Necessary Evil: An Apologetic for Choice
I’m sure you’ve encountered folks who are sorely disillusioned with God, the Church, and Christians. Even though I’m well acquainted with all three groups of people, I want to examine the concerns of that first group today—those who are disillusioned with the God of Christianity. These people often have one driving complaint: if God exists and He is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing, why does He allow bad stuff to happen to good people? It’s a legitimate question, and if you’ve ever dealt with a personal tragedy or watched someone you love suffer through one, then you most assuredly have asked this question. Now I’m no great theologian, and so this will not be a rumination or pontification on the nature of evil or any of those deep and profound questions that you would explore in a systematic theology course. Instead I want to share a simple but basic truth that has helped me to reconcile the seeming contradiction between what, for me, are factual truths: the existence of an all-good, -powerful, -knowing, God and an earth-shattering, soul-disturbing evil. Man is not capable of loving God without free will, and where free will exists, evil must also exist. Love cannot be produced through coercion. It can only come through an act of will in the context of choice. But where choice exists, opposites must also exist. If I will love, I must have the ability to hate. If I will do good, I must have the ability to do evil. If I will live, I must have the ability to die.
In the garden of Eden, God put Adam there and gave him a specific instruction, “you may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Genesis 2: 16-17, ESV] Notice that God told Adam that he could eat from any tree in the garden. But it behooved his very life not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God gave Adam a choice, and not only did He give him a choice, but Adam was also fully informed of the consequences. If only we could all be so lucky in this day and time! Even here, I hear naysayers saying, “it’s a rigged choice. How is it fair that if you don’t choose God, you must die? Surely, that isn’t a choice. It’s coercion, dressed up as choice.” Okay, I concede from the outset that it’s a rigged choice, but let me qualify that. By making a choice, Adam locks himself into a particular set of consequences, most assuredly. But is this not the nature of choice? In what world do you live, where you get to choose both your choices and their consequences? We tell our children, “touch a hot stove, and you will get burned.” We don’t wrangle with them over whether or not it is fair that the nature of fire is to burn. We tell them, “get an education, so you can be successful.” We don’t generally debate the merits of having a skilled job market, which requires education and training. So why, in spiritual matters, do we decide that it is our prerogative to challenge God, the Creator of the universe on the fairness and justness of His consequences?
Here is an even more basic truth. Not choosing God is death is because God is life. The grand deception in the Garden what that Adam and Eve thought they could know more without God, than with Him. And that is a profound mistake. They traded a pure knowledge of the good, the beautiful, and the true, which they already had with God, for the supposedly greater knowledge of good and evil. They fell victim to a master deceiver who made them believe that there really is something to live for outside the fellowship of God who is life and love and freedom. We, too, fall victim to this kind of thinking, and it entraps and ensnares us in an endless quest and search for knowledge, love, and freedom, which can only be found in the Source of those things.
Now, the next thing I’m going to say is going to mess with some of you, but it was the inspiration for this piece, so I’m gonna write it. The ability to choose is so integral to our ability to love God that I am a radical believer in choice, not only in spiritual matters, but social ones as well. Many of the most seasoned champions of the faith, pastors, apologists, and theologians, think that Christian integrity demands allegiance to conservative political values. I disagree. On the issue of abortion, I am pro-choice. Here’s why. In the garden, when God placed Adam there and gave him that little speech about the two trees, God knew full well what was at stake and what Adam and Eve would choose. So God could simply have not put the other tree there, but in His omniscience, God understood that any love Adam had to offer would be illegitimate if it did not occur in the context of free choice. It is in choosing to love that our love has integrity. Now God was not only love but life. And even in the garden, in Eden, where Adam experienced perfection, walked and talked with God, named animals, and saw boundless beauty, God left it to Adam to choose his own life, knowing full well that Adam and Eve would choose death. If God gives us choice about eternal matters, namely the future existence of our souls, surely He gives us choice in temporal matters, namely what we do with our bodies. Some critics may be saying, “but abortion gives women the choice not just over their lives but over the life of a baby.” The fall didn’t happen until Adam ate, and when he ate, not only did he get a death sentence, but the entire creation did, too, and mankind forever after. Make no mistake: God was pro-choice, and He told Adam “choose life.” I am fundamentally pro-choice, and I staunchly, unapologetically, choose life. What’s my point? You can believe in the right to choose and still fundamentally believe that what a person has chosen is not right.
By giving Adam a choice in the Garden, and informing Him of the consequences, God stayed true to His nature, in which there is no deceit. Just as God knew full well the consequences of making man and chose to do it anyway, Adam knew full well the consequences of his choices, too. God gave fully of himself, because that is how love acts. The existence of evil in no way negates the existence of God. Here in brief, let me explain my view of evil: God did not create evil. Rather evil is a perversion of what is good. In Christendom, we believe that Lucifer was an angel, but he had free choice and he chose to try to overthrow God, hence perverting God’s original good purpose for him, and instantiating evil. The next time you encounter evil, rob it of its power to deceive, by situating it within the context of your power to choose what is good, beautiful, and true. Hopefully, for you, as for me, that is God.
Written by Dr. Brittney Cooper (Contributing Editor of Apologetics & More)