Proof of Love
Love isn’t love if not freely chosen.
And no love is perfect until it sets the beloved perfectly free.
So the ability to choose not-love is absolutely necessary for love to exist…
…which means the evil done in the world is really proof of love…
Have I overstated this? Maybe. Not sure. Increasingly don’t think so.
Since we’ve been writing on cave walls, evil has been a problem. Why do we do what we do? Why is it done to us? A whole branch of philosophy, theodicy, is dedicated to justifying God’s existence in the presence of evil…a real problem for those who believe in only one God. Polytheists can have good gods and bad gods—problem solved. Atheists have no problem at all, of course, and agnostics just shrug. Monotheists have Satan, but that doesn’t let God off the hook; buck still stops at God’s desk. If there is only one God who is all powerful and all good and yet evil exists, pick any two, but you can’t have all three. If God doesn’t stop evil, he’s not all good; if he can’t, not all powerful.
We grieve and rage over the evil we see in the world—and for good reason. We cry to God to relieve us of the evil that we and others create as if it never should have existed in our universe. Evil is always painful, sometimes unspeakably so, but what would a world really look like without evil ever chosen? Only place you’ll ever find absolute uniformity of choice would be where there is no choice.
Choice is the key ingredient, the part of us created in God’s image. Without a free choice, love is not love. If it’s coerced or purchased in any way, it’s a violation at worst, a transaction at best, but how is it love? And if Merton is right, if love really boils down to simple identification with the beloved from which all loving behavior and emotion flows, then the choice to see ourselves as intimately connected, one with each other and God, must be no less free.
If we’re really not preprogrammed, if our choices really are free, then it is a mathematical certainty that some will choose one way and others not. That’s the nature of choice. I know how Genesis reads, but as a poetically Hebrew telling of God granting the beginning of choice to humans in the Garden, seems to me the certainty of people choosing all sorts of different paths was also part of the plan. That the evil we create is a necessary component of the interaction of faith and love, that wounding at the hands of life’s evil is essential to the endurance that produces a perfect result—a depth and maturity as James describes at the beginning of his book. And though it’s characterized as a curse, it’s not God doing the cursing, it’s just us in our fear, not yet ready to make choices in love.
In other words, the evil we create in life is actually proof of the possibility of perfect love…proof that we, as beloved, really have been set perfectly free to choose. Because the only way to know a choice is free is to have freely chosen every alternative. And once we’ve freely chosen, we learn for ourselves which choices point in the direction of life.
What if God really is love?
What if love really is the perfect freedom to choose to connect, to identify, to hold the beloved in the same breath we hold ourselves? To see beauty instead of weakness and risk in the vulnerability necessary for connection? What if real love can and will only create that which is equally free? Free to love back. Doesn’t mean our unloving choices are not evil. Just necessary. Proof of freedom.
Proof of love.
And what if we believe this enough to actually live it, become free enough to set free?
What if what we create is also free enough to choose other than ourselves?
Then maybe we become living proof of love.
And evil will continue. But so will love.