Two approaches to theodicy; presence and limited freedom…

A common question in building an understanding in our faith between the presence of evil in the world and God’s sovereignty is how can bad things exist/happen in a world where a good God is sovereign?  The clear and simple answer from scripture is that man is responsible.  Genesis 3 reminds us that Adam and Eve’s fall from innocence brought about a total corruption of the physical and spiritual makeup of our world.  James 1 reminds us that our wrong choices bring about bad results.  Whether it is an earthquake, childhood illness, genetic disease or undeserved injustice, we are at fault. In His wisdom,  God has allowed human free choice for His overall greater plan.  However into this plan he has put Himself (in the person of Christ) and believers (filled with His Spirit) to be His presence to the suffering in these tough situations.  He does not leave us alone in our suffering.

The more difficult dilemma is with respect to the free will He has given us.  While we are able to make free choices, it is clear we are not really as free as we think we are.  Our freedom is limited in that we can not choose to freely do good all the time (ie we are not perfect in our actions; perfection in this context being defined as “always acting in accordance with one’s will”). Paul brought this issue to the forefront in Romans 7…”the very thing I do not want to do, I do (and vice-versa)”.  The bigger problem of evil is why did God create beings that had only a partial capacity to choose good and evil?  I think this issue goes to the core of why God created us.  Scripture is clear that God created us to freely honor and bring glory to Him as our purpose in creation.  But it has become more clear to me in looking at this issue that God created us to be in innocent/blameless fellowship with Him.  When that innocence (as in being “purely naive” and not necessarily innocence in a “legal” sense) was blotted out by Adam and Eve’s fall in Genesis 3, they brought the entire human race into a state of total depravity.  Enter limited freedom…we are broken from before birth without any capacity for innocence in and of ourselves.  Innocence implies limited freedom.  An innocent person does not have the capacity to know how or what to choose in every situation.  In order to have pure and innocent fellowship with God, Adam and Eve’s freedom was limited by their lack of knowledge (especially of evil which is exactly why God did not want them to eat of that forbidden tree/fruit).  When they did eat of the forbidden fruit, their sin was not so much one of disobedience as it was one of becoming “non-naive”.  They did not know what to call it, but they were acutely aware of shamefulness.  And the innocent fellowship was lost.  Enter God’s gracious plan of restoration of innocent fellowship through the only person who was truly free, Jesus Christ, the One who was able to choose to do good all the time (ie perfect in both a “moral” sense and a “consistently acting with one’s will” sense) and thus able to offer restored fellowship for us unto God.  His substitutionary atonement for us as outlined in the book of Hebrews paves the way for any who call upon Him to re-enter innocent fellowship with God.  While we are “acquitted unto innocence” (sinful acts wiped clean) and not “de novo pure” (having never committed a sinful act), it does not matter because God sees us as innocent as Adam and Eve were before the fall when we are in Christ.  What an awesome plan.  In complete love God originally isolated us from evil (Adam and Eve in the garden) in order to create innocent fellowship, but as their (Adam and Eve) and our limited free choice broke our innocent fellowship with God, in complete love He sent Christ to restore it.  He (God) gets all the glory (and rightly so) as we re-enter innocent fellowship with Him. God’s purpose in creation was to allow us to give Him glory through innocent fellowship with Him.  The necessity for allowing limited freedom in this relationship did not create evil but was the environment needed to optimize innocence.  Optimization of innocence for building of relationship is deemed a greater good than absolute protection from evil.  I trust the absolute wisdom of God’s sovereignty in that regard.

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