Abortion, pornography, homosexual unions, war… It’s obvious that evil exists in the world today. Just read the newspaper, turn on the television or look around you.
Before his conversion, St. Augustine was troubled with the concept of evil. He said in his Confessions, “I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution.” As a philosopher he was interested in causes and had a desire to find out why things are they way they are. So he had many questions about the origin of evil and tried hard to figure it out.
He truly believed that God was Goodness Itself and had created all things. The problem was that if God was truly good then why was there evil in the world? Evil clearly exists and we see and hear of it often in the world. So if these evils exist and God created all things, wouldn’t that mean that God was responsible for the evil in the world? That would be an incredible contradiction. How can Goodness Itself be responsible for evil? That can’t be. There would have to be another explanation and he was determined to find it but he still had many questions flying through his mind about evil and its origin.
Why do I commit this thing called evil when I don’t want to and fail to do good when I do want to? There is often this struggle within me but if I’m made in God’s image, should I really be going through this struggle? I know what I should do because it is clearly laid out before me, yet something within me wants to go int the opposite direction. How did this bitter state of struggle and sorrow get put into me? Again, God is all goodness and there is not bitterness in Him, so why is it in me?
If God is omnipotent, why is there evil? Couldn’t he just get rid of it as if it were a speck of dust? Why does it remain in this world? Is it possible that evil existed against God’s will?
All these common questions ran through Augustine’s head and caused him much anguish especially since he could not answer them. It wouldn’t be until later in his conversion that his problem would be resolved. He ends that section in his Confessions by thanking God that even though he was uncertain about many things, the faith of Christ and His Catholic Church stood firm in his heart.
There are many mysteries of our faith that we do not fully understand. That is why they are mysteries. God has revealed mysteries to us but since He is infinite and we are not, our finite minds cannot fully grasp the meaning unless we were given a special grace. Just think of the Holy Trinity. If God hadn’t revealed it, we never would have known that there were three persons in one God. Yet even though we know this, we still don’t fully understand it.
As with St. Augustine, we should put our complete trust in Christ and in his Church and al that she teaches. This takes humility and the gift of faith because, having a fallen human nature, we would rather figure things out and see them for ourselves rather than to believe in the word of another, even if it is backed by Divine Authority.
Well, what does the Church have to say about this? Is God the cause of all the evil in the world? Absolutely not. The Catechism tells us, “He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows to derive good from it.” (CCC 311)
God loves us so much that he won’t force us to be obedient to him or to always do good but desires that we give ourselves freely to him. On top of this he even knows how to take the worst of our sins and turn them into good or else he wouldn’t permit them. This doesn’t mean we should go on sinning because we know that good will come out of it. God brings good out of it but the evil itself never becomes a good.
Think of the most evil act that ever took place in the history of the world. Without a doubt it would be the murder of our God made flesh. Yet out of this apparent evil, mankind was redeemed from the slavery of sin.
God has also blessed us by allowing us to figure certain things out by reason alone. Metaphysically, the problem of evil can be solved in the following way. God is indeed the creator of all things and as is evident, evil does exist. The key is that evil is not a created thing. It is the lack or absence of good. So God is not the cause of evil. It is nothing in itself but is the lack of what one should be or have. So it is a defect and makes us more imperfect when we commit it.
Remember God is always in control. Whether we feel we have committed the gravest of sins or have been the victim of the worst evil, God in his mercy and love will bring good out of it. “We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him.” (Rom 8:28)
It’s in the particularly troubling times of life that the healing power of the Sacrament of Confession really hits home and makes a difference in our lives. Not only does this sacrament reconcile us to God and restore us to his grace but it also better prepares us to meet God face to face when we will see his providence played out in our lives and in those dear to us. May the Risen Lord continue to guide us through the storms of life.
-Fr. Patrick Mary