My Theodicy is Better Than Yours
What is God guilty of? What sin has he committed for plunging this suffering world into a hurricane of blood and shame? He created a world where creatures are free to exercise their will. The rules were simple. Possess a body locally in a space. The space will be inhabited by other bodies. Do as you like in your body, eat what you want, sleep, have sex, run and jump. Enjoy yourself and the others and the world and all will be bliss. Just don’t do one thing. Don’t disobey him. Because if you do, the rules will change. You won’t be able to eat whatever you want, because there will no longer be enough for both you and someone else. If you both desire the same fruit, only one will win while the other will experience a loss. Now you may ask, why must the rules have changed for my disobedience? I’m sorry that I broke the rules. Is there not some other way to recompense? Let’s retain the old rule — I’ll do whatever it takes to get back to that. But it’s too late. What’s done is done. God doesn’t play fair. And this is his sin. So it goes.
But is this the reality of evil’s origination? Or is it merely a shallow understanding of one isolated ancient text that was never intended to tell such a terse story? It is difficult to know where to begin if we are to make sense of the why for evil’s proliferation. For Christians, what evil is has been a case closed for centuries as the privatio boni: the privation of good. However, to understand what this means we must first understand what is even meant by the name God.
Under a classical understanding, God is the fundamental source of all reality who is not contingent on anything outside of himself. Contingency would imply that what has come about did not need to. It could have been otherwise. Your sanity is contingent on whether or not you drink a cup of coffee this morning. It might happen, it might not. And by God if it doesn’t happen then Kevin better stay the **** out of my office today or I swear. God isn’t like this. There are no “ifs” when it comes to his nature. There are no possibilities that might lead to him being in some other way. He simply is as the necessary hook for which the fabric of all contingent reality hangs upon.
God is also pure act, meaning that he does not have any potential to do something other than what he is already doing. Moreover he is the Good. The word Good here referring to more than just moral perfection. A Tesla sports car driving down the freeway may be in good working order, tactfully zipping through traffic on the way to saving the environment from the Texan factory it came from (which also happens to be killing it but shhhh we don’t need to talk about that). And yet despite the car’s non-reliance on that smelly, evil gasoline it still has the potential of breaking down along the road of salvation. We would call this breakage something that is not good. Not morally evil, mind you — although that’s debatable — but at least not in good working order. God, however, is good in the ultimate sense of the word. He is the fulfillment of all conscious desire. Because, admit or not, we all want the perfect Tesla. And so we pray: deliver us Elon.
Therefore anything in a separate category from this ultimate source of pure act must have the potential to be other than what is desired. A daisy can grow to sport it’s magnificent contrast of white and yellow to the gardener’s eager nose. Or a weed can spread into its home and choke out its life like a Walmart in a small town. For the daisy there is contingency and potentiality. This prevention of growth; this privation of the good the flower was intended for: we call evil. And so in this way, ahem … you see … well, we must conclude … that um … Walmart is evil.
And so let it be that this definition of evil is correct for the sake of argument among us simple-minded religious folk. Yet still, how doth thee privation of good comest about in a world created very Good by thy Lord. Here of course, free will is the token answer.
The world got dunked on by humanity because apparently there was a greater good than the goodness of the world itself. And that good thing was free will: the human’s ability to choose to do anything, even something that is not good. Or so the story goes. Many Christians today will say something like, it would have been evil if God had created humans without the ability to not love him. Because supernatural forced love is divine rape. Or it would be the eccentric egoism of an all powerful, narcissistic puppeteer playing with his puppets in a game of fake, ‘Let’s all love each other’ for all of eternity in his mother’s temple basement. That isn’t true love, they say. It’s perverse.
But this story assumes something not quite right, doesn’t it? It implicitly assumes that the will is the defining characteristic of a rational being. This story says that our identity belongs to what we will. Because after all, you are what you choose to do for work. You are what you decide to wear. You are what you choose to eat and we all know it is your will to eat your cat’s Fancy Feast meal because the commercials make it look so good and it’s fine she can miss a meal for once that little fat-ass and besides you just hafta know what it’s like just this one time you sick, sick piece of shit. You get to define who you are by what you want to do.
Your will will prove if you are a good person or a bad person. It is only after you choose that God will know if you love him or not and only then will your true nature be revealed. Of course, this was already decided for you in the garden 6,000 years ago when Adam chose wrongly and now because of him your true nature is a flaming dumpster fire that you inherit at birth and there’s nothing you can do about it you totally depraved ugly baby.
But cheer up, God sent himself to save you from himself for the punishment he rightfully owes you for you not choosing to believe in him because of your totally depraved nature. How pathetic that you can’t understand this glorious sacrifice after the crap you pulled by being born a despicable unbeliever.
Or … just maybe … a human is not defined by what she wills. Perhaps a created rational being was instead always intended to be truly “free.” But of course, to make this statement we are committing the ultimate sin: redefining ‘freedom.’ But for the sake of entertainment let us ask what does it actually mean to be free? Is it the ability to choose whatever one wants? Maybe so. But if so, then we must ask what does one want? What do you desire? Where does desire come from?
We wouldn’t want to say that God created humans with a defective desire right from the word go. So what sort of desire should humans be created with? Wouldn’t it be good if humans were made with the desire for something … I don’t know … good? But what is good?
What is good you ask? Please read all of the above again and stop asking stupid questions, dumb-ass. God IS Good! Which means that humans were created with the desire for God. Not, as it were, with the desire to exercise one’s boundless will merely as a means to define one’s self. No. We were created with a desire — a Good desire — for that which is most true about reality. The hook upon which we techno-colored dreamcoats hang. The pure act which has no potential to not fulfill desire.
Having a built-in desire intrinsic to our nature is not an impingement on free will. Freedom isn’t just about getting what you want. It’s about obtaining your true desire because your true desire stems from the very nature of what you were intended to be, which is a child of God. If one is given the identity of a violinist, then she will be most free when she has mastered the violin. Her desire is to be what she was created to be and so anything interfering with her ability to perfect her muse with the violin, even her own choices, would be a violation of her true free will, whether she has forgotten this desire — this goal — or not. To have ultimate freedom, one must be what they were always made to be; end of story.
For God, though, he was not made. God is the source of all reality as the uncreated mover. Therefore freedom for God is absolute. He cannot be what he is not. He is what he is and does what he does. Freedom is derivative only from him.
For this reason created beings are not ultimately free unless they are also of the same essence as God. Freedom for creation would be the ability to be what God intended for it to be. And so if freedom is the fulfillment of all desire and being what God intended you to be, then freedom is the ability to choose God. Always.
Now if assuming this correct understanding of what we call “free will” is granted then the next nagging question must be begged:
(1) If God is good then he wouldn’t intend to create a corrupted world. (2) But if he did not create a corrupted world then how or why would his rational creatures reject their ultimate desire?
In other words, why wasn’t heaven the starting point? Given our corrected definitions, why didn’t God create a world where his creatures could be free and nothing would prevent them from fulfilling their true desire of God himself? Something about the Creation allowed for a deviation from this path. So why would a good, good God allow for such a fork in the road?
Here unfortunately the forbidden ‘L-word’ must be used in explaining our faith: It is only logical. This is because of what is entailed by the difference between the infinite and the finite. God is infinite and nothing can prevent him from being who he is, which is the Good, the Truth, the All-Knowing, the ultimate Freedom. Therefore anything he creates must be finite. The finite cannot possess all of the same qualities as the infinite or else it would be identical to the infinite. For God to create rational beings, they could not possess ultimate goodness, knowledge, or freedom. There must exist some distance of rational grasping between the creature and the Creator. Not because of a purposeful intention for the creation to be lesser, but because being lesser is the logical outcome of being created.
If God were to create a separate being who could rationally bridge the gap between itself and the infinity of total truth, goodness, and freedom then that being would be God himself and this would be akin to stating that God has created God. The only thing more absurd would be Vegeta stronger than Goku. Alas, it is a square circle.
Now this does not automatically mean that the creation was created with some form of inherent evil intrinsic to its being. Being finite does not equal the privation of good. A finite good is still good even though it is not the ultimate Good. But because a finite creature cannot possibly comprehend the fullness of truth or knowledge, which would lead to the infinite goodness and freedom of God, then there must remain some possibility of this finite, rational creature to move in the opposite direction.
The Creation could not have started as heaven because heaven is the term we use for the full presence of God. And the full presence of God does not mean simply standing in his glow like a fangirl in the backstage dressing room of a BTS concert. True heaven, and therefore true presence of God, would be consummation with God: to experience his goodness and freedom in full by being subsumed by him. In short, heaven for the finite only truly and finally exists when the Creation becomes God.
There is a term in Eastern Christianity for this idea called theosis. And it cannot be understood without first recognizing the centrality of our faith: Jesus. Sin or no sin, God has eternally decreed that his Creation would be united with him so that in some mysterious way the Creation would become him. Because of this he eternally predestined the second person of his triune nature to become part of the Creation. The Son of God was always intended to bridge the infinite gap between the Creation and the Father. The Christ entering creation as both a finite being and yet still the infinite God — whether sin were to enter the picture or not — was always intended so as to divinize the finite creation on their journey to becoming God. As St. Athanasius said in the 4th century, “The Word was made flesh in order that we might be made gods. … Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life. For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”
God cannot create God, but God can unite a finite creation to himself so that it becomes himself in some mysterious, ontologically indistinct way (ontological meaning the nature of our being), with the Creation still retaining its own identity. For God to create at all, there must be a journey. There must be a story that begins some distance apart from him and traverses its way to him. But on this journey, due to the unfortunate logical necessity of what being finite entails, there remains a possibility by secondary movement of depriving the creation’s goodness from its participation in the infinite Good.
Creation could not have been created ultimately free. And so while a created being with some rationality still has a will for which to move with some form of independence, it is possible for him to will away from God in ignorance of his true desire. This movement — or this willing — away from the source of all being is a movement toward nonbeing. A slice of cheese has the possibility of becoming swiss cheese in all its hole-filled glory. And it is clearly apparent that swiss cheese is noticeably different than provolone. Yet we know that the holes are not some separate substance in the cheese. They are nothing and yet they exist as empty space, transforming the makeup of what the cheese is. Evil acts in such a way.
Creation has the unfortunate logically necessary possibility of willing the holes into existence. It is not God’s intention, but this failure by secondary causation was the cost he was willing to risk in order to create beings that he knew he could unite to himself regardless. Because that was always his intention as the primary cause. God knew that whether or not his creation rebelled he could nevertheless unite all of it into his own eternity. Thus while the risk for gratuitous suffering was unavoidable the certainty of gratuitous love (and, if necessary, redemption) was guaranteed.
Evil is completely unnecessary and God has always believed this. However, it is a devastatingly unfortunate possibility if anything a part from God is to exist at all. Who bears the responsibility for initiating evil into the cheese fabric of reality? The Creation is. The angels and ourselves bear this responsibility. Because while yes we were created with a logically necessary ignorance, it has never been a complete ignorance. The journey began in God’s presence, despite it not being a fully divinized one. God is closer than you think. He always has been. God is your neighbor.
The God-Man, by way of incarnation in Jesus Christ — the truly human one, was Plan A from the beginning. The Creation was eternally decreed to be the Incarnation so that the gap between finite and infinite could be bridged. This union will suffice no matter what, even in spite of the horrid, gratuitous evil proliferating Creation since practically the beginning. Jesus has made it right, is making it right, and will make it right in the end. Eat your heart out Elon.