Divine Gift-love & Evil
If God is all-good, all-powerful and all-wise, why is there evil in the world He created? This is one of the most difficult questions a person can ask and, thus, the subject matter needs to be handled with care. The approach one takes when responding to the problem of evil depends on the perspective of the person posing the question. For example, in my role as a software architect for a healthcare company, I viewed cancer as a disease category. This is much different than the view of cancer I held as I watched my friend John waste away and die from the disease at forty-six years old, leaving behind a wife and three daughters. It was in that second sense that I could consider cancer “evil” and wonder how it could exist in a world I believed was created by a loving God.
Many of us have had personal experiences with the kind of pain and suffering that gives rise to the question being considered here. In fact, mankind has been grappling with the problem of evil since evil first entered the world. Three hundred years before Christ the Greek philosopher Epicurus framed the question this way:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing?
Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing?
Then why call Him God?
This question about the problem of evil is moral in nature. The tacit implication behind it is that if God was really all-good, all-wise and all-powerful, He should have created a universe without evil or suffering. This reveals a presupposition on the part of the questioner that the highest moral value is an absence of evil and suffering. But Christianity teaches there is an even higher moral value than that: love.
Indeed, Scripture is clear on the preeminence of love, teaching not only that God sent His Son into the world to save it because of love (John 3:16), but that we are to do everything in love (1 Cor 16:14), and that God’s love is better than life (Ps 63:3). We are also told to love each other deeply (1 Pet 4:8, 1 John 3:11) because when we love one another God lives in us (1 John 4:12) and the world will know we follow Jesus (John 13:35). In addition, Christianity teaches that the ultimate moral virtue of love is even greater than faith or hope (1 Cor 13:13) and that it binds together in perfect unity the other virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness (Col 3:12-14). And Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love people, adding, “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matt 22:35-40).1 And perhaps most significantly, Holy Scripture teaches that God, Himself, is love (1 John 4:8).
So it’s clear that, on the Christian worldview, love is the highest moral value. But what kind of love is in view? It’s important to establish what is meant by “love” because those who find it difficult to reconcile an all-loving God with the existence of evil often mistake love for kindness, or sweetness, or a sort of fuzzy, sentimental feeling. But if that were the kind of love Jesus lived out when He walked among us He would have lived to be a wise old rabbi! No, Scripture’s view of love is much higher than this. God’s Word teaches “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This higher form of love—the love that desires what is best for the beloved regardless of the cost to the lover—is what C. S. Lewis called Gift-love.2 And it is not just a cosmic edict issued by God for mankind to follow; He led the way by demonstrating this kind of sacrificial love Himself. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6-8). So we see that God’s love is Gift-love because in God “there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give.”3 And in so giving, Divine Gift-love always values the ultimate good of the recipient over their present comfort or happiness.
We see an example of Divine Gift-love in the way Jesus, as Love Personified, did not shy away from using stern words of rebuke with other religious leaders or even His own beloved disciples (Matt 23:27-28, Mark 12:38-40, John 8:44). We also see this kind of love expressed in the fact that God did not hold back evil and suffering from those He loved and called to a special role in redemptive history.4 But the supreme act of Divine Gift-love is witnessed in Jesus Himself, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8).
One of the primary reasons Christ’s sacrifice can be considered the highest act of love in human history is that His life was not taken from Him; rather He chose to lay it down of His own free will (John 10:18). Indeed, love is not love at all if it is not given freely. Consider the alternative. Suppose an android was programmed to confess it’s undying love for its maker. Would that be considered genuine love? Of course not! Nor would it be genuine if someone was kidnapped and forced against their will to declare their love for their captor. For love to be authentic it must be a voluntary expression made by a free moral agent. Therefore, free will is a precondition for any kind of love. And here we begin to see the rub. Moral agents with free will necessarily have the ability to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate. In fact, the very free will that affords a man the ability to love also gives him the ability to choose evil. And because mankind is a morally flawed and fallen race (Rom 5:12) we will inevitably actualize the possibility of evil. Consequently, the source of the moral evil we see in the world today is man’s misuse of the free will he was given.
Thus, the argument for the Divine Gift-love Theodicy can be stated this way:
- Love is the highest moral value and, therefore, must exist in any world God creates.
- In any world where love exists, free will must exist.
- Where free will exists, evil is possible.
- Therefore, any world God creates must necessarily include the possibility of evil.
This conclusion may seem at first blush to be a paradox, but there is abundant Scriptural support for it. The apostle Paul taught that sin was in the world before the law (Rom 5:13). This is consistent with the presence of the serpent in the garden (Gen 3:1-5), which shows that Satan had fallen from Heaven sometime before he tempted Eve. Indeed, when Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18) He was likely referring to Isaiah 14:12-15, which describes Satan being cast down to earth.5 This indicates Satan’s fall happened sometime after the universe was created, but before sin entered the world through man (Rom 5:12). Thus, we can conclude that our universe contained the possibility of evil from its creation.
We’ve been looking at the moral version of the Divine Gift-love Theodicy, which is based on love being the highest moral value. There is also a logical version of this theodicy, which is based on the logical necessity of love. It can be understood as follows: As the Creator of the entire universe (Gen 1:1), God is a necessary being, meaning that His nonexistence is not possible. God is also the ultimate source of love and is, Himself, love (1 John 4:7-8). The transitive property of equality says that if God exists necessarily than love must exist necessarily. Hence it is logically impossible that God, Who is love, could have created a universe in which He/love does not exist. We’ve also established that free will is a precondition for love, which means it is logically impossible that God could have created a universe without free will. And where free will exists moral evil is possible, which brings us to the inevitable conclusion that it is logically impossible for God to create any universe that does not include the possibility of evil. Consequently, the logical version of the Divine Gift-love Theodicy is formulated this way:
- God exists necessarily
- God is love
- Therefore, love exists necessarily
- Therefore, in a world where love exists, free will must exist
- Where free will exists, evil is possible
- Therefore, it is logically impossible for any world to exist that does not include both God and the possibility of evil
In other words, the ultimate answer to the question “If God is all-good, all-powerful and all-wise, why is there evil in the world He created?” is that it could have been no other way.
We can’t claim to know the mind of God or why He chose to make the universe this way (Isa 55:8-9). But we know He is perfect (Ps 18:30) and He is love (1 John 4:8). So anything He allows or ordains is done for the ultimate good of the beloved. What we see in the universe is, as Lewis described, a God Who “needs nothing, choosing to love into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.”6 And in the Divine Gift-love Theodicy, we find an explanation for the existence of evil that is logically consistent with an all-loving, all-powerful God Who gives meaning to suffering and dispenses justice for evil.
1This teaching was itself, based on foundational teachings that God had handed down to Israel centuries earlier (Deut 6:4-5, Lev 19:17-18). See also Romans 13:8-10
2C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1960/1988), 1.
4See the stories of Abraham, Noah, Jacob, David, Job, John, Mary Magdalene, and Paul (among many other heroes of the faith) who God loved and yet allowed to endure travail and sorrow in their lifetimes.
5Some translations say Satan was cast down to “the ground”.
6C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1960/1988), 127.