Evolution is a messy, painful, and ruthless process. Recently I saw an article* mistakenly suggesting that because of the difficulties of evolution no one can accept evolution and still believe in a benevolent God. I knew they were mistaken, because I myself accept the evidence for evolution and still believe in a benevolent God. The problem the author of the article was trumpeting (and they were trumpeting it as if they had discovered something brand new), was the problem of evil. In a nutshell the problem of evil is the difficulty in reconciling an all-loving, all-powerful God with the evil, pain, and suffering we observe all around us on a daily basis. Despite what the misguided author thought, it is a problem that Christian thinkers have been wrestling with for centuries (and Jewish ones even before that, e.g. the book of Job).
I didn’t think any more about that article until I came across another article titled “From Survival to Love: Evolution and the Problem of Suffering” by Bethany Sollereder in The Christian Century. She reviews a book by Andrew Elphinstone that deals with this very issue. She sums up his book as follows by quoting the following statement, “The present primacy of pain and unrest in the world is part of the raw material of the ultimate primacy of love.”
Needless to say, I was intrigued and I kept reading despite the fact that it was a relatively long article. But how are pain and unrest transformed into love? Here’s her summary:
“From this evolutionary perspective, the ubiquity of pain in the world is not an argument against the love or goodness of God. Rather, it is the key to understanding our high calling of love. When we are in pain, more than any other moment, our passions are invoked and shaped. When our pain leads us to violence, hate, or revenge, our desires turn to evil. If instead, in the moment of pain, we choose to forgive, the power of pain is broken. It is not passed on in aggression or turned upon the self in shame. Forgiveness is the ultimate defeat of evil and freedom from it. While we may still be in pain, we may also find joy in the transformation of love. There is redemption in finding that without retaliation we can relinquish the role of victim and become the victor.”
I’ve encountered this line of thinking before, but never in directly in the context of a discussion of the theory or evolution.** I commend the article to you, but please know that The Christian Century will apparently only let you read a limited number of articles free each month.
*Sorry, but I can’t find the article. I was really happy to find an example of a militant atheist saying something stupid about Christianity, rather than a Christian saying something stupid about science. However, I didn’t bookmark the article and now I can’t locate it.
**I don’t question the theory of evolution and I accept the scientific evidence for it, but I also wouldn’t be troubled if biologists presented a new theory of human origins tomorrow. I accept the evidence for evolution, but I reserve the statement “I believe” (which denotes faith, trust, and commitment) for the Triune God.