Recently I was talking with some friends about suffering and God’s work in suffering. During the conversation I posed this question, “Was suffering part of God’s plan for creation?” While on the surface it may sound like a simple question it leads us to some interesting places. The traditional view of God’s “pre-fall” creation is that there was no suffering, death or pain. That is why it was called “very good.” However in recent times as evolutionary theory has matured scholars have begun to try to reconcile death, suffering and imperfectness that are required for evolutionary natural selection to fit inside the Genesis narrative and a larger understanding of God’s goodness.
Now, I want to make this disclaimer, I am not a Hebrew scholar. I am however a follow of Jesus, who I believe is the human manifestation of God’s character. And here’s where I have a problem with the idea that traditional evolutionary process was the planned processes by which God accomplished his creative work. Jesus’ teachings, as I understand them, are based on the idea of love for God and neighbor. That love manifests itself in holding others as valuable as yourself. Serving others. “Whoever among you wants to be great, must be a servant of all,” Jesus said. And in this lies the rub.
Noted author Robert Wright explains that the compassion and empathy that we feel are actually evolutionary processes that are at their core self serving. Even what we may perceive as goodness in humans is actually self serving. This flies in direct conflict with Jesus’ teaching and example of self sacrificing love. Evolution at it’s core cannot function unless the great become greater and the weak become weaker, even if it is through a smoke screen of kindness. For the gene pool to be improved, the weak must be eliminated and the strong must survive.
So this brings me to why I think this whole evolution thing matters. If God’s will, the creation of man, was accomplished through the great becoming greater and the weak becoming weaker then the God revealed by Jesus and the God of evolution are peddling different value systems. The cross itself is the antithesis of survival of the fittest. It is the crescendoing statement by God that He is among us and he doesn’t play by our rules.
When we pair God with the unwieldy tool of biological evolution, we end up with a God that has his hands dirty in the very plot he is supposedly rewriting. Now, does this mean that God does not work in and among evolutionary processes? By no means. God works in and among death, suffering, wars, famines, sin. The cross is enough evidence of this for anyone. Does this make Him the originator, the planner? I don’t think so. The problem is, if God is the architect of suffering and death why are we so hopefully waiting for and participating in the coming Kingdom? What is God making right if what we perceive as wrongs are actually part of his plan? The redemptive work of God, to me, ceases to have meaning if it is carried out by a God who originated the “evil” He is righting.
When God created man, I believe He took a great risk, perhaps the greatest risk. He chose to create beings that were independent from Him. The upside of this risk? I’m not entirely sure but I think part of it has to do with relationship. The down side? These independent beings could choose their own way, including paths that would lead to their own demise. Death and suffering entered the world through the decisions of independent beings that had the freedom to choose their own path. And likewise death and suffering are continued to be carried out by the choices of those independent beings.
To me, this message contains so much more hope. There is hope for humankind to choose a way that ultimately leads to less suffering less death, mainly the way of Jesus.
As always I love conversation agreeing or disagreeing with what I write. I know this post in particular covered a lot of ground and didn’t cover it very completely. Feel free to leave comments, or if you know me personally, give me a call or text and let’s hang out and chat. I hold my ideas in loose hands that are ready to learn.