As we look out at the world, depending on the perspective, a troubling picture can emerge. What grabs our attention? If the news is any indication, it’s the problems and evils of the world (If it bleeds, it leads). This, of course, ignores the countless acts of kindness and love that are ubiquitous in the lives of everyday people. Still, given the evils we see, if God is the creator, it would be normal to ask “What was God thinking?” This is the well-known problem-of-evil. If as most theists believe, God is ultimate good and ultimate power, this raises the question of what goals God had in mind in creating a world where such evils can exist.
Now, it would be presumptive to claim to know what is in God’s mind but perhaps God has given us some clues. One clue might be found in what we admire. Why should we admire some things instead of others? I believe the divine depth within everything recognizes that certain things are worthy of our admiration and those reflect what God also admires that a finite existence can enable.
What might those admirable qualities be? The list is large. Here are only a few: Love, Courage, Grit, Honor, Self-sacrifice, Vitality, Compassion, Creativity, Humility, Faith in the face of doubt, Long-suffering, Kindness, and on and on. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 13 talking about love:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Other religious traditions have their own affirmations of these noble qualities. And these admirable traits are not just found in the human realm. They are present everywhere. Who isn’t brought to tears when we see creatures protecting their young or sacrificing themselves for their group? What about dogs saving their owners and dying in the process? Or Dolphins going out of their way to the rescue of humans in danger? This list also goes on and on.
When we witness these things we admire, there is a sense of something profound going on. That is why it moves us so deeply. Now, some might chalk all this up to a non-intentional natural selection process in evolution. According to this view, there is some fitness benefit for having these traits or admiring them. There would be no objective value at work. However, for most people (even among non-believers) there is an affirmation of objective values inherent in life.
So, what do we know? We know that these admirable qualities exist in the world just as it is. Obviously, this is no utopia without evil, conflict, pain, and suffering. Life is a mixture, often ambiguous and puzzling. Could all these things we admire occur in a utopian setting (a heaven on Earth)? No. Every admirable trait has its opposite. Love/Hate. Kindness/Meanness, Courage/Cowardice. Etc. The universe is teeming with the interactions of opposites — positive/negative, light/dark, matter/antimatter, and so on. The Tao is right that there are complementary opposites — yin and yang.
So, perhaps one of the main goals of God in creating the universe as it is, is to create a world where all those things we and God admire so much are possible. One might say as in physics, the universe is fine-tuned so that the greatest and noblest qualities can become manifest.
Does this address the problem of evil? I think so. Now, I continue to struggle with the problem of evil (shouldn’t all theists?). Who would not be troubled particularly when we see innocent children suffer and the horrors that humans inflict on each other? As I’ve said in my essay on the problem of evil, there must be mitigating factors to justify the evil we see. Perhaps what I’ve talked about so far is one. I think it is. However, with the ontology of an aspect monism suggested on this website, there is more.
Not only does God create a universe where all these admirable qualities are possible, but God also ontologically participates in the struggle to instantiate them. In an aspect monism God literally lives. God lives each life from the most fundamental particles or fields to all organisms including humans and who knows what other creatures exist in the universe. Each life is its own (each of us has our own life) but God is living that life as an aspect of the Divine Life. This might be thought of as a thoroughgoing panentheism where there is God-as-transcendent and also God-as-living. God-as-living is subject to all the struggles and ambiguities that life creates and strives toward those admirable qualities. Since there is freedom with God-as-living this will not always be successful but that is part of life. In each of us, this struggle is a mixture of success and failure, but other admirable traits are courage, resolve, and persistence. Metaphorically one might say that God-as-transcendent chose to challenge God’s self with the vicissitudes of life. If this is the case, there must be something very important about living finite lives. At the very least, at times we sense there is a profound meaningfulness in this struggle with both the joys and sorrows that occur.