“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” —Romans 5:15
If you scroll through a newsfeed on any given day, you will inevitably be confronted by the problem of evil. Stories of hatred, murder, fear, and corruption disturb our inner being while the questions mount: If sin entered into the world by “willful rebellion against God,” then why did God permit it? Couldn’t an Almighty God have prevented it? The problem of evil, for John Wesley, hinged on one’s ability to choose. The real question he wants to consider is, can love really exist without a choice?
Consider a toddler’s toy doll that has a button on its back. When you push the button, the doll utters the words, “I love you.” It has been pre-programmed to say these words—but does the doll really love the toddler? Of course not; genuine love can only exist by one’s ability to choose. Without choice, love is nothing more than facade.
When God made humanity in His own image, He gave us the ability to choose.
Our abuse of that liberty, “produced evil… [bringing] sin and pain into the world.” But, some asked, “Why allow it to happen?” Wesley concluded, “If Adam had not fallen, Christ would not have died,” and the greatest manifestation of love to humanity would never have been displayed.
It is true, Wesley thought, that humanity may have been able to still love God in some measure, had sin not entered into the world, but because of our sin, we have learned much more of God. We have loved Him for “bearing our sins,” have “known the power of His resurrection,” been brought out of “darkness into His marvelous light,” been “renewed in the image of God,” have understood the fullness of grace, and have faith. And we have learned to love others like God has loved us.
Could we have ever known how to “return good for evil” if there had never been an evildoer in the universe? Could we really understand the virtues of patience, humility, and long-suffering, or how to love an enemy? Our ability to choose, and the consequences that naturally follow, allowed the manifestation of God’s love to blossom in a way in which humanity had the potential to love like God has loved us.
I had a friend come to me years ago who was going through a difficult time. Evil had entered his little world through the willful rebellion of someone he dearly loved. “Why is God allowing this to happen to me? Why isn’t God doing anything about it?” he asked me. Full of empathy, I responded, “Maybe you should ask a different question. Instead of asking, ‘why is this happening?’, maybe you could ask, ‘Lord, how would you like me to respond to this situation in Christlike love?’” The choice was his; the choice is ours, too.
H. Gordon Smith III is senior pastor of Frankfort Church of the Nazarene in Frankfort, Indiana, USA.
To read the full text of the sermon, click here.
Written for Coffee Break.