So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.
Genesis 50: 16-20
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
After my father died, after the funeral, at the reception I overheard an offhand remark from one of my father’s cousins that set my teeth on edge. She was, undoubtedly, trying to make sense of his senseless death (he was a peach of a human being and only 52). “God allowed Joe to die because of reasons we cannot understand, but something good will come out of it, and eventually we may see.” I came into my theological inheritance through this particular rusty old door; the idea that there is a God who controls everything, all aspects of life, and spends eternity making decisions, pulling levers, pushing buttons, making strange partnership with the evil in the world. I hated that God.
It was not until years later, in college and then in seminary, that I learned to be sure that the capricious, arbitrary, manipulative God who uses evil and death as a teaching tool does not, in fact, exist. There are certain thoughtless statements people of faith make at times of great uncertainty and fear, that bring an image of that God back to me in a sweat inducing flash [like, “there is a reason for everything,” or “There but for the grace of God, go I”] but truly, I cannot believe in that God any longer. And that isn’t just a Pollyannaish wish, it is a reasoned theological conclusion. Evil is not a tool of the divine, nor does it have God’s permission to walk abroad in the world. God just can’t do anything about it directly.
It is the cost that comes with the core of God’s essential nature being Love. The problem is, because God is in every essence Love, God could not create creatures who were controllable. To do so would have been inimical to Love that is itself a force both wild and uncontrollable. To create, say, a humanity that was substantially manageable would be to create a being without freedom or possibility. Such a creature could, I suppose, be made to be morally good, but not out of love. Process Theology, which I have referred to several times in these little reflections, suggests that while God is not in control of world events, God isn’t passive. Love is a highly influential power, it beckons and lures, inspires, empowers, and comforts.
Evil, of the sort we have seen in Orlando, or Newtown, in Charleston or Detroit, or the kind of evil that expresses itself in grinding poverty, racial paranoia, or the rapacious stockpiling of resources, is not a tool of the Divine, but an occasion of Divine grief. It is the result of a total resignation to our basest fears. It is also the consequence of creatures with radical free will, and nothing more than that. When something too big and too horrible for us to comprehend occurs in the world around us, it is far too tempting and simple to lay it off against the mystery of God. Rather, in Love, we ought to accept our own human culpability and work harder to make such evil obsolete.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (people) to do nothing.”
“Looks like what drives me crazy
Don’t have no effect on you–
But I’m gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.”