Is God innocent of evil in the world?
The drama of the existence of evil has been used since ancient times to raise objections about the existence of God, or at least to His action, in the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself recognizes this: “If the world does come from God’s wisdom and goodness, why is there evil? Where does it come from? Who is responsible for it? Is there any liberation from it?” (Catechism, n. 284). And elsewhere: “Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil” (Catechism, n. 272).
For many, then, the scandal of evil tests their faith in Divine Providence. “If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist?” (Catechism, n. 309). “To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious,” the Catechism answers, “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 tum 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” (Catechism, n. 309).
Some ask: “But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil
could exist in it?” (Catechism, n. 310). It is true that with His “infinite power God could always create something better” (ibid). However, “with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world ‘in a state of journeying’ toward 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” (Ibid). “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. 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’ (St. Augustine)” (Catechism, n. 311).
There are things that we can neither explain nor understand except from a perspective that transcends the times and the excessively rushed expectations of men. Thus, “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 (Catechism, n. 312).
Let us recall the episode of Joseph being sold by his brothers as a slave. In time, and due to that mysterious sinful decision of his brothers, Joseph became the savior of his people. Joseph said to his brothers, “So it was not really you but God who had me come here… Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people” (Gen 45:8; 50:20).
Even more is seen in the death of the Son of God made man: “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,’ brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good” (Catechism, n. 312).
St. Paul expresses this mystery with an expression that should guide Christians in the midst of their trials, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).
The Catechism recalls the witness of the saints confirming this truth (Catechism, n. 313):
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” (St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue on Providence, ch. IV, 138).
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” (The Correspondence of Sir Thomas More, ed. Elizabeth F. Rogers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), letter 206, lines 661-663).
[St.] 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’” (Julian of Norwich, The Revelations of Divine Love, tr. James Walshe, SJ
(London: 1961), ch. 32, 99-100).
As Christians, we must profess our vision of faith in this mystery of the existence of evil by saying with the Catechism, “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’ (1 Cor 13:12), 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 rest (Cf. Gen 2:2) for which he created heaven and earth” (Catechism, n. 314).
Fr. Miguel A. Fuentes, IVE
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