Valentine’s Day, Love, Free Will, and Evil

In a world without choice, would we still cherish love? Would we still value gifts?

I don’t think so.

When someone chooses to give me something (chocolate, let’s say), part of my appreciation comes from the chocolate itself, of course, but a deeper sense of gratitude on my part stems from my knowledge that someone made a decision to give it to me when they didn’t have to.

Apocalypse of Abraham IllustrationThis ability to choose, usually called “free will,” lies at the heart of the ancient Apocalypse of Abraham.

The first section of that rich and sometimes troubling text tells us about Abraham’s early life in his father’s idol workshop. Though a few details of Abraham’s childhood appear elsewhere, like in the Jewish Midrash, this is a much fuller account, including three specific incidents that led Abraham to reject idolatry. The first section ends when God burns Abraham’s father alive for believing in idols.

In the second section, Abraham explores the nature of the universe, in particular demanding to know why some people desire evil. In answering, God uses Abraham’s father an example.

“Why didn’t your father listen to you and abandon his demonic idolatry? Why did he perish?” God asks.

In a fit of rationality, Abraham responds that just as he himself chose not to listen to his father, his father chose not to listen to him.

More generally, God’s answer is that evil exists in the world because people are free to choose evil.

That’s one of those non-answer answers that most people find infuriating. But perhaps in the context of what a world without choice would be like, and as we are grateful for the choices other people have made, we can wonder if evil really is a necessary part of what we cherish most.

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