No. 8 The Problem of Evil

God is Love. The world is wonderful. And life is beautiful. But there is suffering everywhere. Caused by nature. Caused by man. We see and experience it in one form or another, and it is projected into our homes by the mass media. And we do not enjoy it. Suffering is a mystery, inescapable, and difficult to understand, justify or accept, especially when it affects us personally or when a loved one or the innocent and the powerless are its victims. Then, there are disasters and calamities which leave us in shock, horror and anxiety, numb and helpless. Some attribute suffering to fate: to preordination or to God’s will. Some see it as the outcome of craving and desire. Others, as punishment for sin. Some see it as part of life. And many protest, ‘How can a good God permit suffering? Surely, if there is a Divine Architect he should have done a better job!’ ‘Is God really there? Does he really care?’ Not surprisingly, suffering is widely regarded as an evil to avoid and to get away from, and is seen an inextricable part of or becomes equated with the ‘Problem of Evil.’ And this is where the problem becomes more problematic.

If you were God
If you were the Creator (and you are sure to say, ‘Thank God, I am not’) and intended to fashion a world that was beautiful, bountiful, varied and virtually unique in the cosmos; a fruitful home for free intelligent beings endowed with a capacity for godliness, and if time was no constraint, how do you think you’d have set about it? (No Harry Potter kind of scheme, please). Would you have eliminated pain and suffering from your design? If so, why, or why not? Think about it seriously.

Suffering due to Nature
From God came the cosmos, the solar system, our planet earth, and a rich and varied habitat for man. This did not happen overnight. The Book of Genesis tells us so too. From the sun, the earth receives energy and light, from the moon soft light and tidal pull. Our planet has its own dynamic, without which there would have been no oceans, no land masses, no mountains, no soil, no life, no food, no human habitat. These primal processes continue to operate today, at times with great power. Meteorological and climatic events, sea level changes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides: all are necessary to reconstruct the earth and to restore its equilibrium (which man himself could upset). We sometimes find ourselves in their way and get hurt.

The Seat of the Problem : Man
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paras 310 – 311) distinguishes “physical evil” from “moral evil”. Suffering born of physical events (eg. of nature, road accidents, illness, etc.) is not morally evil, however painful and distressing. Nature is God-given, and God enables man to find blessing and growth through and despite pain and hardship. Rather than complain about nature, shouldn’t we realise that our deepest suffering stems from ourselves, our thoughts, values and actions, our relationships with one another, our attitudes and the choices we make? Is it not to this sphere that the teachings of the great religions of the world apply? Is it not here that we can and need to examine and change ourselves, and to recognise and exorcise the real evil which resides disguised in our minds and hearts? Does not that which can heal and transform the very core of our being consist in openness to and cooperation with the grace and love, given freely to those who would accept it, by the Lord God Himself?

Bitter or Better?
Jesus Christ, our Lord, did not come to abolish suffering or to extol it, or to preach comfort and the need for a body strong and beautiful. Through him suffering has the potential for leading to new life and blessing and a closer walk with the Lord. Blessing through compassionate service and self-giving, through us becoming instruments of love, healing and peace for the afflicted. Blessing through acceptance and endurance of that which cannot be cured. Blessing through the cross. For all this, we must pray, especially through the Holy Mass, which is Christ’s sacrifice.

Stubborn rejection of the maps and beacons and the grace offered to us by the Lord is the way of sin. And sin is the real evil which multiplies human suffering and culminates in despair and spiritual death. It is exactly this deception that causes us to fall for false options that masquerade as answers to the problem of evil.

The Way is of the Cross
“The message of the cross is folly for those who are on the way to ruin, but for those of us who are on the road to salvation it is the power of God. While the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, we are preaching a crucified Christ: to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the gentiles foolishness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God. God’s folly is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians: 1: 18, 22-25)

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you have shown us by your life, death and resurrection, that suffering is not a curse, nor sinful, nor an end in itself. You and your Mother, the sinless ones, drank the cup of pain to its dregs. By your sacrifice you brought healing, wholeness and life into an existence that could otherwise be seen as futile. You have given us the promise of your presence, your undying love and grace in all our trials and grief, to render these fruitful, and enriched with your redemptive power. Grant that we may walk this life and accept whatever it holds for us, with hearts serene with faith and trust in you, our Lord and our God.