I’m reading Robert Crumb’s Genesis. (Great book, btw. Review coming soon.) Which means I’m re-reading all of Genesis, for the first time in a little while. And all these things are jumping out at me that I either hadn’t noticed before, or that hadn’t quite sunk in in a visceral way. (There’s nothing to make you go, “Holy shit! That’s right! Two completely different creation stories!” quite like having the things illustrated in vivid black and white. Sometimes, pictures really are worth a thousand words.)
And there’s one observation in particular that I really have to blog about now.
When it comes to the problem of evil — you know, why does an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God allow evil in the world — standard Christian apologetics go something like this: “The capacity for human evil is a necessary side effect of free will. God wants humans to have souls and free will… and for that to happen, we have to be free to choose evil. Bummer, but whaddya gonna do.” (I think that’s how Aquinas put it…)
Now, there are all sorts of responses to this. Including, “Why, exactly, is that a necessary side effect?” And, “Clearly some people are born into more gentle circumstances that make them less likely to do evil — why can’t everyone be born that way?” And, “Fine, that’s a half-assed explanation, but let’s pretend for the moment that it passes muster — then what about suffering caused not by humans but by God, like tsunamis and pediatric cancer?”
But here’s a response that somehow never struck me before. A response that I’m now feeling like a dummy for not having thought of before.
According to Genesis, free will was not part of God’s plan.
According to Genesis, free will was an accident. An unhappy accident. A terrible accident that we’re all still being punished for, hundreds of generations later.
Remember the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God specifically told them not to. God was royally pissed when they did it anyway: so pissed that he not only banished them from the Garden of Eden and made their lives a living hell, but passed on that punishment to all their human descendants. I.e., us.
According to Genesis, God wanted Adam and Eve to obey his commands without question. Especially the command to not eat from that freaking tree. According to Genesis, God wanted Adam and Eve in a state of Edenic innocence.
According to Genesis, God did not want people knowing good and evil.
So how is it that evil is necessary because God dearly wants us to know the difference and to be able to freely and knowingly choose good?
How is it that evil is necessary because being able to choose evil is an essential part of free will, and free will is an essential part of having a soul, and the human soul is the most magnificent pinnacle of God’s creation?
How is it that learning the difference between good and evil was the worst sin committed by humanity, an act of disobedience so heinous the punishment had to resonate down through the generations until the end of days… and at the same time, it’s central to the finest thing about us, the thing that makes us uniquely precious to God?
How is it that we’re being punished for the very free will that God went to such pains to create in us?
How does that work, exactly?