Sunday, April 22, 2007

Evil Once Again...


Q - If God is actively involved in the world, then why does He allow suffering in some instances, but relieve it in others?

A - Thank you for your question. I must note that the whole of the question is not above, for the sake of brevity. But, the question comes from someone that is having trouble reconciling the fact that the Church teaches two seemingly contradictory statements (correct me if I am misrepresenting your questions). 1 - A loving God is active in the world. 2 - He allows evil to happen.

The answer that I provided previously seems cold comfort for some. I completely understand. It isn't easy to see much hope, at least in this lifetime, until heaven.

Let me see if I can help any, though I we will go deeper into the nature of God and evil, which doesn't satisfy many people, especially those struggling with these teachings.

The first thing we must understand is that love doesn't always equal nice, clean and pretty. Love isn't about feeling good. It is about what is best for the "other", despite the cost to "self". As a parent this is certainly the case. I see parents make the common mistake of being a friend to their children and end up not disciplining them, which leads to spoiled brats. They then ask how they could have turned out as they did. I remember the first time I punished my oldest child. I cried more than she did. But, I did it because I truly love her.

The second thing we should note is that love is only truly recognizable, in all of its wonder and glory, when contrasted with evil and a lack of love. If all we had was good and love, as human nature inclines us to do, we would certainly fail to see it as loving or good all the time.

Thirdly, if God's will is perfect, as I believe it to be, then it is our own failure to see the reason for suffering/evil in the world, not God's failure to act on it. Ultimately, the evil or suffering is for man's good. We may not be able to see or understand it now, but that is where the virtue of faith comes in. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine have more to say on this topic than I ever could.

Building upon what those two had to say, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following:

309 If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.

310 But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better.174 But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world "in a state of journeying" towards its ultimate perfection. In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.175

311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil.176 He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it:

For almighty God. . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.177

312 In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: "It was not you", said Joseph to his brothers, "who sent me here, but God. . . You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive."178 From the greatest moral evil ever committed - the rejection and murder of God's only Son, caused by the sins of all men - God, by his grace that "abounded all the more",179 brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.

313 "We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him."180 The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth:

St. Catherine of Siena said to "those who are scandalized and rebel against what happens to them": "Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind."181

St. Thomas More, shortly before his martyrdom, consoled his daughter: "Nothing can come but that that God wills. And I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best."182

Dame Julian of Norwich: "Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith... and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time - that 'all manner [of] thing shall be well.'"183

314 We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God "face to face",184 will we fully know the ways by which - even through the dramas of evil and sin - God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest185 for which he created heaven and earth.