Everything at our Sechelt place had been safely put away for the winter. It was a sunny afternoon in late fall. There was plenty of time to catch the next ferry, so I sat for a while on a big boulder down by the water.
Leaving Fido Bay closed up for the winter has always been a sad experience. After a happy summer of outdoor activities—swimming, boating, picnicking, fishing, work on the rock pile, and lots of time for family and good friends around evening campfires—life back in the city has never looked highly enticing.
But on that particular sunny afternoon there on that stone, the most idyllic of my memories only deepened an already deep sadness. A few years previously I had twisted my right knee and torn some ligaments. They took their time about healing and never fully recovered. The next summer I found that climbing around the rough terrain at our Sechelt place wasn’t at all good for a bad knee. We were not far from retirement and we had been planning for years to build a proper house there at Fido Bay. We thought it would be wonderful to live there beside Carsons all year long! But when an old injury to one of Kay’s knees flared up again and both of us had leg trouble, with heavy hearts we decided that we had to abandon our plans to retire at Sechelt. Instead we bought a house at Chilliwack nestled among beautiful mountains in the upper Fraser Valley.
How our circumstances changed within a few years! Kay began to suffer from a painful neuromuscular problem which tied her first to crutches, then to couch, wheelchair or bed. I was alone on that rock because Kay could not come with me to Fido Bay. For us the “good old days” at Sechelt may have come to an end. Our children have all grown up and now live in distant places. Although they love to come back to Sechelt, only seldom can the whole family get together there anymore.
During the previous year our happy, energetic, little short-legged dog literally slowed to a crawl. Though our hearts ached, we had to send Torgi off on a trip from which he did not return.
Not long ago off the little rocky point where Fido stands on guard, we scattered the ashes of Elsie Carson on the waters. Sechelt will never be the same without Elsie.
These unhappy thoughts ran through my mind as I sat there on that rock. The deserted shelter, where we had laughed and sung and celebrated, looked decrepit and forlorn. Winter storms have shabbied it and the seaside dampness has encouraged insidious rot. Carpenter ants are chewing out their tunnels inside the old posts. For years I’ve been patching up the place, always planning to put up something more permanent. But now somebody else will likely build a cabin in the hillside nest which I labored so hard to get ready for building.
My catamaran was lying there, upside down on our great stone wharf. Since I hurt my knee the boat has been altogether neglected. A hole the size of my hand has rotted through the right pontoon and the canvas decking is hanging in tatters. I may never finish my painting of the beautiful panorama up Sechelt Inlet. Its color scheme wouldn’t go so well with the present decor of our house in Chilliwack. Anyway the painting now seeps with sadness. Torgi is sitting there on the patio looking out over the water toward the catamaran at its moorage. But Torgi is no more and the boat is probably done for.
Yellowed leaves were dropping from “Momma’s little alder.” It’s a big tree now, leaning far out over our back steps and landing beach. Will it eventually topple over and lie in the sand?
The tidal current passed slowly in front of me as usual, carrying an assortment of relics: a kelp float, some eel grass, a feather and a fallen leaf among scraps of old bark and driftwood. Those bits and pieces brought to mind the once-vigorous lives whose last remains the tide was bearing away to oblivion. On the sandy bottom, empty shells lay scattered in every direction and in my heart there swirled a strange empty feeling.
White gulls and black ravens kept prowling up and down the shore-beachcombers keeping themselves alive on dead things cast up by the sea. What a strange mixture of good and evil this world is!
When I finally stood up and started for home, that old boulder didn’t care whether or not I ever came back. Perhaps someday my grandchildren will also sit there on that stone and wonder about the death of beauty and strength.
The origin of evil
Everybody experiences events and aspects of the world which they don’t like. In fact we dislike some of them so strongly that we call them downright “evil.” For us the world would have been a much better place without those things.
Whatever that word “evil” may mean to you, when I use the word I mean any feature of this world which somebody will gripe about, whether mildly or bitterly. The range of evils so defined stretches therefore from trivial to tragic, from hangnails to holocausts. The one thing all these evils have in common is that people definitely don’t like them.
Although some alleged evils undoubtedly depend upon people’s imaginations, I cannot agree with those who hold that all evil is merely an illusion. If the deadly evils that many people have to face and fight off don’t have any more actuality than a bad dream, I hope that I never encounter any that are for real!
The existence of any kind of evil, imaginary or otherwise, is perplexing as well as distressing. People with religious convictions feel that the world ought to be thoroughly good. After all, if the source of this world lies in a loving and all-powerful God, he ought to be able to handle such things.
So much evil does occur in the world, however, that many people refuse to believe there is such a “God.” Although disbelievers avoid the strain of trying to keep their faith in God despite the existence of evil, they are still subject to all the other ills which come upon believers. Whatever advantage they gain by refusing to believe in God, they lose again by having to face a world which, without God, must appear to them as ultimately meaningless and devoid of hope. Is unrelieved despair a significant improvement over perplexed faith?
In the traditions of all religions and cultures we invariably find an explanation for the origin of evil.
The Platonic heritage of Western culture tends to regard matter as the despised dregs of a basically spiritual universe. Matter is stupid and stubborn, slow to respond to the voice of the spirit. Material things, along with their close cousin flesh, are considered to be the root of the world’s evils.
Evils have also been considered to be the work of certain evil agents, whether animals, humans, suprahuman beings or gods. But no one really succeeds in explaining how either matter or these evil agents got to be evil in the first place.
In the Book of Genesis we find a simple though subtle story of how, after a discussion with a fascinating “serpent,” the first humans disobeyed an explicit command from God. The original story was later amplified theologically by tacking on the idea that the Creator had hung the future welfare of the whole universe upon one single “pin,” the unfailing obedience of the first man Adam. That theological addition set the stage for a catastrophe that would be used to explain all later catastrophes. The very first disobedient move by Eve and Adam would immediately plunge everything and everybody from that day forward into a perpetual morass of misery. One gets the impression that God had been holding at bay a vast and eager horde of ravenous evils, preventing them from breaking through and blighting his beautiful garden on Earth. That first misdeed, like Pandora’s curiosity, let those demonic destroyers into the world to rove at will throughout the entire universe, wreaking devastating havoc.
Amplified versions of the Genesis story however are always incomplete. They do not reveal the origin of those rapacious evils which human disobedience unleashed, nor do they account for the evil scheming of the mysterious serpent in God’s garden. Later tradition claimed that that serpent was actually either a rebellious angel in disguise or the agent of one such. But who made the angel, giving him the capacity to rebel, to plot against God and deceptively disguise himself? When we commence tracking down the responsibility for the existence of evil, where do we stop?
Among Zoroastrians the evil which the good God has to counteract is the work of another equally strong god, one who is evil. Christians sometimes come close to duplicating this melodramatic struggle between good and evil powers, but they never quite confer upon “Satan” the full status of an evil god.
Sometimes the evils which exist in the world today are blamed on conditions or events that occurred in days gone by. Some Eastern religions teach that we suffer in this life because of evil deeds which we committed during previous existences. Traditionally Christians have been taught that each generation of human beings perpetrates new evils because the first parents sinned and thus corrupted the “human nature” of all their descendants. Science blames all uncontrollable catastrophic events on the aboriginal cosmic randomness of the Big Bang. Translated into plain English, this means that people who get caught in disasters are simply the victims of “tough luck.” Both evil and good have emerged from the same primeval mess. (Since “pure” science is claimed to be value-free [one of its values!], pure scientists never officially search for the origins of evil. Instead they keep their eyes open for possible sources of “error.”)
No traditional explanation of evil really succeeds in explaining how it was that when the world was being created by a good God who was all-powerful, agents of evil could possibly have come into existence. Many people feel that the Creator should never have brought into being any agent with the slightest possibility of going wrong and doing what is evil. Evil ought never to have been even a possibility. If such a thing ever crossed God’s mind, he ought to have said NO! to it immediately.
Any story purporting to reveal the origin of evil without incriminating the Creator must grow longer and longer without ever reaching a satisfactory ending. The problem is like sweeping a collection of dirt again and again from under one rug only to hide it under another and then under another. This may be a smart way to put off cleanliness-inspectors, but it never does get rid of the dirt. Though the world’s storytellers introduce a long line of agents and circumstances into their accounts of the origin of evil, the bottom line will always be the same. If this world has been and is being created by a supreme God who is truly sovereign, no way can be found to explain the existence of evil without laying some of the blame at the Creator’s door.
Some theologians have thought that God’s good name is well enough protected if they maintain that he is never directly responsible for anything evil that happens. They will grant that God may permit the occurrence of evils, but they claim that other free agents must always be held responsible for actually launching them. However if I am present when an evil act is about to be committed, and if I have the power to stop it, but don’t intervene in any way to prevent it, shouldn’t I be held at least partly responsible for the occurrence of that evil deed? Moreover when creatures or people begin to suffer because I did not offer them what I could have given to forestall their suffering, am I not culpable?
A major portion of the world’s evils have, of course, arisen out of the willful wickedness and stupidity of human beings. Humans however were not likely responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs nor for the extinction of all the other creatures that died out during the geological ages before humans ever appeared. Glacial floods overwhelmed primeval forests where no human being had ever set foot. Storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, ice ages and disease viruses are not produced by human powers. Adam’s disobedience may have allowed death to come upon him and his wife, but it was not Adam who invented death.
In the New Testament a suprahuman agent named Satan was blamed for most of the world’s evils. A great deal of illness and calamity was said to have been caused by the evil one, this prince of devils. In the Old Testament the Satan was implicated in the sufferings of saintly Job. If this is actually the case, why does a loving, all-powerful God age after age keep on tolerating the devil’s perpetual subversive activities? Why hasn’t the Creator simply done away with such a troublesome character once and for all? Surely getting rid of the devil would have made more sense than allowing Jesus to be murdered.
The Bible does not contain a completely satisfactory explanation of the origin of evil, one that is straightforward and consistent, one that leaves God entirely in the clear. In story after story the Bible relates how God inflicted terror and destruction upon people. He is said to have raised floods, brought plagues, and initiated invasions with all their atrocities, slaughter and captivities. In the scriptures these awful calamities and disasters are not always regarded as punishments for sin. Sometimes they are said to have been explicitly designed to persuade sinners to repent. Sometimes they are sent to test good people’s level of obedience or to help to perfect the character of persons who already lead godly lives. On other occasions however the same kinds of afflictions are said to be the work of the devil. If the trouble for which God is alleged to be responsible hurts just the same as trouble initiated by the devil, it may be hard to decide just who caused what.
In the chapters just before this one, I was sketching out a worldview which requires a creative act of God at every moment for everything that happens. If God does not act, nothing happens. In our experience much of what actually does happen is perceived as evil. We often complain about it. It may annoy or shock us. Sometimes it horrifies and appalls us. Although my worldview obviously upholds the Creator’s essential sovereignty, someone will nevertheless be sure to feel that my view is terribly dishonoring to God, for it involves the Creator not only with all that is good but also with all that is evil. Like it or not, however, every worldview in which God is portrayed as truly God is open to similar criticism for the same reason.
Many Christians don’t realize that a nonnegligible number of passages in the Bible say that God is the source of events and conditions which are commonly considered to be evil. These seldom-quoted passages are not often listed for public perusal, but here are some in the order in which they occur.
Physical disabilities come from God: “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb and deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”1
In prayer Hannah asserted: “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.”2
Again and again in 1 Samuel we read that “an evil spirit from the Lord” came upon King Saul and terrorized him.3
Poor Job, a righteous and godly man, was stripped of just about everything of value except his life and his disheartening wife. Out of his misery in no uncertain terms he attributed his suffering to God: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away…. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”4
The author of Psalm 90 believed that it is God who sweeps people down to the dust of death. Moreover he prays that God who gives affliction to people will at least equalize things by giving them gladness during the same number of days in which they had been afflicted.5
In Ecclesiastes the preacher advises us to “consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider—God has made the one as well as the other.”6
The prophet Isaiah refers to God as the one who is wise and brings disaster.7 He it is who declares, “I am the Lord and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity.”8
Another prophet, Amos, claimed he had a word from the Lord: “If a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?”9
The remembered sayings of Jesus don’t throw much light directly upon the origin of evil. Although he was acutely aware of people’s sufferings, of bloody massacres and shocking accidents,10 Jesus offered no explanation for such things that was either positive or ultimate. But no one has ever done more than he to rid the earth of evils which beset humankind.
When the Law of Moses was accepted by Israel, blessings were promised to the obedient, but a long and detailed list of terrible curses was pronounced upon the disobedient.” Therefore the Jewish mind was ordinarily convinced that people who keep God’s law should be healthy, happy and prosperous. Any who are suffering must somehow have sinned against God.
While Jesus on a number of occasions recognized a connection between sufferings and sinning, he did not accept the blanket belief that all suffering originates in sin.12 He declared that the occurrence of some evils is inevitable, but he did not indicate the source of that unspecified cosmic necessity.13 He understood that shortly some kind of cosmic necessity would also bring heavy personal affliction upon himself.14 His sweat, tears and blood in the Garden of Gethsemane show that he took extremely seriously his own prospects of undergoing severe suffering. He prayed earnestly for a way to avoid it if possible. On this side of the cross, none was to be found. Apparently it was the will of God that this supremely good man should go through that awful suffering. If Jesus was bearing the consequences of sins, they were certainly not his own.
Be no evil
People assume that a Creator who is resourceful enough to devise the world’s variety of ingenious creatures ought to have been able to keep the slightest whiff of evil out of his workplace. But I can see that it’s much, much harder than most people think to create a liveable world in which no evil under any circumstances could ever appear.
Have you ever systematically and seriously inquired into the kinds of problems which the Creator had to face when he undertook to make a world? Let’s consider some of the difficulties that would turn up automatically during the most well-intentioned efforts to create “a world where absolutely nothing could ever go wrong.”
First of all, why would a Creator want to create anything in addition to himself? Was he lonely? Unloved? Bored? Curious—wondering who he was, or perhaps what all he could do? Whatever the motivation may have been that prompted the Creator to commence creating, he must have deemed his primordial condition to have been in some respect unsatisfactory. If the Creator’s eternal state had been one of “perfect perfection,” he wouldn’t have had the slightest reason to initiate a brand-new activity—creating.
Next, before the Creator had created anything, what would he have had for an environment? Nothing. What would constrain or restrain whatever he decided to do? Nothing. In all respects he would be infinite, i.e., entirely unlimited. The range of his possible activities would be absolutely unrestricted. His very first creative act therefore-one which brought into being something besides himself—would immediately put an end to his unboundedness. The existence of anything that was not the Creator would mean also that the Creator was not that thing. Without rebelling or striking a blow, the first creature would thus inflict upon its Creator a truly cataclysmic change: the limitation of the Infinite One.
This self-limitation which the Creator imposed upon himself by creating a world was, we must remember, a consequence which could not have been avoided. Right from the beginning, men, the self-originated deprivation which came with the Creator’s first pulse of creation can be cited as the world’s primary evil.
When God decided to go ahead with the creation of a world, did he make a big mistake? Instead of making things better for himself, he actually made them worse.
Perhaps for his own reasons he decided to take the big risk—the risk of undergoing perpetual deprivation (and worse)—as long as he should keep his world in existence. At any rate in order to create a world with you and me in it, God had to be willing to sacrifice whatever perfect bliss and freedom he may have previously enjoyed.
Voluntary self-sacrifice for the sake of others thus lies at the very heart of the way this world and life are constituted. Though your existence and mine are not as free from evil as we should like, we must remember that we could have had no life at all had not our Creator been willing to suffer with us and for us.
That same act of creation which first put a limitation upon the Creator also restricted the modes of being which would be possible for his creatures. Nothing which was created could have brought itself into existence. Nor could it have maintained itself in existence by any self-generated powers. Any creature, lacking as it does the fullness of God’s creating power, is at all times totally dependent for its mode of existence upon the will of its Creator. It is absolutely impossible for anything created to be truly infinite. Whatever God makes, therefore, can always be considered to be leading a deprived and inferior kind of existence.
That deprivation can always be cited as another basic kind of evil which unavoidably attends the activity of creating. Because God alone is God, all created existence must inevitably come into being sodden with the evil of finitude. Anything finite can always lament its lack of a fully infinite complement of God-like possibilities.
The created world can always therefore consider itself plagued by an inescapable “original evil” which not even the Creator can expunge. The set-up is much the same as what occurs when an object is put in the light. Whether intended or not, a negative shadow will always be thrown from the side of the lighted object which is farthest from the light. In a similar way, as soon as God had created the very first thing, a vaguely satanic grumbling became possible. The first creature able to ask a question could now ask: Why was that particular thing created and not something else, something better? Why was it not created in a better place? Why didn’t God give it the same powers and potentialities mat he himself possesses? And what about ME?
From some point of view, whatever finite thing God ever creates can always be rated as defective, deprived, or unfairly treated. In any thorough list of general evils, therefore, deprivation is sure to be named. God’s first act of creating inevitably set up a situation in which the many varieties of this kind of evil could appear.
Evil is thus an undesired, an unintended by-product of the very process that gives to the world its being and that gives to us our lives. Evil is a “nobody’s child” in the universe. Wherever something good and positive and constructive appears, automatically evil will appear as well.
To speak of the origin of evil is as difficult to put into rational words as it is to speak about the reality of shadows. Does it make sense to you if I say that the existence of evil is an accidental necessity?
The absence from the Bible of a clear account of the origin of evil displays a wise reticence which I apparently lack. Adam and Eve did not seem at all surprised to encounter that pernicious serpent in God’s garden. Since mat place was its natural habitat, they did not consider it to be a completely foreign intruder, an utterly alien agent sent in by a sinister power intent on fouling up paradise.
In the Book of the Revelation the power of the evil “beasts” ravaging the earth is said to have been derived from a certain “dragon.”15 This weird being had somehow appeared in heaven but had been demitted and banished to the earth. This dragon can be subdued and bound, but not exterminated as long as the present order of things shall last. God himself has to put up with the persistent reality of the uninvited dragon of evil which always turns up with the advent of anything good.
This vision of the mysterious dragon expresses in a veiled way the common observation that for some reason God has never with one stroke done away with evil once and for all. But as we have seen how impossible it is to create the kind of world we live in without at the same time doing something that can be construed as evil, perhaps we can understand why, after all these years, “Satan” is still around. The very same reasoning may also partly explain why the Creator keeps putting up with people like us despite the trouble we cause him.
Perils of plurality
Having decided to create something other than himself, the Creator would next have to choose what kind of being his creature should be. Immediately a cluster of new subsidiary problems would arise.
If he were to make only one individual item, what could he do with it? Without something else out there in the nothingness, a solitary, inert entity could not be seen to move anywhere or do anything. Not much future in the “single thing” approach to the creation project!
By creating more than one thing the Creator could have a little variety to play around with. The spaces marked out by a plurality of things would serve as an arena in which he could inaugurate many different kinds of motions and changes, using all sorts of combinations and recombinations of things in innumerable patterns. With many things on hand, he could work them all up into a very complex world. Thus the Creator would have at least an interesting change of scenery—but the plurality of things would also give him lots and lots of undesirable evils.
We have already seen how trouble can arise just from the simplest act of creating a world. It would, have to be different from its Creator in a number of ways. The more things God created, however, the more sets of differences there would be. It is impossible to distribute an identical set of differences to every different creature. Each individual has to occupy a different space, and some of the creatures must occur at different times. At no one time can any one creature have everything that any other creature already has.
But if the creatures cannot ever be endowed absolutely equally, their possessions and powers will vary from one to another. One thing will be able therefore to overpower and overcome another. Physical differentials can exist, such as differences in temperature, pressure, voltage and light intensity. Due to these inequalities winds will blow, including possibly hurricanes and tornadoes. Waves will move, sometimes building up to tidal waves. Electrical currents will flow, but sometimes produce lightning bolts. The sun will shine, sometimes too hot and sometimes not hot enough. Many “natural evils” thus can arise out of sheer “variety.”
If there were people in the world which had been created, they would notice the differences between individuals and between groups. Differences give advantages over others. When people compared their own endowments and possessions with those of others and found them disadvantageous, they would, of course, complain about the Creator’s unfairness. Because inequalities are inevitable, the evils of pride, envy, greed, competitive strife, theft, conquest and plunder would be sure to arise.
When we have less than someone else, or when we lack something special that they have been given, we are inclined to blame the Creator for not doing a better job of distributing this world’s goods. But would we really want absolute equality even if it could be instituted? Everything and everybody would look identical. Our environment would be uniform, monotonous and homogeneous. My wife would dress like every other woman and all the women would look alike. Moreover the women and the men would look alike (!), and, horrors, they might all look like me! (Vive la difference! “Vive les differences!”)
Everybody would have exactly what we ourselves had. Each of us would already have everything we were ever going to get, since none of us could acquire anything unless everybody else got the same thing. Not much point to living in such a world.
But that’s the kind of world we would have if God ever instituted an equality so thoroughgoing and complete that nothing and no one could possibly complain about the “favoritism” practiced by the Creator. Would you really want to live in such a world? I’m glad the Creator didn’t take that option.
Nevertheless when our attention is caught by extreme inequalities between the rich and the poor, between the privileged and the oppressed, between the fat cats and starving babies, between those who are healthily strong and those who are sick unto death, we cannot help wishing that the range of such inequalities were somehow not quite so extensive. Many of these distressing gaps could be significantly reduced if the “haves” would share with the “have nots.”
No doubt, like Jesus, we should talk less about the problem of evil and do more about alleviating it.
So far we’ve been discussing the plurality that arose because created things were located at some distance from each other in space. Another kind of plurality arose when the Creator issued new editions of his first creative fiat. The appearance of the relationship “before and after” which came with the “more than once” of successive acts of creation introduced “times” into the created scene. The advent of time automatically set the stage for the debut of yet another set of evils, those associated with change and motion. I call these evils “chronic” ills, not just because they have been around for a long time without abating, but because they are inescapably associated with “chronos”—a Greek word for time.
But before we look into these temporal troubles perhaps we should ask» why was time created? Or, putting it another way, why didn’t the Creator do all at once everything he would ever intend to do?
Several reasons can be given. First, and most obviously, if at a single stroke the Creator produced a completely perfect and finished universe, if it couldn’t move or be changed, what could he do with it? Any changes in a perfect world would have to be changes for the worse.
Furthermore if everything that God could ever create or do with his creation had actually been accomplished once and for all in one grand coup, all of the possible histories of all possible worlds would have had to be telescoped into one brief blast. In that “Bag Bong” all conceivable events, however contradictory, would have had to happen holus-bolus—all at once. That momentary mishmash of everything and nothing wouldn’t have been worth creating. Besides it could hardly be considered to be much less evil than having no world at all.
We have seen that a created world had to be a limited world, for it was not its own Creator, and things had to be separate from each other. The duration of existence allowed to each creature had also to be limited to a certain span of time. If everything that could ever happen in ages to come had started to happen at the same moment and never came to an end, an unlimited spread of space and time would have been required. To give limited life spans to creatures and have them take turns at existing would be a better arrangement.
If creatures were to be given unlimited life spans—i.e., an everlasting life regardless of performance—they could go their own ways forever, doing whatever they pleased. With that cancerous form of chaos at large in creation, it could not have had enough systemic unicity to be called a universe. However obnoxious their behavior, God could not destroy god-like creatures who possessed everlasting life. They could defy their Creator forever.
So the Creator certainly had sufficient reason to opt for creating his world by a succession of discrete acts. This way of accomplishing his purposes would give each individual thing an extended but limited period of existence. In chapters above we attempted to describe the general pattern of God’s sequential creative acts, and called them “cosmic creation time.”
The succession of God’s creative acts could have taken either of two modes. A “kaleidoscope” approach would have produced a random succession of “world arrangements.” None of them would have had any relationship to any other arrangements, except that some of them would have preceded or followed some others.
Although amusing and interesting for a time, a kaleidoscope quickly loses its appeal. The toy is about as pointless as chaotic randomness. While that “mix-’em-up” approach to creating would not have been altogether bad, the occurrence of any meaningful sequence of events would have been extremely unlikely.
So the Creator naturally turned to his other alternative: creating an orderly succession of world arrangements which would be related to those coming before and after them. This plan had several advantages. A portion of any momentary layout of things could be preserved in much the same formation while its context was being rearranged. Things could thus move and change at different rates in different and specific directions.
If at any time the Creator found that things were going unsatisfactorily, he could always remedy matters, taking steps to control a basically good but unruly development, or to transform a disappointing configuration. In this “orderly sequence” approach to creating, the on-going of time gives the Creator an opportunity to salvage and improve things, to heal wounds and to make wrongs come out right in new ways.
According to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, the Creator didn’t make everything at once. Although God pronounced each of his earlier periods of creating to be “good” (as far as each went), some additional, supplementary and complementary acts of creation were made later to round out the various systems.
Creation in the mode of an orderly sequence of Now-states, however, has certain drawbacks. One of these is transience. Because the constitution of everyone and everything is geared to temporal succession, all must eventually pass away. No creature or situation is permanent. But we often have people and things with us long enough to become emotionally attached to them. Knowing that we must someday be parted from them may make them more precious to us, but that in turn makes the eventual parting even more sorrowful.
Time also introduces the problems of “timing.” Some things, processes and events last too long; others don’t last long enough. As a result the stages of desirable parallel developments can get distressingly out of phase. The lives of over-ninety senior citizens are saddened because mey have outlived their spouses and their whole generation of friends. If fruit trees blossom too early in the spring they may get nipped by frost. Relief supplies or a crucial message may arrive too late to save people caught in a desperate situation.
Another bothersome aspect of cosmic creation time is that it is generated by the Creator. His creatures cannot hasten or slow its rate of going. This may be frustrating to anyone in a hurry who is used to manipulating many other things to suit her/his purposes. Young children can hardly wait to grow up. For them the days seem to drag past far too slowly. People in later life can see themselves rapidly aging, and then time seems to be racing far too fast.
Moreover, time keeps moving on in the same inexorable direction and it cannot be headed backward. What has been done has been done.
To go through the various stages of processes, we have to go through them in order, one at a time, one before another. With so much to be said, it is annoying to have to say it one word at a time. And there are limits on the speed with which we can go through phases of development. It takes time for concrete to harden and a kettle to boil. How we’d like to zip through certain unpleasant experiences, get them over with and turn to something nicer!
Despite these and other problems associated with time, we must not forget that the “serial time with limited span” mode of creation was the only feasible way the Creator could make a world which was neither a senseless jumble nor frozen in perpetual death.
We can never be quite sure that any situation which we don’t like is really something evil. It may be only a part of a good major development which is too extensive for us to see quickly as a whole. Or it may be only an intermediate stage in a drawn-out process which will eventually produce some good or excellence that could not be realized in any other way. Only if and when we discover how all aspects of God’s creative activities finally turned out will we be able to say with assurance whether or not what we didn’t like about God’s world had actually been evil.
The passing of time is noticeable because of the changes which are usually introduced by it. Sooner or later everybody is unhappy about some of the changes that occur.
But would you be happily satisfied with a world where nothing ever changed, where neither you nor anything else could ever make a move because it was all perfect as it was? A world where nothing ever changed would be uninteresting, unknowable, pointless and dead.
When the Creator was deciding whether or not to introduce time, and therefore change, into his world, he faced a hopeless dilemma: to keep things forever the same or to have a changing world? Whichever choice he would make, “evil” could enter the picture.
While we haven’t any conception at all of how the Creator initiates the primary process of change which we call cosmic creation time, we do have some direct experience of how things are changed by the impact or pressure of other things. External interference may alter their shape, their composition, their speed or the direction of their motion. In a world where a number of things are moving at different speeds in different directions, collisions and conflicts are sure to occur. Because such interactions can produce evil consequences, we have cars with windshields, bumpers, tires and brakes. Even diffuse motions such as extreme heat, electric shock and chemical reactions can be deadly. We sometimes wish that the Creator had shielded us from all unwanted external interference! We feel we could do without some of those abrupt changes in our lives.
If in fact, however, we were ever totally isolated from all possible impacts and pushes, we could not live very long, nor would we really enjoy our lonely cell. Being cut off from everything would be like being marooned in outer space without food, help or communication. We couldn’t even read, for no light could penetrate the opaque walls of our sealed-off bubble. Such a coffin isn’t exactly my conception of an ideal dwelling place.
Certainly it’s dangerous to live in a world where things can move and be moved, sometimes with destructive results. But would you want to live in a world where you couldn’t move anything constructively or change anything for the better?
Which brings up another way in which changes are made. Most basic beings can from time to time from within themselves initiate change and direct motion. They possess a certain degree of “freedom,” and this introduces into the world an element of unpredictability with surprises, unpreparedness and sometimes resultant evil consequences.
It is possible to imagine a created world from which freedom would be entirely excluded, except for that retained by the Creator himself. The reason freedom was included in the constitution of created things is unclear. Is it due to the continuing presence of the preexisting nothingness with which the Creator had and has to deal in making his world? Or is our freedom a reflection of the Maker’s own freedom, mirrored in the things which he makes—a trademark he places on his handiwork? Or was the feature of freedom the result of a deliberate and well-considered decision on the part of the Creator?
Sometimes we wish that the Creator would intervene and take away the freedom he has given to certain people—the ones who abuse, torture and kill other people or make a shambles of what could be a fine world for everyone. Why does he hot restrain them?
To cite a flagrant example: Jesus was a good man who had a special relationship with God. Instead of allowing Jesus to be crucified, God could have wiped out those who undercut Jesus’ work and planned to kill him. Yet after Jesus had been maltreated, his enemies lived on and proceeded to persecute his followers. Why did God not intervene and change the direction of events?
If the Creator has good intentions and yet he tolerates so much human wickedness, he must for some reason put a very high value on people’s free will. He must consider that, despite all their perversity, human beings are a good idea. Some of them have indeed shown themselves capable of rising to great heights of all that is admirable. Perhaps he sees the human race as a production experiment that he will keep running until enough people who are “right” for his purposes have appeared. Sometimes in the end extremely difficult people turn out “right.”
In any case, if God’s primary intention is to garner those persons who throughout history voluntarily respected his creatures and systems, without freedom of will nobody could be “right” for his purposes. God may be looking for people who could be safely given positions of responsibility and trust in another kind of world which he will create after his harvest has been all gathered in. In the meantime people who are misusing their freedom will continue to exist and carry on. The Creator’s policy seems to be as expressed in the Book of the Revelation: “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and let the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and let the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me.”16
Some people claim they don’t believe that there is any real freedom. If they choose (!) to believe a philosophy of mechanistic determinism they are free to do so, but they will have a hard time explaining away the many manifestations of freedom. Individual subatomic particles, radioactive or perturbed atoms, chemical molecules, crystals, cells and biological systems up to the planetary level—all of these are able to initiate unpredictable changes. Few human beings think of themselves as robots whose controls are elsewhere.
Without freedom the purpose of human life becomes inscrutable and the value of human virtues largely vanishes. People know that while they don’t have completely unlimited freedom to do absolutely anything whatsoever, they certainly can change themselves and their environment very creatively.
As far as the Creator is concerned, the advantages of creating an un-free, entirely controllable, law-abiding, physical world are easy to see. From the point of view of us humans as well, certain aspects of a law-abiding world are usually quite helpful. Wouldn’t it be awful if sometimes the pavement beneath our feet suddenly sank away like quicksand, but at other times it unexpectedly rose up like a piston!
Nevertheless on some occasions people will complain that the laws which govern the physical world aren’t nearly flexible enough. When your child falls from a high window, how you’d like to see the law of gravity suspended for a minute! Wouldn’t it be great if bullets fired by “the wrong people” would turn into cotton wool! Thanks to the learning possibilities offered by freedom, coupled with divine persuasion, human attitudes towards firing bullets can change.
Freedom makes for flexibility while law-abidingness makes for reliability and stability. The Creator chose to make a world containing both freedom and law. Even though problems are sure to arise from their copresence, they can work together quite well. Although no one would want to live in a world from which either freedom or law-abidingness were entirely absent, people will continue to criticize God for the kind of world that came about because he decided to include both of them.
Because of this prior decision, God used the death-dealing powers of Jesus’ enemies to extract him from their clutches, then gave him a new start beyond death. Jesus himself had understood and tacitly taught that there are inescapable and limiting necessities within which even the Creator abides. In Gethsemane and on the cross we were shown how hard he had to work to keep his grip on God’s justice despite all awful appearances to the contrary. His resurrection however demonstrated that the spiritual victory which Jesus won there in that most extreme collision between human goodness and human evil was supremely valuable to the Creator. This supreme triumph of Jesus’ faith, however, was only the pinnacle of a whole life which had been singularly successful throughout at the task of transforming evil into good.
On every level of God’s world, under all the strength and songs and smiles, a moaning undertone swells and sobs. The groaning of God’s suffering creatures never seems to end.” If at each creative pause, before the Creator sets forth the next Now-state of the world, he takes into account information about the state of each and every creature, God must know and feel in himself all their woes and joys. He experiences in himself both the deprivation and the welfare of his creatures. Their troubles are also his troubles. In the book of Judges we find it written that “the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.”18 “In all their affliction He was afflicted.”19
All interactions, all “causal” connections and all relatings between things and between persons are routed through God as the Word. Jesus has already been identified with God the Word. By being in this world Jesus suffered through a fair sample of the kinds of ills to which our mortal flesh is subject. Although he did his best to eliminate or alleviate evils wherever he found them, he was unable to heal everyone everywhere. He also found himself unable to make most people understand who he was and what he was trying to do. Apparently, like ourselves, God the Word has to contend continually with problematic aspects of a created world. Not much can be done about some of them.
The sufferings of Jesus throughout his lifetime, and particularly those which led up to his cross, may be regarded as the open manifestation of how God is always suffering with and for his creatures. A volcanic eruption dramatically and vividly demonstrates that not far below our feet hellishly hot currents of molten rock are welling up. The stark realities of Jesus’ cross likewise reveal what since the beginning has been and still is going on in the deep heart of God. No doubt in God’s perceiving and feeling the world’s sufferings at all times lies hidden the profound significance of that otherwise inscrutable expression in the Book of the Revelation: “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”20
If you recoil in horror when you contemplate the swollen flood of the world’s evils, you will shudder to the core when you realize that at every moment all the dark misery of that whole torrent of evil is coursing through the Creator.
Jesus clearly taught that whatever evil things have been done to the least of God’s creatures have been done also to himself.21 His followers found it very easy to apply to Jesus what the prophet Isaiah had to say concerning God’s “suffering servant”: “Surely all our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried…. The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to encounter Him.”22
The ultimate responsibility for creating a world in which it is possible for evils to arise must of course rest upon the Creator. The Christian belief that he took upon himself in a special way the human flesh and life of Jesus of Nazareth, at least asserts that God was willing to subject himself to the same limitations, laws and sufferings that his creatures must endure. Jesus did not resist the injuries done to him by human wickedness and injustice. Although the Creator appeared to be doing nothing, while Jesus was suffering these things, God was suffering. In his acceptance of that suffering, I believe, God was accepting his share of responsibility for the existence of evil in his world. And the cross was a way of showing us that God has always been suffering because of our sins and the other “natural” evils which inevitably occur in the otherwise wonderful world which he has been making.
No doubt each human being in turn has at some time deserved to be deleted from this earthly scene. The impulse to eliminate troublemakers has been rather conspicuously resisted by the Creator. He keeps on putting up with us. While our transient living from passing moment to passing moment is itself a continuous process of dying to what once was, our deletion from history altogether is graciously and understandingly postponed for a long time. Our lives are prolonged by his mercy—which means that the Creator has continually been saying NO! to any inclination to do away with us. To keep people like us alive, something of God must die at every moment of history, even as on Calvary. Something will always be dying in God as long as he keeps on forgiving and renewing his world. His cross is as everlasting as his creating.
1. Exodus 4:11.
2. 1 Samuel 2:6.
3. 1 Samuel 16:14-16, 23; 18:10.
4. Job 2:10.
5. Psalm 90:15.
6. Ecclesiastes 7:13-14.
7. Isaiah 31:2.
8. Isaiah 45:6-7.
9. Amos 3:6.
10. Luke 13:1-4.
11. Deuteronomy 28.
12. John 9:1-3.
13. Matthew 18:7.
14. Mark 8:31.
15. Revelation 12.
16. Revelation 22:11-12.
17. Romans 8:22.
18. Judges 1:18.
19. Isaiah 63:9.
20. Revelation 13:8 (AV).
21. Matthew 25:40, 45.
22. Isaiah 53:4, 6.
Those depressing developments which murkied with gloom the beginning of this chapter failed to put an end to our happy adventures at Sechelt. The leg problems which had grounded Kay cleared up well enough to let her get around there with the help of a leg brace, crutches and a wheelchair. My own knee condition healed up and my leg regained the strength and mobility necessary for working in that rough terrain.
Since this chapter was written, all three of our married children settled down with their families in British Columbia. During recent summers all of them have spent holiday time at Sechelt. We notice signs which indicate that our grandchildren are coming to love Fido Bay as much as their parents do. The deterioration of our shelter unexpectedly provided opportunities for strengthening family ties, since everybody pitched in on making the necessary improvements. We had no end of fun working together.
After Herb Carson lost his wife, he didn’t have the heart to live in the house he had shared with Elsie for so many years. Too many memories. He wrote to tell us that he was thinking he would sell the house and hoped that we might buy it “to keep it in the family.” For us to buy that highly desirable property would have been impossible if, on that very day, another letter had not arrived. It contained a substantial legacy cheque. Talk about Timing! Right away we were able to give Herb an enthusiastic “Yes!” So now in that seaside house where we had always felt so welcomed, Kay has access to quarters on the same level as her shelter on the shore. With the two lots we have plenty of secluded space into which our growing family can spread. And now we won’t have to concern ourselves with further building on our original lot.
As for me, I just spent a marvellous summer—what doing?—Why, building another great seawall, using rocks that were on the beach across the front of the Carson place!
And now that this book has been published, I just might find the time to get at finishing that patiently waiting painting of mine—that panorama of paradise—the view from Fido Bay.