If I say that I could take a trip to France, if I wanted, I mean I have sufficient resources to cover the cost and that there are no conflicts of time or circumstance that might prevent me.
But if I say that I could want to go to France if…then what am I saying?
Nothing about my circumstances, but something about myself.
But what about myself?
What I want to do is not a single, simple thing, isolated from other things. It’s not like a green jelly bean in a jar of reds. If I were to wake up tomorrow and think about going to France, and find myself savoring the thought, embellishing it with things I find attractive, imagining myself, the me I know, sipping wine in a sidewalk cafe on some bright Paris morning…and if, after checking my bank account and other potential obstacles, an aura of intentionality begins to clothe the idea…we might call that now wanting to go to France. But it has not been a thing I discover ‘inside’. It is a reorientation of my whole being.
If we question – in faith, not in skepticism – whether God could have created a world without suffering and sorrow, are we wondering whether He could have done so, if He wanted? Or whether He could have wanted to do so, whether His wants could have been different?
If the latter, then I’m afraid the answer must be: Yes, certainly, if God were not God. For God’s wants are not transient and variable and contingent like mine, like my wanting to go to France. God’s being cannot experience reorientation. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and while I think that’s misleading in important ways, I do think it captures a truth: that the character that gives foundation to God’s will never changes.
And yet there is evil and suffering, and sorrow.
And so the question is narrowed down. Now it becomes: Could God have created a world without these awful things? And the answer is, trivially, Yes. He could have created a brick.
But could he have created a world like the one we have, with all its joys, but without its many sorrows?
That is one of the things God cannot do. Not because it’s impossible, but because it would be evil.