Evolution, Suffering and Story Arcs

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Young earth creationist friends, this post will probably not resonate with you at all. In fact, it may make you angry. I ask that you would be gentle and not condemning if you comment, and that you would consider more than one possibility of how God created the world. Check out some BioLogos.

For hours now, I have been trying to come up with theories (assuming both evolution and a loving God are true) of why God would allow pain and death (animal at least, if not human) before the Fall. I thought that the ultimate thing that would bring doubt about God’s apparent-goodness/existence (our culture tends to assume the two are synonymous) for me was the existence of evil itself. But though mysteries continue to abound in that area, the plot thickens ever further as I try to reconcile real science with the real God of Christianity. And not being a scientist makes the effort that much more frustrating.

There are many questions about God and life that come back to bite me again and again. Some of my questions have been understood with experience. Some are answered by study and the help of the Holy Spirit. And some are unsolvable conundrums.

Regarding this agonizing question, absolutely no theory on the internet or what I have tried to come up with in my head makes any sense. I know I am like a sheep trying to understand the ways of its shepherd, and the analogy certainly helps. But it feels like I am watching my shepherd beat his sheep (and himself) to death just to bring about new life. Jesus’ parables and teachings are full of apparent paradox (as opposed to true paradox), and I know that He says that He who tries to save his life will lose it but he who lays down his life will find it…but–but–HUH? Is there no other way to bring life than through suffering? How is this the only way?

There are endless examples in nature of how death brings about life. Consider the food chain. Consider the fact that humans have to eat food, thereby killing a plant or animal, in order to live. Let’s think about this practically. We all hate suffering. We all hate death. However, would you trade this world we live in with such rich and diverse tastes of plant and animal life for nutritious and edible plastics and tin cans?

If not animals, most of us can stomach the death of plants. After all, we like to live. But the suffering and death of humans is an entirely different story. It’s personal.

What kind of stories do you like? Do you like the ones where nothing bad ever happens, where there is no need for resolution because there was never any problem to resolve? Or are you more inspired by the traditional story arc of inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution? Generally speaking, the world a protagonist lives in initially is quite stable–one might even say it is good or at least livable (if only for a sentence or two). But very quickly, something goes wrong and our hero is thrust into turmoil. The details of the journey thereafter is what makes a good story great.

I don’t believe human death did exist before the fall. But if it did, it doesn’t diminish God’s goodness. One thing is for sure: God does not enjoy pain. He does not delight in evil. Jesus wept. Before dying on the cross to save us from eternal condemnation, Jesus asked His Father if there was any other way for Him to restore the world. But there was only one option. Maybe its the same with evolution, and with death before the Fall. Perhaps the only way we could have such diversity and complexity of life–the only way we could experience life to the full and learn to trust our Creator–the only way we can have the resolution we long for–is to live the story arc. And living the story will create the beauty of the resolution we never could have experienced had pain never entered the picture. God only knows.

8 hours later…I read this in a Lent devotional, 40 Days of Decrease

Process can be a troublesome thing. It disrupts us and disorients us and we would much rather skip to the end. But to live true, we must allow process to run its course. Question it, weep through it, agonize over it . . . but, for the sake of our souls, we dare not truncate process because time alone makes its work soul-deep.

Today, fast premature resolution. Resist tidying up when you are in the muddy middle of the process of obedience-in-the-making. Befriend undone. Name the trouble. Like Jesus, talk to yourself and your Father God. Ask Him if alternative routes exist again and again and again . . . until you push through resistance, pass around resentment, press past resignation, and emerge into willful (even if tearful) partnership with God.

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