By L. Alfred James
There is an astonishing amount of evil in our world. Consider these three levels of evil events:
- Some evil events happen at a local level. For instance, in February of 2020 a sweet 6-year old girl in Cayce, South Carolina was strangled to death by one of her neighbors who then slit his own throat. This grisly crime stunned everyone in the metro Columbia area.
- Sometime evil is felt at a national level, such as the Las Vegas shooting a few years back. On October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock sprayed automatic gunfire into a crowd of thousands of people. He killed 58 people and wounded more than 400. This tragedy deeply affected almost everyone in the United States.
- Some evil events unfold on an international scale, such as the holocaust. Between 1940 and 1945, the Nazis killed more than six million Jews. Likewise, in 1994 nearly a million people (Tutsis and moderate Hutus) in Rwanda were killed by militia members and government leaders. Both of these tragedies have left an indelible scar on the international community of the world.
Regardless of how far-reaching these events are, there is only one word to describe them: evil. There is no other word for it.
Evil is a clear and undeniable reality in our world. But the existence of this much evil poses a difficult question for many Christians. After all, they reason, if God is all powerful, why doesn’t he stop such senseless acts of violence? Doesn’t he care? Why would he let these kinds of things happen? Is he, perhaps, not all-powerful (so he is incapable of stopping these things)? Or is he, perhaps, not all-loving (so he does not care to stop these things)?
The Reality of Free Will
There is no way to reconcile the existence of evil with God’s goodness without believing in human freedom. God has given human beings an incredible gift. Freedom. Human beings have genuine free will. They have the ability to choose good or to choose evil.
And there is an important reason for this gift: You can’t have genuine love without genuine free will. If people do not love God (or love other people) freely—if they are forced to do so because God makes them—then it is not genuine love. If God simply “programmed” us to act lovingly (as if we were computers), and we engaged in benevolent behavior because we were compelled to, we would not be truly loving anyone. We would just be doing what we were forced to do.
Love cannot be coerced, it cannot be forced. Forced love is a logical impossibility just as much as a married bachelor or an even number that isn’t divisable by two. You can’t have forced love anymore than you can have a five-sided triangle. Real love, by its very nature, cannot be coerced.
Thus, to preserve the authenticity of love in this world, God gives people true freedom. However, this means that people can choose to do evil things. It is the inescable byproduct of freedom.
A Perfect Marriage?
The movie The Stepford Wives tells the fascinating but chilling story of a brilliant scientist, Claire Wellington, who decides to make the world a better place. As a brain surgeon she devises a procedure to make women into robots who behave perfectly and do everything their husbands want them to do. She believes this will make the world a much better place. It will end all marriage problems and solve so many of the world’s difficulties.
After all, who wouldn’t want a little less chaos in their world? A trouble-free marriage? A peaceful family life for children? No more divorces?
In the movie, Claire’s husband, Mike, explains to Joanna (Nicole Kidman) and her husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick) the benefits of scientific engineering: “If you could streamline your partner, if you could overhaul every annoying habit and every physical flaw, every moment of whining and nagging, just imagine being able to enjoy your mate only at their best.” Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?
But there is a problem with all of this. And Joanna gets to the heart of the problem when she asks Walter, “Is this what you really want? Women who behave like slaves?… These machines, these Stepford wives, can they say ‘I love you’?” When she is told that they could say it in 58 languages, Joanna, with pleading eyes, asks the key question: “But do they mean it?”
Walter ultimately chooses to let his wife keep her freedom. He believes that a free, though imperfect love, is far-superior to the counterfeit of a coerced love from a robot wife.
God has made a very simliar choice with the human race. He could have created a Stepford world where there is no violence, where everyone lives in harmony with everyone else, where everyone obeys God all of the time. But it would come at too great of a cost. It would come without free will, without true love.
You cannot have a fallen world in which people are free to love, unless they are also free to do evil.