The most distinctive aspect of the revelation of God in Christ is Jesus’ demonstration that God relies on love to defeat his enemies and to accomplish his purposes. More than anything else, it was the perfect love of God revealed in the incarnation, ministry, and self-sacrificial death of Jesus that in principle defeated evil and thereby accomplished the will of God.
As he commands us to do, God overcame evil not with violence but by suffering violence on Calvary for the sake of love (1 Peter 2:20-23). This is the very definition of the kind of love that God eternally is, which we have discussed here. And this is the same kind of love that followers of Jesus are commanded to express to all people, including our enemies.
In this light, I believe that plausible models of providence must have at their center a God whose eternal nature is other-oriented, self-sacrificial love, as revealed in Jesus.
Before the creation of the world, God predestined that he would acquire a people—a “bride”—who would receive the Father’s perfect love for the Son and participate in the Son’s perfect love for the Father. However, if love is the goal of creation, then the creation must include free agents. As the early church uniformly understood, for contingent beings such as humans, love (as well as every other moral virtue) must be freely chosen. Had God created us such that we had to love, our love could not be genuine.
To illustrate, suppose a scientist invented a microchip that could control every neuron in a person’s brain and that was so sophisticated it could be implanted without the person knowing it. If this scientist programmed the microchip to do so, she could coerce any person to feel, think, speak, and behave in perfectly loving ways toward her, and her subjects would even believe they were doing this of their own volition.
While they would certainly appear to love this scientist, would we not consider her demented if she mistook the coerced appearance of love to be actual love? In making subjects “choose” to love her, the scientist was actually preventing them from genuinely choosing to love her, for they no longer had the capacity to do this of their own volition. In reality, this demented scientist would just be loving herself through these subjects, as much as if she were manipulating puppets on her hand to mimic loving expressions toward her.
So too, had he wanted to, the all-powerful God certainly could have created a world in which everyone was predestined to feel, think, speak, and behave in perfectly loving ways toward him and each other. But God would know, even if we did not, that we would be mere puppets on his hand. If God instead wants a people who genuinely love him and each other, he must create us with the capacity to choose to love or not. He must give us genuine say-so to affect what comes to pass as we choose to lovingly align our wills with his or not.
Love requires freedom.
—Adapted from Divine Providence: Four Views, pages 186-189