Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Goodness of God, the experience of Evil--a reconciliation?

Catholic Exchange offers an provocative answer to a perennial question here. How can God in his goodness permit evil? How can Adam and Eve, innocent of the knowledge of good and evil, be so severely condemned for their disobedience? Pete Brown of Catholics United of the Faith answers these questions from Catholic Exchange reader Jennifer Webster. He begins by quoting the glossary of the Catechism on evil:
The opposite or absence of good. One form of evil, physical evil, is a result of the "state of journeying" toward its ultimate perfection in which God created the world, involving the existence of the less perfect alongside the more perfect, the constructive and destructive forces of nature, the appearance and disappearance of certain beings (Catechism, no. 310). Moral evil, however, results from the free choice to sin which angels and men have; it is permitted by God, who knows how to derive good from it, in order to respect the freedom of his creatures (no. 311). The entire revelation of God's goodness in Christ is a response to the existence of evil (nos. 309, 385, 1707). The devil is called the Evil One.
Once he establishes that evil is the absence of good, he then classifies the two types of evil that plague humanity: physical evil and moral evil. Says Mr. Brown:
Examples of physical evils include natural disasters, diseases, sicknesses, and so forth. As the definition above indicates, all created things strive for perfection of their nature because this is how God has created the universe. Physical evil is largely the result of having a material universe where living creatures all try to seek their natural fulfillment, but sometimes they must do it at the expense of other creatures. Rabbits eat grass which is good for rabbits but bad for grass. Coyotes eat rabbits which is good for them but bad for rabbits. Still the whole cycle is for the greater good of all living things; when rabbits and coyotes die they fertilize the grass and whole pattern begins again. God's loving Providence is not too difficult to see in the truths of biology if they are seen with an open mind.
Moral evil is a greater problem. Part of it is due to human free will with which God made us, knowing that we might misuse it. But again moral evil is most definitely a privation. The freewill of man is good as it is created but only becomes evil as it is misused or directed toward objects which are opposed to God. God who is all good can never be the direct immediate source of moral evil but He can be the indirect or mediate source. God created the devil with an angelic nature that was very good. Though the devil has freely misused that nature to cause great moral evil in the world, the nature that the devil possesses remains good and thus even the devil can be said to be "good" insofar as he exists as a created being. Again, in a limited sense God "created evil" though of course the devil was not evil when he was created. The devil became evil later by his own free choice. Still we ultimately cannot escape the question of why God allows the devil or evil men to continue in existence. Freewill by itself does not completely answer the question of why. The saints in heaven and the blessed angels are wholly free but do not sin. The same must be said of God who is both supremely free and supremely good.
He makes clear, however, that God ultimately permits evil because he can draw a superabundance of good from it. For example:
The greatest evil in human history-the evil of the crucifixion of Jesus, wrought at the hand of the devil and evil man, produced the greater good of our salvation.
His discussion of Adam and Eve's culpability also sheds some intriguing insights on our condition today.

God's magnificent presence can be hard to see when we're constantly atuned to absence. It appears as though our culture celebrates the filling of the void with all the things that can't last. After the onslaught of media and advertizing, we become absence-centered. We need to fill that void. However, in constantly seeing what we lack, we miss what we have. Constantly exposed to that evil, which is absence, we miss out on God, who is ultimate presence.

Let's knock it off, already. One great way all of us can be countercultural is to tune out that incessant moan that is advertizing. We're quite enough, thank you, without that designer shampoo-conditioner, thank you. We already have a perfectly working car in the garage. We've been created by our God and Father; in him will we find what we need to become who we're born to be. We can celebrate his presence in our lives by acting in that Faith, Hope and Love that he calls us to through his body, the Church. We can live in union with him by turning from the absence in our lives to his wonderful presence. Then we will see the Light of the World shatter the darkness that creeps all around us. Then we will watch evil recede like the flood waters before the radiant light of day.

God is with us. What could we possibly lack?