God, Risk, and Evil
Last night, we had a drama group performing at our church (unenviably, on the same night as game seven of the Canucks/Blackhawks series!). Through a series of sketches, the group skillfully and humorously walked us through the basic contours of the biblical narrative—creation, fall, redemption—climaxing, of course, with the resurrection and the hope of new creation. One of the ideas that stood out to me during the dialogue in an early scene which depicted God deliberating with one of his angels about what and how to create, was that in creating human beings, God took a risk.
Now, it’s one thing to say that God took a risk in creating human beings in a fairly light-hearted sketch about human folly, but it’s quite another to affirm this theologically. Did God really take a genuine risk in creating? Do we appreciate the implications of affirming this? How does risk-taking work with a God who is claimed to be all knowing and powerful? Can a sovereign God even take risks? How? Perhaps most importantly, can a God who left certain things open-ended at the beginning be trusted to guarantee the future?
Of course, these questions are hardly new ones, and Christian responses cover a broad spectrum from positing a limited God who doesn’t know everything about the future (i.e., open theism, process theology) to a God who specifically wills each and every event that has ever and will ever transpire in the cosmos (i.e., some of the more extreme versions of Calvinism). Most, obviously, touch down somewhere in the middle.
There are probably many things that factor into our deliberations about how or if God takes risks, but for me, I lean strongly toward a risk-taking God simply because it’s the only way I can make some kind of sense of evil. To imagine that somehow each and every particular instance of evil and suffering throughout history was weighed and measured (and allowed or approved, apparently) in God’s mind before the creation of the universe is not only difficult to conceptualize, but is almost morally offensive. Our world has witnessed and continues to witness such wasteful, gratuitous, truly horrific suffering. Ivan Karamazov famously declared that no truth or harmony was worth the suffering of even one innocent child. I am perhaps more open to a redemption that can heal, if not justify, suffering than Ivan, but to imagine that each and every instance of evil and suffering that our planet has ever seen is somehow necessary to produce some kind of a precisely calibrated harmonious cosmic package is impossible for me.
Easter Sunday is still in the rearview mirror, and whatever else we say about the death and resurrection of Jesus, somehow Christians affirm that these events are God’s response to sin and death and evil and suffering. Easter is not a theodicy, of course. It does not justify God in the sense of logically demonstrating the compatibility of divine attributes and the existence of some abstraction called “evil.” Rather than explaining evil, God absorbs it. Rather than showing how evil was necessary for the kind of world that God had in mind at creation, God enters and transforms it.
Wherever we come down on the matter of God, risk, and evil, I think this is the hope of Easter.