I’ve written a series of posts on this blog about why I believe what I believe, but I didn’t, at that time, make any effort to address what I think is the best objection against my belief that there is a God and the Bible is His Book. Of all the arguments against a belief in the God of the Bible, this is the one I find the most compelling, both emotionally and intellectually. And the most personal.
If God is all-loving and all-powerful, then why evil? Why does the world look the way it does? What’s wrong with the world?
Astonishingly, there are still those who want to deny the existence of evil. Or at least cling to a belief in the fundamental goodness of humankind. If this is you, please run right out and enroll in the first world history class you can find. You won’t have to dig deep. You could just look around.
I remember two years ago hearing the story of a couple who were biking around the world, and the man wrote on his blog: “Badness exists, sure, but even that’s quite rare. By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind. No greater revelation has come from our journey than this.”
And then they had a different (though very short-lived) revelation. They did not survive the bike tour. Before they could complete their travels, they were stabbed to death by ISIS adherents. (Article here.)
I’m very glad that most of the people I know are generous and wonderful and kind, but if that’s our natural state, I’d have a very hard time explaining human history. I’d be left scratching my head at the wide-scale atrocities every single civilization has managed to achieve. Including our own. (Yes, I count the legalization of the slaughter of millions upon millions of our own offspring as an atrocity of modern civilization.) For those who think civilization itself must be the evil influence, nope! Wrong! Atrocities are the default. Even the people groups who weren’t large enough in number to attain civilization status, when actually studied rather than mythologized, the norm was that any group of people who was able partook in their share of warring, killing, enslaving, abusing. There have always been pockets of unselfishness, generosity, and kindness, but these are pockets. Not norms. There are wonderful, generous, kind people, and most people have wonderful, generous, kind moments, but a short survey of human history taken as a whole should quickly dispel the idea that we are fundamentally good. We are fundamentally flawed and occasionally good.
Blaming circumstances and saying, “We’re all just products of our environment,” doesn’t fly. Isn’t it true, rather, that our environment is just the product of us? The system is rotten, true! But the system is us!
I suppose I got onto this train of thought recently with all the “defund the police, abolish the police” demands being floated (and seriously considered in some cities) after the death of George Floyd and the reactionary riots. I think the demands are growing from the erroneous thinking described above: the belief in the fundamental goodness of humankind.
The idea seems to be that not only are they unnecessary, the police are the source of the problem, not an attempt at a solution. All crime and unrest would disappear with the police if police forces could be made to disappear. By implication, no one is bad. Except the police! If we should abolish policing because we have no need for such an entity, all of humanity must be basically good. Except this one small segment of it which (mysteriously) must be the source of the bad. Why the rest of us are good, and the bad people have all chosen to congregate into one career (and one that is ostensibly built around helping people in need) is never explained.
I see the notion of the fundamental goodness of humankind behind the cries to “defund the police,” but it’s a little hard to take seriously coming from people apparently intent on disproving it. When the protests around the corruption of the police forces are invariably accompanied from city to city to city by rioting, looting, and burning, I remain unconvinced by the fundamental goodness of humankind. Or by the non-necessity of some sort of outside restraining influence on all that fundamental non-goodness.
I hope the experiment happens, though. Not in my own little town, thank you very much, but in places where the demands to “defund the police” are the loudest and the silence of those who may be opposed to the idea is the most deafening. As one YouTube commentator pointed out, if the only voices, however few in number, being heard in a city or district are the ones speaking out loudly for defunding the police, then the other voices who aren’t speaking out in support of keeping the police are abstaining from the vote. If only a few voters on one side show up to vote and everyone else abstains, guess which side wins? And I believe in democracy. I don’t think it ever will, but because I believe in democracy, I hope the experiment happens. Give the governed the government they ask for.
(On a side note, the one bright spot in 2020’s news cycle for me has been the establishment of Seattle’s newest anarchist state, CHAZ: Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone–a police-free nation within the nation. I’m fundamentally flawed enough to find the situation hilarious. Leaks from the inside of this takeover sound like a Lord of the Flies re-enactment. We’ve lived 1984 and Brave New World long enough. It was about time for Lord of the Flies.)
And that brings me around to the question I started with: “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, then why evil? Why does the world look the way it does? What’s wrong with the world?”
What’s wrong with the world is what’s right with the world: freedom!
I believe God was the original (small d) democrat. He gave the governed the government they asked for. When humanity, from its inception and every other step along the way, rejected His governance, He gave us what we asked for. All of us, at various times and in various ways (and many do so by denying His existence), have told God to butt out and mind His own business and let us do what we want to do. And He complies. He is the God of freedom.
But after He butts out and lets us do what we want, we can’t believe He would do such a thing. Then we point to the results as one more reason to reject His rule. That’s the opposite of the moral we should be taking away from the potent object lesson that is our history.
The reason I say I hope the experiment of defunding and disbanding the police is tried somewhere is because I want everyone to see the folly of it. In living colour. There’s no sense providing any good thing for people who don’t want it. The quickest way to teach a person what he doesn’t want is to give him what he asks for. But only the wisest or humblest will be able to admit that they didn’t really want what they thought they did. The broad way to destruction is filled up with people in stubborn denial. And likely, if the experiment of defunding the police is tried anywhere, denial as to the obvious results will be the general reaction of those who chose the experiment. But there will be others who acknowledge they were wrong. It’s for their sakes I think the experiment is worth trying.
When I look around at the world today and at what’s wrong with it, I see a world where we were given what we asked for. The point is to teach us the error of our ways. Taken as a whole, it certainly doesn’t seem to be working, but God doesn’t take the world as a whole. He works individually with individuals. I’ve come to see that letting evil apparently run rampant is what He often uses to make some of us sick to death of doing our own thing–to learn to hate evil. To admit we were wrong. He lets evil run rampant to show us what evil really looks like.
There’s a verse from 2 Chronicles 12 that, when I stumbled across it, helped answer in my own mind the theological problem of a good God and a world of evil. In the chapter, the situation is one where Israel and Judah had rejected God’s rule (v. 5), and so He removed His protection from them and turned them over to the alternative: the King of Egypt. The King of Egypt was not all about freedom but slavery. 2 Chronicles 12:8 says, “Nevertheless they will be his servants, that they may distinguish My service from the service of the kingdoms of the nations.” God would allow His nation to be enslaved by evil so they could really understand the choice they’d made.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think God abandoned us after we rejected Him. I think He gives us a heaping helping of the result of that rejection. But He would only do so on the grounds that He can somehow bring good out of all the evil and use it for His own good purposes and His own good plan.
Ultimately, that plan was redemption. Buying back. Out of slavery and anarchy. The buying back of any willing to return to His governance of love and grace and goodness. And freedom. And He is constantly taking the results of our rejection of Him and using it to further His aims of redemption. The most striking example of this behaviour was His own death by criminal’s execution. Our ultimate rejection of Him became His ultimate act of our redemption.
Another way I’ve come to see that He accomplishes the buying back of individuals using the results of our rejection of Him is through giving us that large taste of those results and letting us gag on the bitterness of it. How else could we make an informed choice between the fruit of the tree of life and the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil without the putrid aftertaste of the latter being allowed to linger in our mouths?