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? It is said He created a world where creatures are free to exercise their unfettered will. The rules were simple. Given unto you is a body positioned locally in space. This space will be inhabited by other bodies. Do as you like in your body, eat what you want, sleep, have meaningful relationships, run and jump. Enjoy yourself and the others with you and enjoy the world and all will be bliss. However please refrain from one thing. Never disobey the law of the fruit as ordained by its Creator. For if you masticate in error, the rules will change. No longer will creatures eat to the point of satiation as the once abundant supply will be toiled over by winners and losers. Desire for limited resources inevitably cumulates a violent cloud over the world and as such the subsequent suffering rains upon men.
Why, you may ask, why must the rules have changed for such trivial disobedience? Forgive us for being deceived by the passions of fruit so seemingly arbitrarily spoken to us as outside the realm of provision despite its temptatious geographical position in our paradisiacal abode. Is there not some other way to recompense? Let us retain the old rule — we’ll do whatever is necessary to bring our sheepish selves back into the grassy fold. But it’s too late. What’s done is done. God doesn’t play fair. As some may say, 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 which may have never been intended to tell such a terse, flighty story? It is difficult to know where to begin if we are to make sense of the why for evil’s proliferation. As is known among Christians, what evil is has been a case closed for centuries: the privatio boni — the privation of the Good. However, to understand what this means we must first understand what is even meant by the Good, namely the being of God Himself.
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. No order imposed upon reality necessitates the black pool’s healing qualities. 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 its environment from the Texan factory from whence it came (which also happens to be killing it but shhhh such uninvited trivialities needn’t be discussed in the current moment). 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 its own salvation. Of course we would call this breakage something that is not good. Perhaps not morally evil, mind you — although for our purposes here we can make this concession — but at the very 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. And so we pray to Elon to deliver us because everyone desires the perfect Tesla that neither emits immoral pollutant carbon into the atmosphere nor experiences mechanical defects as part of its natural makeup.
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. 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 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.
As it were, 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 such as, ‘It would have been evil if God had created humans without the ability to not love him.’ Because supernatural forced love is a kind of perverted divine rape. Or it would be the eccentric egoism of an all powerful, narcissistic puppeteer playing with his toys in a disturbing feedback loop of self-congratulatory create-and-be-praised for all eternity. That isn’t true love. True love is freely given and received.
But doesn’t this story assumes something not quite right? Is there not an implicit assumption that the will is the defining characteristic of a rational being? It can be reasonably argued that this story declares our identity as belonging to what we will. Within the modern liberalist sense, you are what you choose to do for work. You are what you decide to wear. You are what you choose to eat. You get to define who you are by what you want to do. Life is defined by the “natural right” to freedom as instructed by uncoerced choice.
Your will proves if you are a good or 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. Even if you retain the Image of God as your original natural identity your will is still what determines your ultimate and final state in relation to Him. 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.
Sarcasm and cynicism aside, it is understandable how this distorted depiction of The Story is truth for so many given the accepted and confusing dogma of Enlightened freedom.
Or … just maybe … a human is not defined by what she wills. Perhaps a created rational being was instead always intended for freedom. But of course, to make this statement we are committing the ultimate sin: redefining ‘freedom’ to something other than pure dichotomic will. 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 the subtly difficult question: what does one want? What do you desire? Where does desire come from?
Ah, there’s the rub. 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? Haven’t we already answered that question?
God IS (the) Good! Quite literally.
Here is where the definition of freedom becomes incompatible with its description given by modern Liberalism. 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. We were created with a desire for God.
Having a built-in desire intrinsic to our teleological 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 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?
It is at this stage we must explore the logic behind the question. We must examine what is inferred 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, and ultimate Freedom. Therefore by logical definition 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.
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 equate to 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.
Thus 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. 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 Christ. 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 general 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 — not inevitability — if anything a part from God is to exist at all. Who bears the responsibility for initiating evil (establishing the holes) into the 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. The garden was declared good, but was never said to be perfect in the finally caused sense. For again this would mean that God had essentially created Himself.
But God is closer than you think. He always has been. God is 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.