as Father from the start? I’m not sure, but he reminds me of good teachers in their first weeks of class: absolutely hard-nosed in order to “put the fear of God” into the students so they can then be free to show how much they really care. Otherwise, their hands and time are filled with discipline problems. This same kind of problem resulted from the teachings of some in the 19th century who tried to portray God’s “loving” fatherly side (if not his father heart), and so lulled hearers into thinking that sin did not matter to him. The cross says otherwise.
I wrote earlier about the conscience: humans are hard-wired to be aware of God’s expectations, and this leaves us filled with dread that the creator will hold us accountable. We half expect the dread judge to break loose all hell upon our misdeeds and lack of action in the face of evil. We suspect him of working our downfall, pulling out our supports, and sending bad guys, horrific disasters and ravaging disease.
Instead, he sent Jesus. This is the real mystery of God.
Jesus is called the “light of the world” because he reveals who God is and what his perspective is. What Jesus did and what he taught are revealed in the pages of Scripture (especially the Gospels). Immersing myself in those books has changed how I view a lot of things, including the old debate about freedom vs. determinism in the universe, and how to think about God and evil. Great philosophers and theologians have waxed eloquent in thick, erudite tomes written on this subject, examining every conceivable angle in the debate, yet many of them have missed the insights that come from knowing the father heart of God. Their writings can add confusion about what God is up to and why he would allow evil in our lives.
You might scratch your head, wondering how theologians—many of whom are good, godly people sincerely seeking solutions—would come up with such contradictory answers working from the same Bible. Much of that is due to differing presuppositions about God and humankind. Some see God’s sovereignty as the single most important factor in all of existence, so we humans can do nothing on our own or without his permission. Others see man’s free will as the key to all this. Some exalt God in such a way that it makes man unimportant, and some exalt man, created in God’s image. From such presuppositions come the various interpretations of Scripture that clash so greatly.
Here’s my take.
We must look at pain, suffering, and evil with God’s heart in mind. Doing so is like considering a good parent. Just as any good parent would not force their children to love them or trust them, even if they could, so the Father does not force people to love him, or trust him, or do the good that he would want. This is not a question of God’s power to stop evil: he could but he won’t. This is why I call it the “terrible corollary to freedom.” If he were to do that, then love could never be genuine love and trust could not be genuine trust. We love him because we respond to him loving us. We trust him because we find him trustworthy. You can see the same thing in the first disciples. Easter morning removed the doubts and demonstrated for them his complete trustworthiness. They changed the world.
The “terrible corollary” is this: if God leaves us free to love, to trust, or want the good, then we are also free to not love, to not trust, and not to want the good. We are free to do our own agenda. Evil is the result.
Evil is incomprehensible, but the terrible corollary to God not making us love, trust, or do good, is that evil must exist. Otherwise, there could be no real love or good. If you were God, what would you choose?