Further Thoughts on the Problem of Evil|
The battle with evil stems back to our first parents, who because God gave His creation man a free will, man can choose to do evil and has. Thus, because of free will God allows it for as long as He so chooses, not man. Man's only answer is obedience to God's Laws. It is a chess game for souls and we need to be aware of the strategy of the devil or we can wind up being checkmated for all eternity.
Father James F. Wathen
" There is no hope of eliminating evil in the world; it can only be decreased, and that is by men keeping Godís law. To the extent that mankind, as a family, obeys God, it suffers less; to the extent that it breaks His law, it suffers more. When we speak of His law, we are speaking both of the Law of Nature and His expressed will, the 'Divine Positive Law'."
Father James Wathen
The many natural disasters, which have been the news of the world in recent months, has undoubtedly given rise again in the minds of many to the question of why these things happen. We have commented before on the "Problem of Evil."
The Problem of Evil refers to two kinds of evil, the one which includes all kinds of natural disasters, the other, social evils, which are the result of the foolishness and inhumanity of men, especially those in positions of authority. Why human beings are so cruel and unjust to their fellows the Scriptures call "the Mystery of Iniquity."
Ultimately natural disasters are the result of the imperfection of the earth. The biblical Deluge "wrecked" the earth, so that it does not have the same equilibrium among its forces that it did at its creation. Now it is subject to earthquakes, violent storms, volcanic eruptions, floods, and other natural catastrophes. Men may study the forces of nature all they please; to date they have not succeeded in understanding or anticipating the great onslaughts of wind and water. They should be humbled by the unchecked power of nature; meteorologists ought to be among the most pious people on earth, but few seem to take the lesson. It is not out of place to think that St. Paul was referring to the various earthly turbulences which all men must experience, from the monsoons of the equator to the frigid blasts of the Arctic Circle, when he wrote: "For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit: even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:22, 23). As if to say that we should recognize in natureís violence a sympathetic yearning with us for the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the renovation of the earth, promised by our Savior: "I saw a new Heaven and a new earth. For the first Heaven and the first earth was gone: and the sea is now no more" (Apocalypse 22:1).
Why do men persist in doing evil in the face of the biblical warnings of everlasting hellfire, "where," as Christ said, "the worm dieth not, neither is the fire quenched"? (Mark 9:43). In so speaking, He was alluding to the two kinds of torment suffered by the damned. The "worm" is the pain of loss, the unabated ablation of the man's soul at the eternal loss of the vision of God and the bliss of Heaven, which he knows full well could have been his, had he kept God's law. The unquenchable "fire" is exactly that, which causes "the pain of sense," the indescribable torment of always burning, but never being consumed. Even before a man is thrown into Hell, if he gives himself over to crime and sin, he suffers the gnawing of conscience all his days. (If he does not, his condition is all the more frightful.) Why are men given to cruelty and selfishness, impurity and drunkenness, thievery and conceit, lechery and falsehood, vanity and ambition? Why do men seem to take pleasure in bringing suffering upon others, very often those who are weaker and defenseless against them? Why do they love to lord it over others, only to be hated by them? And why does God allow such people to do so? If He intends to put them in Hell, and they are most certainly to go there, why does He not do so now and deliver the innocent from them?
The term, the Problem of Evil, in our discussion refers to all the sorrow and tragedy there are in the world, is to great extent the effect of sin. Very often it is the direct or indirect of bad governments, such as most are. Directly, governments do legally and on a national scale what it is a crime for private citizens to do to others. By way of countless forms of taxation, by wars, by judicial injustice, by the persecution of opposition, governments create an atmosphere of oppression and insecurity. Indirectly, governments, on the excuse of solving problems, social, economic, and every other conceivable and fictitious kind of problem, destroy the economy of the nation, so that the majority are reduced to poverty and a small minority ride on the backs of the despoiled. Where governments do the only things they are meant to do, protect the people from foreign invaders and domestic criminals, the people work and prosper, and it is a happy place to live, even if there are religious and other kinds of differences.
Whatever the cause or explanation, statistically and historically, life on earth for man has meant poverty and hunger, disease and famine, mental illness and madness, war and strife, inequality and hopelessness. It is of course impossible to describe or explain the miseries of the world in a few words. Regardless, inevitably, men are tempted to blame God. They ask such questions as these: If God is good, and has all power, why does He let the evils and miseries of the world continue? Why does He not do something? To feed everyone, for example, would cost Him no labor. Why does He let little children and infants starve? Why does He allow rains or the draughts destroy crops? Why does He allow plagues to sweep through a nation or a continent decimating the population, when by a simple act of the will He might remove the virus. Or why do the viruses exist in the first place? Again, the questions could be multiplied endlessly, but the question remains the same, if God is good, why are things the way they are? Why so much apparently needless suffering for so many millions of people who are no different from you and me, who are no greater sinners than you and I?
It is safe to say that the evils of the world when taken all together beget atheism. It may be that some people are reared as atheists, but many atheists grew up believing in God and became atheists in college classrooms. And they became atheists because of the Problem of Evil. They found it impossible to reconcile the idea of a good God with so much apparently needless sadness and hardship. Why did God make it so that men can make alcoholic beverages, when He knew perfectly well what the effect of them would be? The same question could be asked about the marihuana plant and the poppy and the cocoa bean, to say nothing of all the other substances with which men find to destroy themselves. God permits evil people to get control of governments as they have always done, where they have the power of the state for tyranny, of plundering them in the name of the law, of taxing them into poverty, of jailing them and torturing them, and of using them to feed the insatiable appetites of cannons. Why does God allow the abuse of women by men, and the abuse of children by grownups? If there be a God Who knows all things, and can do all things, why does He not intervene and solve problems? Why does He not force men to do right or prevent them from doing wrong, or at least deliver their victims from their reach?
A more basic question: Why did God create a world in which every kind of evil runs rampant? And, if the story be true, why did He not prevent Adam and Eve from eating the fabled fruit of the "Tree of Good and Evil," when supposedly He knew all that would happen as a result of their sin? Why did He make a world in which all this could happen? What good is a world in which there is so much misery and pain and disorder and injustice? What good is all this suffering and failure to God?
All these questions are frequently asked in college and university classrooms by professors who lost their faith in God when they were students. The same questions were asked and no answers were given, because their professors had none, and it seemed that if these smart fellows could find none, there were none to be had. Students usually cannot ask further questions, such as: If the professors are so smart, why canít they find answers to these burning questions? Have they looked? Are they so much smarter than other learned people who surely have asked the same questions? How do believers deal with these same questions? Why have they not become atheists also? How do priests and religious men and women keep their faith in the midst of such sin and sorrow?
Those who are familiar with the Book of Job know that this work is devoted to this very subject, the Problem of Evil." And they know that no satisfactory answer is given therein. Instead, God merely asserts His supremacy and dominion, and indicates the He is not to be questioned. Thus do we read:
"Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said:
"Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words?
Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me.
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or stretched the line upon it?
Upon what are its bases grounded? or who laid the corner stone thereof,
When the morning stars praised me together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody?
Who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth as issuing out of the womb:
When I made a cloud the garment thereof, and wrapped it in a mist as in swaddling bands?
I set my bounds around it, and made it bars and doors:
And I said: Hereto thou shalt come, and shalt go no further, and here thou shalt break thy swelling waves.
Didst thou since thy birth command the morning, and shew the dawning of the day its place?
And didst thou hold the extremities of the earth shaking them, an didst thou shaken the ungodly out of it?
The seal shall be restored as clay, and shall stand as a garment:
From the wicked their light shall be taken away, and the high arm shall be broken.
Hast thou entered into the depth of the sea and walked ion the lowest parts of the deep?
Have the gates of death been opened to thee, and hast thou seen the darksome doors?
Hast thou considered the breadth of the earth? tell me, if thou knowest all things?
Where is the way where light dwelleth, and where is the place of darkness:
That thou mayst bring every thing to its own bounds, and understand the paths of the house thereof.
Didst thou know then that thou shouldst be born? and didst thou know then the number of thy days?
Hast thou entered into the storehouses of the snow, or hast thou beheld the treasures of the hail:
Which I have prepared for the time of the enemy, against the day of battle and war?
By what way is the light spread, and heat divided upon the earth?
Who gave a course to violent showers, or a way for noisy thunder:
That it should rain on the earth without man in the wilderness, where no mortal dwelleth:
That it should fill the desert and desolate land, should bring forth green grass?
Who is the father of rain? or who begot the drops of dew?
Out of whose womb came the ice; and the frost from heaven who hath gendered it?
The waters are hardened like a stone, and surface of the deep is congealed.
Shalt thou be able to join together the shining stars the Pleides, or canst thou stop the turning abort of Arcturus?
Canst thou bring forth the day star in its time, and make the evening star to rise upon the children of the earth?
Dost thou know the order of heaven, and canst thou set down the reason thereof on the earth?
Canst thou lift up thy voice of to the clouds, that an abundance of waters may cover thee?
Canst thou send lightnings, and will they go, and will they return and say to thee: Here we are?
Who hath put wisdom in the heart of man? or who gave the cock understanding?
Who can declare the order of the heavens, or who can make the harmony of heaven to sleep?
When was the dust poured on the earth, and the clods fastened together?
Wilt thou take the prey for the lioness, and satisfy the appetite of her whelps,
When they couch in the dens and lie in wait in holes?
Who provideth food for the raven, when here young ones cry to God, wandering about, because they have not meat." (Job 38: 1-40)
And then there is the story of Jesus Christ. He seems not to have done anything to relieve the suffering of mankind. He is supposed to have founded a Church. Granting that He did, is it not true that the history of that Church is an endless series of scandals by Catholics, or Christians, or whatever you want to call them, not excluding the clergy, or perhaps better to say, most notably the clergy, the priests and bishops, and even some of the popes? Why has God put up with their corruption and worldliness, their infidelity to their vows, their falsity and hypocrisy; and their abuse of the people who have thought themselves bound by divine commandment to support and obey them?
It seems that the easiest answer to all these questions, of course, is that there is no God, and all the talk about one is part of a great swindle. The talk of God and His commands and His punishments is the stick with which people are kept in line and frightened into putting their money into the collection basket. A more logical conclusion is that the universe and everything and everybody in it are the result of the Big Bang, and the chance concatenation of atoms and molecules, and the evolution of all forms of inanimate and animate things. Granted the chances of such a concatenation taking place were limitless, that's all right. There was plenty of time, and sooner or later things were going to begin to fall into place, which is what happened. And now, even if there be no proof of it, it is at least positive thinking to imagine man, that is, mankind, in his imperfect state, progressing toward perfection. We may hope that, with education, he may learn not to violate and exploit his fellow men. That is what schools are for, to teach him that he has to accept the fact that the next man has the same rights as himself, and he must learn to live with others on an equality.
There are reasons why Christian people are not shaken with despair at the sight of the great calamities which plague the world. It is necessary for everyone who is tried by the Problem of Evil to cling to those beliefs which put this great skein of tragedy in a less hopeless perspective. We give here some of the considerations which are meant to relieve the picture.
1. As we have said in other places, regardless of any and all problems, reasoning to the nonexistence of God is unacceptable, because it leaves us without an explanation for anything. If no Creator exists, how does anything exist? All the talk about the Big Bang and evolution is too silly and meretricious to listen to. And the universe, whatever our incomprehension, is too magnificent, bountiful, and beautiful to exist without its Maker and Lord. There is certainly much more to the world than the tragedies and disruptions thereof. We must look elsewhere for answers to our questions.
2. Reminding ourselves that the earth and the whole universe and every human being and every tiniest microbe are in the direct care of the infinite God, we should renew our faith in His infinite power, goodness and wisdom. He is the infinite Cause and Sustainer of all things. Nothing happens which He does not cause or at least allow. Because He is good and wise, it is clear that from where we are it is impossible to understand why He rules the world as He does. In our prayers, in all humility, we acknowledge to Him that we know nothing, that He knows all things, and is blessed in all His acts. As Lord and Sole Possessor, He has the right to do anything He chooses to do, and as His creatures, as He tells us in the Book of Job, it is not for us to question Him.
3. The Problem of Evil is a theological problem; it cannot be solved without referring all things to God, without seeking our answers from God Who is the invisible power of the universe and the Master and Controller of the forces of nature.
4. Theology teaches us that we live in a fallen world. If man had not sinned, the world would be a garden instead of a field of hard labor, instead of a thing under a curse. This means that things are as they are because of sin, the sin of Adam and all the other sins which have followed, with which men continue their rebellion against their all-holy Lord. Throughout history, men generally have disobeyed God, wantonly and ungratefully, instead of obeying Him and serving Him. There is no call for the terrible wickedness of the human species, especially since, often as not, it brings sorrow on its perpetrators as well as everyone else.
Furthermore, in Genesis, when God pronounced sentence on mankind for Adamís Fall, the divine Father immediately promised salvation to the world and final triumph of the "seed" of the woman, the Triumph of the Cross (Cf. Genesis 3:15). This means that we must never consider the tragedies of human history, the wars, the epidemics, the famines, the hurricanes, the floods, the earthquakes, and all the rest, without recognizing that all these things are a punishment for sin, not necessarily the sins of the immediate victims, but the sins of the human family, which, through the Church, God is, despite all appearances, in His own wise and inscrutable ways, engaged in saving those who wish to be saved. It must be written in bold print that, no matter how things appear, it is the salvation of souls that is uppermost in all that God does in the world.
5. No matter how things appear, it is the right of God to call every man to Judgment at any moment. If we read that an earthquake caused the death of twenty thousand on a given day, in the matter of a few hours, we must advert to the fact that on the same day, and likely the day before and the day after, across the face of the earth, perhaps twenty thousand other individuals of all ages died of natural and unnatural causes. They die in old age, they die by accident, some again from bombs, others in battles, of sickness, by murder, by stillbirth, and countless other ways. No matter how the death of anyone looks to us, except for suicide, it is the divine call to Judgment. All men must die; none have the right to a momentís life, except what God grants them. Moreover, the only importance to this life has is as a preparation for the Judgment, and Heaven or Hell. It cannot be said with sufficient emphasis, that, generally, men, individually and collectively (as families, as clans, as tribes, as nations, as religious sects) refuse Godís supernatural grace and enlightenment. Logic dictates that if we are to live forever, one should spend oneís time on earth choosing and preparing for the endless life after death. But men choose freely to devote their powers to this life, to today, and no threat or revelation or terror will cause them to do otherwise.
6. Certain individuals, who think themselves superior thinkers, are much inclined to portray God as the deists do: that there is a God, Who is the Creator of all things and men. If the world depends upon Him to exist, He gives it existence, but He does not concern Himself with menís earthly activities and circumstances. When they die, that is the end of them. The history of the world therefore is what men make it. God is uninvolved. The storms, the rains, the disease, the accidents, the catastrophes, and every such thing are simply the result of natural forces and human action, good and bad.
On the very contrary. Almighty God has not abandoned the world and His beloved children to their own devices and folly. Deism is just another expression of the spirit of faithlessness and despair, to say nothing of willful and mulish arrogance. It is the gratuitous rejection of the revelation of God given most wonderfully in the Holy Scriptures. Such a view is blasphemous because it denies the whole Christian Mystery.
7. The climactic event of all history is the Incarnation, when God united Himself to us by becoming a Man and entering into our condition, becoming a member of the human family. By so doing, He took upon Himself the curse which had fallen on all men. He came not as an emperor, but as a poor child; He came not as one awaited, but as one unrecognized; He came not as a punisher, but as a victim. He came not to rule, and to be worshipped, but to be spit upon, reviled, and immolated. He came not to live richly and to be served, but to teach and forgive, to console and show men how to live in their just servitude. In this age of revolt and self-love, those who think of themselves as enlightened, airily throw aside the fact of the Incarnation and the Redemptive Death of Godís only-begotten Son. Their conceit blinds them, so that they deny what they ought to acknowledge and adore in tremulous speechlessness. They think they are smart, but they are silly fools. After pompously dismissing Jesus Christ, His claims, His power, His holiness, His words, His prophecies, His miracles, His resurrection, His dominance in human history, they set themselves to explaining the world and all other things.
8. We should not attempt to understand the tragedies which befall the world without adverting to the principle of human solidarity. No principle is more powerfully insisted on in the pages of Holy Writ than that of solidarity, the fact that all men are the descendants of Adam and Eve; hence, all human beings are related to each other as brothers and sisters. The human race is the human family. And it is in virtue of this fact that we must bear the curse and punishment of Adamís sin. Those who raise objection to this dispensation as being unjust, would have been glad enough to accept as their rightful inheritance the untrammeled life of the Garden of Paradise, had Adam not sinned.
In the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Godhead entered into this family, and by His superior nature and virtue superseded Adam as the Head of the race. This was so that by dying the death of an obedient Servant, He could both atone for all sin, but, much, much more: lay claim to a reward which far exceeded the temporary life in an earthly garden. It is by virtue of this principle of solidarity both that the guilt of Adamís sin has fallen upon us, and the fruit and triumph of the Cross and Christís Heavenly reward have become ours also. By being united to Christ through Baptism, we receive a "supernature" and a divine sonship. And, as St. Paul says, "if [we are] sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him" (Romans 8:17). This divine relationship is open to all, is enjoined upon all. It is remarkably ironic that those who have availed themselves of it, are ever ready to excuse the rest of mankind for denying it, spurning it, despising it, even though the Scriptures find no excuse for them at all.
9. There is no hope of eliminating evil in the world; it can only be decreased, and that is by men keeping Godís law. To the extent that mankind, as a family, obeys God, it suffers less; to the extent that it breaks His law, it suffers more. When we speak of His law, we are speaking both of the Law of Nature and His expressed will, the "Divine Positive Law."
The Natural Law is the basic law of right and wrong, which, as St. Paul said, is written "in the fleshly tables of the heart" (2 Corinthians 3:3). The Divine Positive Law is found in the Sacred Tradition, both written (the Sacred Scriptures) and oral, and enunciated through the centuries by the Catholic Church. We live in a time when the laws of God are treated with contempt, when the patience of God is tried beyond measure, and the voice of the true Church is muffled. Men, therefore, should not be surprised if Nature seems to raise its objections against them, as it did the day Christ died.
I thank again everyone who prays for me. I am sure the good God is pleased to receive these prayers, as they are offered in all charity, undeserved at that. I thank also everyone who has continued to encourage me to patience and confidence; and everyone who has supported me with his generosity. In union with St. Raphael, whose feast was Monday, and through the Queen of the Holy Rosary, I send my priestly blessing.
For those who want to help Father or write him, you can do so at:
Father James F. Wathen
P.O. Box 15152
Evansville, IN 47716
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