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Happy Monday morning. Let’s discuss the problem of evil.

Happy Monday morning. Let’s discuss the problem of evil.

Like so many of you, I woke up this morning wanting to discuss the age-old question of why God allows there to be evil in the world. (I’m right about this, aren’t I? I mean, the Emmys are so last night.) Anyway, unlike most people, I had the advantage of reading “The Problem of Evil” by Sister Bernadette Reis at Busted Halo. She writes:

In my late 20s, I began manifesting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I had been attacked twice at knifepoint as a child and was able to keep the memories pretty well tucked into my unconscious, but at a certain point my unconscious won. As I began sifting through the memories and the pain, I also began experiencing tremendous anger toward God. How could he ever let something like that happen to me?

‘God, where were you?’

Many people have confronted this same dilemma. We call it the problem of evil. How can an all-loving, completely good God allow evil to happen to his children? The response that I had heard repeatedly was, unfortunately, only a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas’ treatment of the problem of evil: God permits evil in order to bring good out of it. I had always accepted this answer, until I had to confront the reality of evil head-on in my own life. And so, I admitted to my spiritual director that I could not agree with that explanation because of my own experience.

His response: If you can’t accept that, what can you accept?

That wasn’t what I expected to hear, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed to hear.

Sister Bernadette began a search for meaning that brought her to a familiar place. She says:

Eventually, this extended search for meaning brought me to a new understanding of the gift of free will. Someone else had abused that gift when they attacked me. That’s what hurt the most — why didn’t God stop that person from hurting me? I began to realize that when God gives a gift, He never takes it away, even if it means that we choose to abuse that gift to harm others. He didn’t even stop the people who killed his own Son. God chose to experience the ultimate, painful, crushing consequences of the gift of free will that He had given to us.

What do you think of her answer? Does it satisfy your intellectually, emotionally?

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Ann Fontaine

There is a series of SciFi/Fantasy books on this question. In it only the evil forces take over to make things happen the way people think they want. Good never acts that way – -depending on the essential goodness of the creation instead. If Good or God interferes the creation comes apart and all is destroyed. Thomas Covenant by Donaldson – is the series I think. Often the theological questions are better explored in SciFi and Fantasy fiction.

Bill Dilworth

Kevin, the scenario that you propose is the very thing you found unsatisfactory in Sister Bernadette’s post – the only thing standing in God’s way is your father’s free will. (It ought to be possible for an omniscient being to arrange things so that your father would be persuaded, but that might be considered an assault on your father’s integrity, too.) I had a much longer post outlining the reasons I couldn’t be bothered to worship an impotent god, but it really sounds like you’re simply playing with definitions by calling what Sister Bernadette would say is God’s restraint as a lack of omnipotence.

Anyway, this isn’t the sort of god you hypothesized in your first comment. That god wanted to prevent evil, and was doing his level best but – gosh darn it! – some evil just slipped through. That’s another type of lack of omnipotence altogether from the inability to change your father’s mind while respecting his integrity.

By the way, you claimed that you could think of all sorts of ways to arrange the universe so as to exclude evil while still respecting free will. So why didn’t this less-than-omnipotent god do so in the first place? Here’s an omniscient Being who, while not being omnipotent, still had the ability to create the universe ex nihilo – but he couldn’t arrange things the way that “an average student” could have? It sounds like this god is missing more than just one of the attributes of God as taught by the Church, like omniscience. Or maybe he’s not eternal, and was stuck with a pre-existing universe?

Maplewood

Bill: thank you for your thoughts! Allow me to respond a bit…

That there are things God cannot do does not make God hapless. It is simply a reality that we do not consider. I first became aware that there are some things God cannot do when I considered my father, The World’s Most Stubborn Man.

Pop was a good guy, but once he had made up his mind about something, it was virtually impossible to change it. One of my brothers joked that Pop would not change his mind if you held a gun to Mom’s head and threatened her. He’d probably say, “Sorry, Jane, but it will only hurt for a second…”

Sure, God might find a way to beat him into submission, or snap The Divine Fingers and instantly change Pop’s thoughts without his consent, but that is not really changing his mind – it would not actually “convince Pop otherwise” and Pop would not change his mind of his own accord. IOW: impossible.

So, if even God could not change Pop’s mind, is God hapless? I don’t think so. It simply is what it is. And that is the crux of the matter, to my way of thinking. There are some things that God cannot do when we think God should be able to do them. We are assigning a level of omnipotence that God may not have.

As for Christ’s crucifixion, allow me to address that a bit later. I’m short on time today. 🙂

Kevin McGane

James M Mikolajczyk

I agree with Bill that it’s our place as the Church to deal with the Problem of Evil with compassion.

Last year, I wrote on the Problem of Evil. Yet, I wish I had read N.T. Wright’s “Evil and the Justice of God” before my composition. He makes the point that God did handle the Problem of Evil himself by sending Jesus Christ to die and return from that death.

Here’s my essay on the Problem of Evil if anyone’s interested: http://christian-weblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/problem-of-evil.html

Bill Dilworth

Lan, you’re right – we undoubtedly do simplify way too much.

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