In his book Christianity 101 Gilbert Bilezikian endeavors to help his readers wrap their minds around the idea of the problem of evil, which, I want to suggest, might be stated thusly: If God is as good, big and dependable as the Bible suggests, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world he created?

Having suggested that a biblically informed response to this problem would have to take seriously the reality of the devil and the role of human freedom in bringing about much of the suffering that occurs on this planet, Bilezikian goes on to assert that as valuable as these biblical answers are, they don’t really address the question of why an omniscient God would proceed with creation, knowing that it would become ravaged with evil and that countless numbers of his creatures would doom themselves to eternal death.

So, Bilezikian suggests that the bigger question then is this: Why did God create free will, knowing that it would become self-destructive?

Here’s the bottom line according to Bilezikian:

“So, while acknowledging the fact that human responsibility is definitely involved in the existence of evil, we must honestly face the issue that God bears his share of responsibility for going ahead with the creation of a world that he knew to be corruptible. Fortunately, the Bible does not sidestep and ignore this formidable challenge. Two answers from its teaching and relevant to this issue are outlined below.

                The first answer has to do with the reason for creation. The accusation of cosmic sadism could be justifiably leveled at God if he had whimsically created a world with built-in corruptibility. However, as we discovered above, the world did not derive from a divine caprice, as if in the course of eternity, God had suddenly come upon the idea of creation and decided to put it into effect. Rather, we found that the disposition to create pertains to the very nature of God. Because he is love, God is by nature a giving God. When he gives, he is not content with giving galaxies, mountains and lakes, rocks and plants, fish, birds, and cattle. He irresistibly invests in his creation what is most precious to him: he gives himself by giving his own image. Because God cannot go against his own giving nature, he creates human beings endowed with the capacity to make decisions.” (p. 44-45)

“In other words, God neither willed evil nor did he create it. But because he by nature loves freedom and gives freedom, he was compelled by the necessity of who he is to give the very freedom that would turn against him and against itself. God is neither sadistic nor whimsical. Like a compulsive lover, he is outrageously giving to the point of creating beings whom he allows to function beyond his direct control.” (p. 45)

Bilezikian then asks: Was this irresponsible nevertheless?

His answer is: No, because . . .

                “The second answer provided by Scripture to the startling concept of divine responsibility in regard to the existence of evil is that God, lovingly and servant-like, accepted that responsibility and assumed it upon himself.” (p. 46)

                “The God who created the freedom that would turn against him in pride and rebellion also took it upon himself to come into the world as a baby and to grow up as a servant, perfectly subjected to the Father and submitted to humans to the point of dying at their hand. The God who created beings who chose evil and brought into the world sin, suffering, and death, also took it upon himself to defeat sin through the righteousness of the Son, to bear our suffering on the cross, and to overcome death in the victory of the resurrection. At infinite cost to himself, God initiated a redemptive program that required his own identification with humans at their lowest point. As a result, God is able to offer those who submit to him access to new personhood in Christ, inclusion in God’s new community, and deliverance from the eternal consequences of evil.” (p. 46)

Intrigued by Bilezikian’s line of thinking, I’m wondering if at least a part of a biblically informed treatment of the problem of evil doesn’t have to take seriously the concept of God’s fatherhood and the risk that all real parenting involves. Though I’m still musing on this matter, here’s what I’m thinking:

As C. S. Lewis has suggested, the God of the Bible is a triune God who is not only personal, he’s super-personal due to the fact that he exists eternally in an inter-personal relationship—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a sense, then, that the God who created the world should be viewed as hyper-personal and radically committed to a personal relationship with those he’s created in his image.

Indeed, the rest of the biblical story seems to suggest that, as a loving father, God’s ultimate goal is to spend eternity in fellowship with human beings who will love and trust him fully and forever.

Now the dynamic that inspires us humans to love and trust God is the experience of his love for, and faithfulness to, us.

The apostle John put is this way:

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

The problem is, however, that the loving act of creation evidently wasn’t enough to inspire or inculcate within us human beings the kind of complete love and trust that would last for eternity.

We needed to experience more than creation in order to love and trust God fully; we needed to experience redemption as well—God’s coming after us sinful people, reconciling us to himself through the death of his much loved Son.

The apostle Paul put it this way:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) 

So, having witnessed this amazing, loving act of redemption, which cost God so dearly, our hearts can now be filled with an amazing ability to love and trust God in the way he deserves: fully and forever!

In other words, what if God always knew that his creating us wasn’t enough by itself to inspire us as free moral agents to choose to love and trust him for eternity?

What if God always knew that it would take the sacrificial death of his Son on our behalf to fully communicate to us just how much he loves us, and to inculcate within us the capacity to love and trust him fully and forever?

What if God created us as free moral agents knowing that: (a) his heart would be broken by our rebellion against his loving lordship; (b) his heart would be broken by the death of his Son on our behalf; and (c) his heart would be broken by the fact that there would be some people who would use their free moral agency in such a way as to never allow themselves to be inspired to love and trust their creator in the way he deserves?

And yet, God created us human beings with free will anyway.

He’s like all human parents who make the quality decision to bring kids into the world, knowing full well that their kids might either bless their socks off, or break their hearts (ruining their own lives in the process).

Maybe the truth is that we don’t refer to God as a Father because we’re projecting onto him an aspect of our reality; maybe our experience as parents who can’t help but create and love despite the risk mirrors his reality as an eternal, loving Father.  

Even the possibility that a triune God who exists as an eternal community—Father, Son, and Spirit—is so eager to have a real, deeply meaningful, fully free relationship with me that he created me knowing full well that for such a relationship to last for eternity he would have to suffer and die in order to inculcate within me the kind of love and trust such a relationship would require simply blows my mind. Doesn’t it yours as well?

What do we do with a God like this?

I suppose we could reject him and his attempt through both creation and redemption to woo us into an eternal relationship of love and trust. But why we do that? Wouldn’t such a response say more about us and the condition of our hearts than it would about him? And that brings us back to the issue of human free will and the role it plays in human suffering … our own included.

I realize that this line of thinking, as a work in progress, doesn’t answer every question we might have regarding the problem of evil. Still, I’d like to think that it might provide us with …

Something to think about.