As part of this series I have been exploring the idea that what we call evil is actually not so surprising, and indeed was part of the original plan, or at least an inevitable consequence of it.
What are the objections to this line of thinking, for I can hear them coming! :
Objection 1 : The Biblical text is “after the event” :
To argue that Romans 5:1-5 justifies suffering and hardship is to suppose that this was always the way it was supposed to be, whereas this merely describes the nature of the world after the Fall. It should have been better and it might have been.
Well, I suppose that’s just a point of view and I have to concede it. It is certainly what most people think, and the centrepiece of masses of systematic theology. The counter argument is that man’s original creation in under blessing (Genesis 1:28) . The notion of “original blessing” as opposed to “original sin” is a fascinating thought !
Objection 2 : There’s too much bad stuff !
The idea of inherent struggle, challenge and evil in the world would work for a little bit of it here and there, but the vale of evil is so deep and so great. It doesn’t amount to good character development so much as perpetual destruction.
This is certainly true. The penetration of sin into man’s development has spread not just into the nature of society but also in his psyche. Our own sin and our fear and hatred of sin in others shapes our very civilisation and personal approach to life – it’s why you lock your door when you go out. But is doesn’t counter the view that human choice is the cause, and we can always choose differently.
Objection 3 : What about natural evil ?
This is also a good point, indeed probably an insurmountable one. Some of the things the natural world can do to us amount to more than temporary hardships that breed character. Some afflictions, diseases and natural disasters are so enormous they transcend any sense of “benefit”. Well, maybe – but the main thrust behind most human endeavour is to make life better. Overcoming our threats, even from nature, is the root cause of most of our purposeful activity. It is an interesting meditative thought to imagine an actual, perfect world…
All of these objections frankly, stand. I haven’t found the magic answer to evil and suffering, any more than 2000 years of Christian predecessors have. However, let me say this. I fervently believe that the notion that this world and its inhabitants are not miserable failures but strivers, children of God, and people of purpose who are overcoming much and capable of much more. The idea has got legs. We do not need to see ourselves as cursed, merely dependant.
The Fall story is not about what we did, but rather a statement of who we are – contingent, dependant, partners with God, endowed with free choice. We were never meant to act alone, and frankly, cannot do so now. We live, as one writer put it, under “original blessing” as sinners and the invitation to live in communion with God is perpetually open. The choice inherent in our creation is still open to us.