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“The Triune God’s Answer to Evil,” Part IV

June 13, 2011

IV.  The Incarnation as God’s Willingess to Suffer Because of, With, and For Creation[1]

One set of question that is constantly raised in regards to the presence of so much evil in the world is Why didn’t God just stop it once it happened?  Why didn’t he just start over? Why doesn’t he simply put an end to right this moment?  Though any satisfying answers to these questions exceed the scope of this essay, I do propose that the incarnation of God in Christ does give us some insight into what an answer would look like.  This insight is found by proceeding deductively.

Without trivializing the tragic situation that all of creation finds itself it, let us assume for the moment that God’s response to man’s fallen condition, and therefore the presence of a vast amount of evil in the world is to come and enter into our condition, take on human flesh, and so on.  The question we must immediately ask is why would God do it this way?  If, in his omnipotence he could simply start over, then why go through all the trouble?  One obvious response is that he wants to demonstrate his love for us.  And I certainly see the veracity of this response, but it actually deserves some more exploring.  It would seem that not only does he want to demonstrate his love to us, but his love compels him to irrevocably commit himself to his creation.  In other words, once God creates, he will not renege on his commitment to continue loving—for that is what love does.  Love never fails.  However, I would argue that there is a more fundamental and necessary reason for God to respond to evil as He has done.  Because God’s love is the goal of creation, and freedom is the means, God must, in a sense, honor the freedom of his creatures by not putting an end to the creation once sin has entered in.  For freedom that is revoked is not really freedom at all.  The incarnation suggest that God must work from within the parameters of  his creation to bring about its redemption.  He must enter into it in order to rescue it.  However, this goes far beyond a mere need—God longs, in his love, to come to the rescue of those whom he loves.

What does this have to do with suffering?  First, God was well aware of the tremendous risk He must take in expressing his love in creating.  We are unaccustomed to think of God as one who suffers; however, if God is the essence of love, then how could he not suffer infinitely more than even we do when he sees his loved ones inviting sin, death, and evil (thus destruction) into their (our) lives.  Therefore, God suffers because he has chosen to express his love to a creation that rebels.

In this sense, God’s decision to come in Jesus Christ is his overwhelming commitment to join in solidarity with us in our suffering.  Christ leaves heaven, enters into a fallen creation (and a “war-torn” one), takes on human flesh, and begins the journey of suffering, sacrificial love that leads all the way to Calvary and the cross—God suffers for us.  Therefore, God’s first response to the horrible situation we find ourselves in, is to enter as fully as possible into the thick of, with us and for us.  The doctrine of the Incarnation proves that God does not sit off in some different dimension of space, passively observing all that ensues in his broken creation; rather, from the Fall onward, he initiates the process of entering into our suffering, taking it upon himself.  Though this does not eliminate the suffering we must go through (in the short-run), we may take solace and comfort in the fact that God is and has always been deeply involved in every instance of our suffering.  The incarnation merely demonstrates this reality to us.

[1] I have chosen to forego the use of extensive footnotes, in attempting as much as possible to express these doctrines in my own words.  Of course, most of this is not original to me but has been absorbed by my various readings on the problem of evil.  However, this idea of God suffering because of, with, and for creation comes directly from the work of Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective (Philidelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1984).

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 16, 2011 1:50

    mmm…Loved this section. It reminds me why I love God! I read Fretheim for OT this year – a lot of good stuff

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