“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17
If God Is So Good, What’s Up With All The Bad Stuff In This World? (Part 2 of 6)
Last time I introduced our topic that theologians call “theodicy,” which is the attempt to untangle the puzzle of how God could be Good and Great while allowing suffering and evil in the world.
Before we get to what God told Adam and Eve not to do, don’t forget two of God’s best commands: Breed and feast! That is, have a lot of sex and eat a lot of fruit! Things sure started on a good foot!
So why in the world would he put a tree in the middle of the garden and then commands Adam and Eve to keep their hands off of it? Was he teasing them? He puts a tree in their face and makes it off limits! What’s the point of that?
The “fake news” that the serpent aired, which has been his mantra ever since: “God is not good. He’s an autocrat and narcissist. Don’t risk your life to a god like that. He just doesn’t want competitors. Take a bite and be his equal!” Given all the suffering in the world, it’s such an easy lie to believe. “God is ripping us off. He’s not good. He’s cheating us out of what he wants to keep for himself! Let’s eat!”
If this is at the root of all temptation and devilish lies then buttressing our confidence that God is indeed good, might well help us avoid many fears, falls, and failures. In fact, goodness is such an integral part of he is character that he can’t help himself. He is the Quintessential Do-Gooder!
David sang: “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:68) Goodness is his nature. As A.W. Tozer says, “God will always act like Himself wherever He is found at work and whatever work He is doing.”
Problem is, as Jesus said, “There is no one good but God,” therefore I wouldn’t know “good” if it slapped me in the face, which it has on a number of occasions! As flawed folks we’re limited in our evaluation of goodness. As Anne Lamott says, “A good name for God is: ‘Not me.’”
Back to the forbidden tree, why would a good God put it there if it bore bad fruit? Why this particular tree?
The tree was an alternative to everything else God put on his planet for the couple to enjoy. It gave them with a choice, something to choose against. Otherwise, their only choice would’ve been God.
Now as good as having no other choice but God sounds to me at the moment, it wasn’t going to produce the world God wanted. God is after humans, not humanoids. He wants friends, not androids. He loves us and wants his love to be reciprocated. It is in the reciprocation of his love that we find our greatest joy. It gave God his greatest pleasure to create us in such a way as to find our greatest pleasure in pleasing him!
And that requires choice. If he gave no alternative to loving him, our love for him could never be freely chosen. If he had programmed us to love him, well, that’s mechanical reaction, and not love.
Picture a dystopian story in which only two people survive, a man and woman who only discover each other after the destruction of the world. After they comb the world for others he makes the calculated decision to propose marriage to her. There’s no one else on the whole planet. His proposal doesn’t exactly swept off her feet! True love requires options––free will.
Having a choice means that a person can say “No.” Unless we can choose not to love, we can’t genuinely choose to love. God didn’t want to us to choose out of lack of choices. He wants more than a working relationship of utility. He indiscriminately sends out his love in hopes that we will freely receive and reciprocate it.
If you think about it, this arrangement with us is pretty dang risky. It could (and did) turn out to be less than ideal. An honest view of history, let alone the madness of our present day, reveal that most humans, if not stubbornly reject God’s invitation, overlook it as they busy themselves with alternative loves of their own fabrication. Why then would God take the risk of giving us the power to say “No” to him and allow the possibility of evil? “Because God honors his image in us,” says Bruxy Cavey, “he resists overriding our free choice even when our poor choices have bad consequences.”
The 60s song by Burt Bacharach came on just now in the coffee shop where I’m writing today:
- What do you get when you fall in love?
- A guy with a pin to burst your bubble
- That’s what you get for all your trouble
- I’ll never fall in love again
- I’ll never fall in love again
- What do you get when you kiss a guy?
- You get enough germs to catch pneumonia
- After you do, he’ll never phone ya
- I’ll never fall in love again
- Dontcha know that I’ll never fall in love again?
There are more verses, but you get the point. Love is a risky business. There’s a price to pay for unrequited love. Of course God knew this and yet went for it! “Free will, though it makes evil possible,” says C.S. Lewis, “is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
Therein is the method to the “madness” of his risk-taking project. He risked loss because there is no such thing as love without it. To God, having the hearts of those who are willing to give them over made his method worth it. With him there is no coercion or compulsion, just persuasion. He risked it so he could invite us into his friendship and we could accept his invitation with being coerced. He put himself out there for the sake of romance (after all, we are called his “Bride”) and gave us the choice to accept or reject his proposal.
This freedom to love or not love also applies to how we treat one another. When Jesus condensed all the rules into two: “Love God and love people” he knew that we might well disappoint on both accounts. Although there’s a critical mass of true love and compassion in the world, we’ve also shown the regrettable propensity to hurt rather than help one another.
It seems that the off-limits fruit “selfed” us! Now, rather than the common good, our own good is our first concern. Herein lies the blame for most of the evil and suffering in the world.
When he made the first humans, God stepped back and whispered, “Very good!” That was our legacy until that first bite of that fruit.
God didn’t put evil and suffering in the world. He gave us the choice to “do justly and love mercy” (Micah 6:8), but insofar as we fail to “walk humbly” with him, our chances of doing so are slim. We are not exclusively victims of evil and suffering. We do our own share of victimizing others. So when asked, “What’s wrong with the world?” the novelist and philosopher, G. K. Chesterton, replied, “I am!”
So is God the author of evil and the suffering that follows? My view is that he created the fact of freedom and we perform the act of freedom. He made evil possible by giving us a choice, but we made it actual in the choices we make. Someone said, “It’s not that God made evil or makes us suffer, but he provided us with the option of rejecting him and the consequences consistent with that choice included the perversion of nature and the introduction of suffering.”
This isn’t “The Best of all Possible Worlds” that God could have created. We know it and God knows it. But he speaks of a better one––the best one actually––one without evil or suffering. If he’s as Great as he says he is he can bring about that best world. If he’s as Good as he claims he would certainly want to bring about the best world in the best way. So temporarily allowing evil in this world must be the best way to bring about that best world!
In that world I’m guessing we will freely choose to love him (since that’s what we do now) and we will freely make the loving choice all the time. Just a guess, but a pretty good one I think.
In the next post we’ll explore the question of how much we really need to know in order to live as fully human friends of God.
Here are the links to each of the posts in this series:
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