This is an essay I have been working on , references to follow, as soon as I can get them all together. This is to follow the opinion of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not meant to offend.
The concept of an all-loving omnipotent God
escapes the logic of many Christians
solely on the reality of pain
ing. The radical and pervasive presence of evil
cannot be ignored or explained away. Whether evil occurs in natural catastrophies
, such as epidemics and earthquakes, or in manmade horrors, such as the Holocaust
, it meets us at every turn and forces each of us to ponder the meaning of existence.
It is not surprising that, more than any other theme, the perennial problem of evil haunts those areas of inquiry which deal primarily with nature and destiny of man: philosophy, theology, literature, art and history. Neither is it surprising that every major world-view, whether religious, ethical, or political, proposes some insight into this vexing problem.
Here, attempts will be made to provide a succinct overview of the problem, explaining how evil is possible while existing concurrently with an all-loving God. Validation for God’s response to this evil will be explained while noting His vengeful WRATH
is never greater than His unlimited MERCY
and all-encompassing LOVE
Who is responsible for EVIL?
“Evil, in a large sense, may be described as the sum of the opposition, which experience shows to exist in the universe, to the desires and needs of individuals; whence arises, among human beings at least, the sufferings in which life abounds. Thus evil, from the point of view of human welfare, is what ought not to exist.”1
‘What ought not to exist is a chief concern in the atheist’s argument. If theists are correct, how then can there be justification
for evil, which in turn leads to the demise of man?
The principle of an all-creating God can easily be extrapolated to include the origin of evil. Three classes of evil exist which must be defined before further argument can be given: metaphysical, moral and physical evil.2
A metaphysical evil is not evil properly so called; it is but the negation of a greater good, or the limitation of finite beings by other finite beings. Physical evil deprives the subject affected by it of some natural good, and is adverse to the well being of the subject, as pain and suffering. Moral evil is found only in intelligent beings; it deprives them of some moral good.3
ian-Thomistic approach rebukes the notion that God is the origin of sin
and moral evil
.4 Evil here is the privation of good or more readily termed-sin
.5 God alone is good, good being termed such according to its perfection. As God is perfect, He is also perfectly good.6 Being good, God could not be the origin of evil- that which desires something other than good. If God is not the origin of evil, then we must be the origin of evil. Humans are not intrinsically evil, but that we, acting in a manner that avoids good, act sinfully.
This perpetration is possible by means of our free will. Sin is nothing else than a morally bad act, an act not in accord with reason informed by the Divine law.7
God has endowed
us with reason
, and a sense of responsibility; He has made us subject to His law, which is known to us by the dictates of conscience
, and our acts must conform with these dictates, otherwise we sin (Rom. 14:23).
of free will can be traced back to the theology
of St. Augustine of Hippo
, although many parts of his theory can be found in the work of earlier thinkers such as Ambrose of Milan
and Athanasius of Alexandria
In his first part of his treatise, The Freedom of the Will8, Augustine argue
s that man can exercise his will in complete independence of any influence from the other parts of his being or from his environment. The will of man’s soul, Augustine maintains, is superior
in being to all the other dimensions which make man what he is.9 Therefore, the will is not subject to meaningful influence by any of the “inferior” features of man or his milieu. It chooses the good appropriate to it or deviates therefrom solely of its own accord.
Man’s freedom is an image of God’s freedom and his will is no more coerced than God’s. No one and nothing else can be held accountable, therefore, if man misuses his freedom.
Evil, according to Augustine, first entered creation through the free deviation
of the angel
s from God’s plan. The deviation of man from his appropriate good is attributed to the freely intended deviation of Adam’s unconditioned will from God’s good purposes. The question “why would God allow this?” puzzles thinkers even today. No one can know the mind of God, however; theologically one searches for this answer. It did not have to be this way. Since the same results of creation and evolution could be achieved by other means, what we experience is a deliberate choice on God’s part made in the face of acceptable alternatives.
It is not outrageous
to think that in a free system such as the one in which man finds himself, as man gains more responsibility for his own actions, so does God. In facing each decision
, man has certain alternatives that are greater or lesser in number
depending upon the situation. In calculating
involved, man’s own will acts, and in each decision man either accepts or shirks responsibility for the fact that his will did not choose differently. For each choice that man makes, God is not responsible. Nevertheless, God did create the framework
within which every choice must be made, and he could have willed a world of different situations, different forces, and other odds. He could have given us an alternative set of circumstances as the context for our decisions.
The analysis of John Hick, author of Evil and the God of Love, presents an alternative to the Augustinian origin of evil. Hick approaches the problem through the method of counter-factual hypothesis, testing the proposed alternatives to the present mixture of good and evil in the world for their coherence with what Christianity takes to be the chief values and goals of creation.
Hick distinguishes the type of suffering and pain which, even though bad in itself, can produce a greater good from the type of evil which seems to lead to no productive end.10 Those who hold the experience of evil or pain against God according to Hick assume a purpose for creation different from that proposed by Christ
, a “hedonis
t” paradise populated by “feckless Adam
s and Eve
s” instead of “an environment
in which moral beings may be fashioned, through their own free insights and responses, into ‘children of God
The world then, is a realm
for soul development, where men learn through trial and error
and sin, not only to become free beings in relation to each other and the world but most importantly in relation to God. The purpose of this soul development for Hick, is to prepare men for life in the Kingdom of God, an eternal state of “infinite good that would render worthwhile any finite suffering endured in the course of attaining to it.”12
For man to develop the freedom by which he can enter into authentic personal
relation with God, he must evolve in self-possession at a certain “epistemic distance” from God, in an environment in which God often seems to be absent or at least not very effective.13
If God were to be fully present to man from the beginning or to have created man in such a way that he could not help but turn to God, man would be little else but a puppet
of God, whose relation to Him would not be based in genuine
Put simply, would you want someone to love you unconditionally because you told them to do so and then forced them at each step? Or would you rather instead a person to come to you freely out of total free love, giving you the absolute satisfaction that they love you for you and not because you told them too?
These arguments lay well the foundations
of moral evils, but what of those evils, which inflict their pain on humanity
every day. St. Augustine holding evil to be permitted for the punishment of the wicked
and the trial of the good, shows that it has, under this aspect, the nature of good, and is pleasing to God, not because of what it is, but because of where it is; i.e. as the penal and just consequence of sin.
St. Thomas Aquinas develops this further, logically developing how God could be the author of this evil. “First act”, form, is actual in relation to matter within a substance, for matter is potential to being formed. “Second act”, operation or activity, is actual in relation to the substance, for the substance is potential to its own activity; it is able to act. Pain and suffering come under a defect of first act; sin and wickedness come under a defect of second act. The term “Evil” is thus analogical, not univocal. Pain is evil we suffer, sin is evil we do.
St. Thomas does not say that it is wise or good to commit a lesser fault to prevent
a greater one, but that it is wise and good sometimes to inflict the lesser kind of evil, pain, to prevent the greater kind of fault.
Thus punishment, which must be painful in some way, can be morally good if it is both deserved and is aimed at deterring the one punished from future faults.
of “the lesser of two evils
” means that we often must tolerate
or allow the lesser evil to prevent the greater one, and that we should sometimes inflict the lesser evil to prevent the greater kind, but not that we should commit little sins to prevent big sins.15
Therefore sin (moral evil) is an even greater evil than its punishment (the privation of God’s life in the soul, which is present imperfectly in this life by grace and perfectly in the next by glory). In other words the worst evil is not Hell but sin. So it is better to suffer evil than to do it, and to actively oppose uncreated good (God) is more evil than to be deprived of it passively.
Swallowing this argument is more than most can bear, especially in the light of the intense suffering of starving children, abortion, leukemia etc. Hick’s solution to this problem relates to his argument of moral evil.
This pain-involved world is necessary for our soul-development, so God deems it. In “a world
devoid both of dangers to be avoided and rewards to be won we may assume, there would have been virtually no development of the human intellect and imagination” and hence soul-development would be stagnant.16
amounts of this physical evil is still a question many demand an answer to, Hick again presents a suitable solution- relativity. For God to eradicate certain unfortunate evils such as famine, earthquakes etc., other evils would then be lifted to the stature of ultimate physical evil. These evils then would need to be eradicated only then to have others take their places. This cycle would continue until all natural evil would be absent from this world. This world would not be appropriate then to foster the development of human minds and souls, which God intends for us. Hence the purpose of creation would disappear.17
Is God’s Vengeance Justified?
It has already been stated that moral sin is a departure from God, repelling His grace from our souls. In order to regain this grace and again walk in the light of His Goodness, we must repent for our sins. However, penitence is insufficient. “There must be a correspondingly objective demonstration of justice, or the world is a morally indifferent place.”18
alone will not do because this is to fail to take offender and his or her acts seriously. Forgiveness without punishment is sentimentality. God cannot simply forgive because He wants to, for a mere declaration changes nothing. There can be no restoration of relationships unless the nature of the offence against universal justice is laid bare and attacked at its root.19
To ignore the fact that Jesus is shown in Scripture as bearing the consequences, according to the will of God, of our breaches of universal justice – to forget that he was bruised for our iniquities – is to trivialize evil and deny the need for an atonement.
If one does moral evil, their situation is like that of a debtor who owes money
: there is an obligation to do something like repaying. Furthermore, the morally guilty person is unclean because guilt is ‘a stain on the soul’, which needs expunging. The way these two things are dealt with is by atonement, which involves repentance, apology, reparation and penance.20
Swinburne argues that simple forgiveness will not do, as it fails to treat people seriously, and thus trivializes human relationships. Swinburne recognizes that reparation is not always possible, at least in this life.21 Hence the doctrine
Like Hell, God created Purgatory because His Justice and Love demanded it. His love demands a place of reparation and eternal punishment, for the more He loves the more He must hate sin. To those who say that God sentences them to Purgatory or Hell must realize that in actuality they sentence themselves there. And God has loved too much not to let them go there if they scorn, reject, and throw God’s love back in his face. Again, His justice demands that if a man dies rejecting an infinite goodness he should endure a penalty of a never-ending nature.22 If there were no eternal punishment, a man could cry to God, “You say, ‘Thou shalt not.’ I say ‘I shall.’ Do your worst. You cannot punish me forever! What care I for your commandments or for Yourself!” It is impossible for the drama of iniquity to end like that. That would not be justice.
What hope does God offer us in light of these facts? How can we even begin to strive to the perfection, which is God? How can God abandon us, His very creation?
God’s Unlimited Mercy Balances His Unlimited Wrath
Reparation for our sins on earth through His physical
ly inflicted evils and reparation in the afterlife via the pains of Purgatory are examples of God’s present mercy. To most educated Christians, it would not be incomprehensible to suggest that no wrong is so great that no atonement will suffice. However large the debt, some cheque would pay it off. So surely whatever evil a man has done in a few years of life on Earth would be remittable if he had time and resources to make proper apology, due reparation and generous penance.23
For Swinburne, it is the fact that God exists as our origin and goal, which turns wrongdoing into sin. All people owe atonement to God. Since we cannot make the necessary atonement, God comes to our aid, in the sacrifice of Christ. “The sacrifice of Christ is…Christ giving the most valuable thing He has – His Life -; both a lived life of obedience to God, and a laid-down life on the Cross – as a present to God, whose benefits will flow to others, through the Resurrection.”
This sacrifice is made available for us. “Any man who is humble and serious enough about his sin to recognize what is the proper reparation and penance for it may use the costly gift which another has made available for him to offer his sacrifice.” His death is not a strict equivalent of what men owe to God, but a reparation sufficient for a merciful God to let us off our due punishment.24
Christ’s self-offering makes reparation and penance for us. By appointing it through the sacraments we share in the atonement. The innocent can and frequently do, bear the punishment of the guilty, and this can, in various situations, extend to dying for others.
What greater a sacrifice, what greater an act of mercy could a Loving God do for His created, than to incarnate Himself into the person of Jesus and then to sacrifice that very Life which is He? Jesus who is God, came for one purpose, to make possible our ultimate atonement for the transgressions against Him.
For those who are finite, sufficient reparation for infinite sins made against an Infinite Good, can never occur. However, through the Grace and Will of God, the finite can make sufficient reparation through the Infinite. Without this act of total LOVE, every sinful creature would perish in the eternal flames of Hell.
On the cross Christ ‘bears’ our guilt, but this is not expiation. What happens there is the absorption of violence, the redefinition of power, and the establishment of the possibility of forgiveness. It is up to each person to take the next step in the act of reconciliation. Jesus unlocked the gate; we must walk through the door.
God’s act of love through Jesus did not conclude 2000 years ago. God is with us now and continues to reveal His Mercy and His Eagerness to bring us back to His Grace. To St. Faustina God declares “I am mercy itself.”25
also describes the very nature of His Mercy, but there is no adequate language for it. It is ineffable and cannot be imagined or conceived with our minds. So, the Lord uses a variety of adjectives and images to give us some appreciation of the magnificence of His Mercy. He describes it like an ocean with bottomless depth, with no limits and inexhaustible. It is infinite.26
Is it any wonder that God’s Mercy is praised by the souls in heaven?27 It is glorified by St. Paul in His canticle of mercy:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgements and how unsearchable are His ways!…For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:30-36).
How do we live in the circle of mercy? By living in the presence of mercy Itself who is present in our heart. By fanning into a flame His radiant presence by expressing our trust in Him: “Jesus, I trust in you.” By expressing this trust with our hearts and lips. And by exercising mercy in spirit by pleading mercy on us and on the whole world: “Jesus mercy.”
“Jesus, I trust in you” and “Jesus, Mercy,” prayed without ceasing from the heart is a succinct summary of the spiritual life. These two prayers are the experience of the total giving and receiving of the inner life of the Holy Trinity. We ask for His mercy and receive it with trust that we may live in that intimacy of his radiant mercy.
To conclude, who better to speak of God’s love and mercy than Jesus Himself, who in His Goodness frees us all from the moral and physical evils of reality:
“My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of my goodness? For you I descend from heaven to earth; for you I let my Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come, then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart. Your misery had disappeared in the depths of My mercy. Do not argue with ME about your wretchedness. You will give me pleasure if you hand over to me all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace.”28
It is difficult to experience a world in which an all-loving God allows evils to exist, not only exist but some that He Himself is the source of. God is not the only Being responsible for evil; we too must accept the responsibility for our evils. God however vengeful, never leaves us to battle our darkened world alone. For God too battles this world. Jesus Christ experienced fully the severe evil and tragedy in the world and responded with aggressive goodness. Upon recognizing the gratuitous evil in our world and the ever-present possibility of its increase, we too should strive against it and endeavor to produce good. The figure of Christ is God’s proof that He feels the struggle with us and supplies strength to continue. Nowhere in the words and deeds of Christ is it suggested that the earthly search for value must automatically be successful or that our emotional response to evil should always be tranquil and optimistic. Instead the complete range of legitimate human emotions is found in the person of Christ. The Christological motif envisioned here makes room for real failure and real tragedy, and it gives a place even to the emotions of anguish and rage. This idea also incorporates the idea that there is a kind of stern justice in the unaltered conditions of the human endeavor. But it also accents the fact that the presence of God in the struggle gives special hope. He really does Love us.