Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18)
While taking a psychology class in college, I remember reading something interesting. The article talked about suicide rates in forced labour camps. It said that the highest suicide rate among people in the work camps were among those who did useless labour. Have these inmates make munitions for the German war effort and they would feel useful and commit suicide at a lower rate. Have them carry dirt back and forth across the camp and more of them would seek to end their lives. The lesson from the Scripture above and from this tragic episode in human history is clear. People need to know that what they are doing has a purpose.
The other day I was listening to apologist and author Ken Samples on a Reasons to Believe podcast. Now I have met Ken and I know him to be an intelligent and educated scholar, well-versed in the teachings of the historical church and in modern apologetic thinking. Because I know he is very fluent in the current and historical ideas of the church, something that he said was particularly striking to me. I don’t recall what he said well enough to quote it from memory, but it was something along the lines of, “As far as I know, there is nothing that prevents God from creating us perfect. Why did he create us with flawed character? We don’t know but we can only speculate that it was better this way.” I take this as evidence that two thousand years after Christ came down to earth, we human beings still have no idea why we are here or what God is doing. If people perish without a vision and if it is necessary for us to understand the purpose and reason for something in order to be satisfied, then our ignorance on this very fundamental issue would be the source of dissatisfaction for the church.
Why are we here? Why did God create us as he has created us? Why are we in a world that is filled with pain and suffering? These are vital questions and, according to one of the most knowledgeable men I know on the subject of church thinking, the church has no idea. It is a great mystery.
The reason I wrote my book and started this website and have published podcasts (on my own website, now defunct) and videos (on Youtube) was because I believe that God has shown me the answer to these vital questions. Though I have shared this many times and in many different ways, let us examine this question again in the hopes that this time I can explain it in such a way as to make clear to others what is so obvious to me.
The solution to this problem is what I have called Inherent Evil. What is Inherent Evil? Inherent Evil is the idea that created beings are fundamentally different from their creator in that they are inherently finite beings with a finite capacity for love and a finite knowledge of those around them. Because only an infinite capacity for love and an infinite knowledge allows a being to act with perfect love for all eternity, created beings are necessarily evil in that they will always act with imperfect love.
Now some people will argue with this point. They will say, “A finite amount of love and knowledge is sufficient to love perfectly! I can love enough and know enough so that I can enjoy the fellowship of others forever!” I think our experiences in this world are God’s decisive refutation of this notion. Every person I know has had enormous friction with those around them. Relationships with spouses, children, siblings, parents, cousins, friends and coworkers have all fractured in ways that we thought would never happen due to the strain of small differences accumulating over time. How do we say it in the vernacular? “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back?”
A Physical Analogy
We can perhaps explain the situation a bit with a physical analogy. Let us say that there was a sharpshooter who was enormously accurate with a rifle. How accurate? With his trusty rifle he could hit a target within 1 millimeter every time at a range of 1000 meters. This is 1 part in 1,000,000 accuracy and it is unrealistically accurate, but is this phenomenal level of accuracy good enough for eternal love? Let us examine the numbers.
Let us say that a number sharpshooters in inter-stellar space picked a bunch of targets and fired their rifles at them. Even if these sharpshooters picked the same target and even if the bullets were travelling at exactly the same speed, the bullets will diverge enormously. With 1 part in 1,000,000 accuracy, bullets that started right next to each other going to the same target at the same speed will be 93 miles apart once they have travelled the distance from the earth to the sun. Once they have travelled the distance to the furthest objects in our solar system, they will be thousands of miles apart. How far apart once they have travelled the size of the known universe? How far apart in eternity?
Now some would argue that this separation would take a long time, but what if God wants to give us the gift of eternal life? The point is that over an eternity, it is possible to get arbitrarily far apart with only a small amount of difference in direction or speed. How could a group of bullets stay close over cosmic distances? There seems to be two possible answers.
The first answer is that all the bullets are fired with 100% accuracy. If all the bullets were 100% accurate and fired at the same target and moved at the same velocity, then they will stay together. The second possible answer is to have a mechanism that allows the course and speed of the individual bullets to be corrected by an outside entity that is capable of coordinating their movements. If the bullets are to stay together, they must either be perfect or have their course and speed corrected. There is no third way.
Now, of course, the analogy here is to created beings who are trying to love one another for all eternity. Like the bullets in the above analogy, created beings who go their own way and do their own thing will grow arbitrarily far apart no matter what the initial conditions. Likewise, created beings who do not forgive deviations in others will not choose to go in the same direction and they will end up arbitrarily far apart. Only created beings who accept course correction and forgive one another can love one another in perpetuity. This means that God has only two choices if he wants an eternal society of loving individuals:
Option 1: God can create 100% perfect beings who love perfectly with never any deviation.
Option 2: God can create beings who accept correction and forgive one another for various deviations from perfect love.
Which option should God have chosen in creating human beings?
I do not believe that it is possible for God to choose option 1. A being that had an infinite knowledge and an infinite love would, I think, be necessarily self-existent. If such a being is necessarily self-existent, then it does not need to be (and could not be) created. Another way to think about this is to say that the defining characteristic of a created being is that it does not have the perfectly loving and harmonious nature that would cause it to exist on its own. If perfect love necessitates existence in this way, then the only way created beings could experience perfect love is by accepting divine course corrections and learning to forgive deviations from perfect love in other created beings. There is no other way.
Though I believe that only the I AM has the infinite capacity for love and the infinite knowledge that makes true goodness possible, I cannot prove that only God is good. All I can do is quote the Scripture, (“Know ye not that God alone is good?” Mark 10:18) and point out the tremendous explanatory power of this idea. Like a scientific theory that is consistent with all the known facts and explains a number of previously inexplicable phenomena, the idea of inherent evil seems to me to be an obvious solution to the mystery of why we are in this world. In creating finite beings, God could not create us morally “good” so that we would always only choose to act in a perfectly loving fashion. God could only choose to teach us to accept divine correction and to forgive one another the inevitable deviations from perfect love. To this end, He put us in a world where our need of divine assistance would be as obvious as it possibly could be that we might accept our need of the cross of Jesus Christ.
I have discussed other aspects of this idea in “Explaining the Ocean of Human Suffering“, “Bad Theology Part 1” “Bad Theology Part 2“. I also gave a brief overview of a number of related ideas in “A Discussion of Evil“. I am going to discuss how the idea of inherent evil meshes with the Christian concept of “Original Sin” in a future essay.