The age-old question most Christians encounter at one point in their lives, “why does evil exist,” resurfaces again – this time in cartoon form.
And it’s none other than Jesus himself, adorned with a British accent and all, who answers.
Creating a video to answer the “‘unsolvable’ problem of the theodicy,” author and popular blogger John Shore is hoping to shed some light on the subject of evil without slighting Jesus.
Though Shore himself does not struggle with the problem of theodicy, stating on his website “if you accept as real an overseeing, all-powerful God – and certainly if you accept the figure of Jesus as a manifestation of that God – the theodicy is solved,” he knows many still struggle with the issue.
Those who did not believe in God, he stated, of course had a separate set of challenges relative to understanding or explaining evil.
“I’ve done this video because I thought it might be a good way to, in a unique (and hopefully engaging) way, bring forth a thought or two central to Christianity,” Shore published.
Using the free online tools provided by Xtranormal.com, Shore explained how there were limited choices in regards to setting, characters, and voices. According to his site, he chose the pre-made character of Jesus and gave him a British voice, which seemed best suited among the other voices.
Jesus delivers his message inside an airport, just before the security checkpoint, which the author again felt was the best option.
“I know illustrating Jesus in this manner is a tricky business; as a Christian, I’m certainly sensitive to anything slighting Jesus. I don’t think this does. I hope you agree.”
The video starts with a brief introduction by Jesus, explaining who he is, stating, “Hi there, I’m Jesus the Christ. I am also fully 100 percent God.” He even highlights his humanity when he shares how the concept of the Trinity “sometimes gives even [him] a headache.”
“As God I get asked a lot of questions,” Jesus shares in the video. “The question I get asked most often is why does evil exist. Terrible things happen to people and they want to know why if I am a benevolent and all powerful God I let those terrible things happen.”
He first clarified that there are two types of evils – one where “humans visit against one another” and the other being “natural evils, diseases and so forth.” Jesus goes on to explain throughout the majority of the video the manmade kind of evil.
“The reason I don’t prevent any human from doing anything they want, evil included, is free will. Free will is the essential human quality. It makes all people who they are.”
“When people ask me to stop evil, what they are really asking me to do is turn the entire human race into brain-dead automatons. I don’t want that,” Jesus admits. “And neither do you.”
Stating that eradicating evil would require exercising full mind control over humans, preventing every negative thought people had, the animated Jesus reveals that the existence of evil does not prove how much he doesn’t love humans, but just the opposite.
“Remember that evil exists does not prove that I do not love you. What is proves is that I will not violate human free will. And that is proof of how very much I do love you.”
The clip ends with Jesus addressing the “other kind of evil” – the natural kind.
“There was a boy born in Mumbai who was going to cure cancer. He was a genius visionary, a medical prophet. He would have eradicated much natural evil. But do you know what happened to that little boy?” Jesus asks.
“When he was 6 years old he died of starvation,” he concludes.
Pastor Ray Ortlund, Jr., council member of The Gospel Coalition, responded to Shore’s video with his own in-depth analysis.
Though he found Shore articulated “The Problem” well and did a great job of not trivializing Jesus, Ortlund did not agree with the way “free will” was explained.
The pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville told Shore in an email response that he doesn’t believe in “free will” as much as he believes in “unfree will.”
“That is, I do have free will to do whatever I want – and it comes out badly at times. But I do not have free will to choose what I want. I cannot control what my ‘wanter’ down inside wants,” Ortlund shared.
“If I lust over a woman, it’s because I want to. But then, why the shame and frustration? Because I did something that I wanted to do; but, at the same time, I didn’t want to do it. So, I need God to get involved in my interiority, and change what I want. I need the ‘new birth’ of John, chapter three.”
Calling it an “easy out” to relieve the problem of evil with an appeal to man’s free will, Ortlund explained the innate complexities of that implication.
“Let’s say we both believe in heaven in some biblical sense. Okay, will we still sin in heaven?” he asked hypothetically. “No. We’ll finally be free of it all. But why won’t we sin in heaven? It won’t be us boot-strapping ourselves there. No Christian believes in self-salvation. It will be Christ’s work in us. The whole message of the Bible.”
Ortlund, simplifying his point even further, said, “When we no longer sin, but goodness is exploding out of us forever in heaven, will we also be ‘brain-dead automatons?’”
“When [God’s] grace finally changes our free wills to want only what he wants, will we be diminished or violated? We will be more alive, more human, more complete, more free than ever. And it will be totally his work in us.”
Noting that human free will and God’s sovereign will were compatible in the way reality actually worked, Ortlund advised Shore on how he would have described free will in light of “The Problem.”
“God makes me do his will of my own free will.”
“His will is real. My will is also real. But he accomplishes his will through my will without my having even to consciously cooperate, and yet it’s still the real me, and I can’t blame God for anything. This is counter-intuitive, but it seems to be the assumption that all the biblical authors are working with.”
Having complicated the original problem Shore was hoping to simplify, Ortlund revealed, “The Problem is more difficult than before!”
“But with this qualified understanding of free will,” he continued, “I am finally facing into how little I understand of life, and how much I have to refer it to God, and say, ‘I don’t get this. I can’t defend you as easily as I wanted to. You’re not letting me get you off the philosophical hook!’”
“I’m pushed to the place where all I can do is trust you. I can’t explain you. I can’t rescue your public reputation. So okay, I’ll do what I can. But this is not going to be easy.”
And like Job, who struggled with his sufferings, Ortlund disclosed that he too, like many nonbelievers and believers today, struggled still. “If there’s a biblical book that doesn’t appeal to free will as a solution, it’s Job – the biggest book of all about The Problem!”
Shore, after reading the response, believed that the pastor’s analysis did not contradict with the point of his video, which was that God does not interfere with human will.
“If Ray wants God to redefine his interior life, then he must first ask God to do that for him. Just like anyone else’s, Ray’s relationship with God depends upon Ray first deciding that he wants that relationship – that is, it depends upon Ray exercising his free will toward that end.”
So does Shore’s interpretation of free will provide an adequate answer to the problem of evil in the world?
Perhaps not. But like his Jesus character stated from the beginning, “But have no doubts about this. I am God.”
Shore is a popular blogger for The Huffington Post and author of several books including I’m OK – You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop and Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do the Things I Do, by God.