I get crabby when certain simple issues are paraded over and over as weighty theological problems. Foremost among these is the “Problem of Evil.” Why, this problem asks, would a good God allow evil to happen to good people if He really exists at all. I am surprised at how many people this stumps. The answer is obviously free will. If you are free to do evil to others, then others are free to do evil to you. The more productive question would be, “Why does God so value free will that He permits evil to flourish rather than revoke it?” Now that question yields some useful insights.
What got me thinking along these lines was a compendium I saw a good writer list of great historical theologians’ answers to the “Big Rock” query. That question is, “If God can do anything, can He make a rock so big and so heavy even He can’t lift it?” I was appalled to see so many genuine intellects and a few saints give what I call ‘Rube Goldberg explanations’ in answer to this simple rhetorical fallacy. (Rube Goldberg was an engineer who made comically and insanely complicated contraptions to perform simple tasks). The only proper answer to this question is that God can make a rock of infinite size and infinite weight – and still lift it. Shoot, if He’s in the mood, while He’s at it, He could make a flat surface of infinite size and hardness and then He and the Archangels Gabriel, Michael and Rafael could play a doubles tennis match with the rock in question. Embedded in the question is the assumption that there is some size and weight of matter that is beyond God’s power to manipulate. It is the assumption that is in error. The only real use of this question is to point out the inherent assumptions and limitations of all language. Language is not pure thought, but rather a sort of currency that allows us to translate thought in a meaningful way with each other in this vale of shadows. But like all things here, it is limited and flawed.
In his latest piece, Mark Mallett makes the shrewd observation that satan makes a crude imitation of the important things God does for us. Indeed, satan’s imitations are perversions of the things God does. In satan’s dispensation, the unity God calls for becomes uniformity – and ultimately crudely enforced uniformity. God’s unity makes use of each person’s authentic personality. From this diversity He brings forth a unity of values that still respects the freedom and dignity of the human person; in fact uses that diversity to create a larger whole of creation at worship and joy. Satan’s perverted imitation is to celebrate a superficial diversity of physical characteristics in service to enforcing a uniformity of thought and ideology. God’s unity respects and enhances each person’s unique personality. Satan’s uniformity destroys each person’s personality.
In God’s economy, sexual attraction is the mechanism by which persons transcend their selfishness to live in full communion with one another. From that communion wells up a fountain of creation – and the unity of the family mirrors the very Trinitarian life of God. But satan perverts sexual attraction, making the mere mechanism the end. From it flows despair and sorrow, as barren as it is frantic. It destroys rather than creates.
God creates abundance, a complexity that, when studied, is breathtakingly elegant in its simplicity. Think of it. Scarcely more than a hundred elements are used to form all the staggering variety of plants, animals and minerals in the entire world. Each of these elements are just variations on the placement of a handful of particles in the atoms that make them up. For life itself, the DNA strands contain just four nucleotides, the bases used to form the entire code for every organism. It is simply varieties in the sequencing of these four bases that form the distinct pattern for all life forms – and the individual quirks of each organism. When analyzed, God’s complexity does not reveal a disordered chaos underlying it, but an incredibly elegant simplicity.
All the devil can muster in imitation of this is confused, disordered chaos. He tries to peddle it as enlightenment or appreciation for nuance. But when you strip it down there is no elegance, no simplicity, just a confused mess. It is why very intelligent people can congratulate themselves on wallowing in it. It is so complicated, they must be really smart, they think. How many converts the devil makes by seducing people to immerse themselves in complicated messes and telling them lesser mortals could not venture there!
It is notable that both the natural and the spiritual world are marked by the same thing. The greatest scientific achievements, even if counter-intuitive, are elegant in the organizing simplicity of their complexity. Jesus transformed the world where all the doctors of law could not. When He spoke, He spoke with an earthy, accessible truth that was powerful in its simplicity. Jesus said that those who want to hope are His sheep – and His sheep recognize His voice. When He came, they followed joyfully because He did not seek to beguile them with nuanced, complicated arguments. He told simple, homely truths. And they recognized Him with joy.
Whatever you contemplate, whether Scripture, prophecy or science, I think it a good rule to decide that if your answer or solution resembles a Rube Goldberg contraption, you still have work to do on it.