Some thoughts about evil….(not “some evil thoughts”)
1. In class we discussed salvation from a Biblical perspective. So Jesus saved us. Fine, fantastic. But a question repeats itself in class, every year, every semester. Why is there still evil if salvation is assured? So let us think of how to address this question.
2. Sometimes we would like to put God on trial. We might want to raise the question: Why does God allow pain and suffering? Why does God allow “bad things” to happen? This hits on the nature of God. God may be good, but because of the presence of “bad things” allowed to happen, who knows, maybe God is also bad. Or maybe God is not powerful enough to stop “bad things” from happening! Maybe he is not powerful after all.
3. There are those who would like to spare God from criticism by saying that God cannot be the object of suspicion and criticism. To spare God, the reality of evil is softened. Some might say that evil is only an illusion. If we look at the “bigger picture” of life and history, for example, “bad things” happening are rally part of a whole process that leads to “good things”. “Bad things” happen so that “good things” can come next. Oh, a young good person died? Oh, do not worry, thanks to that early death that person is spared from doing grave sin. Sometimes, by making God innocent, people will put all blame on humanity. This is what happened in the book of Job. The friends of Job were insisting that Job’s misfortune was a result of his having done something wrong, he just had to look back and see how it occurred. The idea of his friends was that something bad happened to Job because he did something wrong. Job of course kept his stand, he was innocent.
4. Talking about Job he had suspicions about the motivations of God. The fascinating book has verses that describe, at times, how each of us may feel in front of God. Job felt that God was like a spy watching his every move and waiting for him to commit “bad things”. Job felt he had no rest in front of God. If possible, the span of time swallowing saliva can be a moment of rest, but even that is not given. Job rebelled but he did not blaspheme.
5. Some very spiritual persons might say that suffering can be educative, it can purify, it can prepare us for heaven, it makes us closer to God and maybe God is communicating to us through the suffering he sends. This line may be very consoling but not to someone whose family is ruined, or to someone gravely and tragically ill. I cannot imagine myself saying, “Do not worry, God is testing you, he is checking how close you are to him, so be thankful for your suffering”.
6. Jesus Christ never gave an elaborate explanation of evil and “bad things”. He had no theoretical discourse on the root origins of these things. But he underwent a combat against all sources of evil. This is what his incarnation signified. This is what his parables and miracles signified. This is what his crucifixion signified.
7. Let us pick it up from here—the possible response to the question of evil. There may be no theoretical and high sounding reply to the question, but there can be a practical response, nonetheless. Christian faith holds that creation is good, sin came into the world through human abuse of freedom, God’s love is patient, the Word became flesh, the Holy Spirit endows us with gifts, the Church with her sacraments was established and we are all called to lead good lives and we can pray. With this whole arsenal of combat gear we can combat evil. Win or lose…well, we hope in the resurrection. Christ did a combat, we follow his footsteps. He himself needed salvation, not from sin but from death.
8. The Incarnation of Christ is an affirmation of this reality. Christ, the Word made flesh, recognized that the human condition is marked by pain and suffering and evil and “bad things”. But Christ also affirmed the value of the human life. The Incarnation is a statement of God giving so much value to our human flesh (Michel Henri).
9. The great response of Jesus, his great combat, against evil was the going-to-the-cross. In full obedience and confidence to the Father, he was willing to face the cross and show how serious he was with the Kingdom. No threat can stop him from his mission. Stand up for the Kingdom even if “bad things” are hurled at you. It is a combat.
10. So, why is there still evil if salvation is assured? We really do not know. What we can say is that Christian action is “redemptively” oriented. We are “co-Saviours with Jesus” (Rene Voillaume). That may not be a response to the question, but it can be a starting point.
11. What about sin? Like evil, it is a dis-order. Sin is “against creation”, it is a “de-creation”. The Bible would say that the disorder of the world—the “bad things” happening are results of the basic illness which is sin (see Lk5/31-32). Evil is a symptom of sin. This is a Biblical view.
12. But what does “symptom” mean? It means that there is a link between the reality of evil and the reality of sin. “Bad things” happening is seen as expressions of sin. This may sound very strange for modern thinking. Sometimes we would say that even if we “do nothing”—we have not yet done anything wrong and we have been silent most of the time—“bad things” still happen. Why? Well, here is where original sin comes in. We have a “solidarity” also with each other, we share the condition of sinning. We are in communion with all humanity. We are equally responsible with all humanity. Even in our innocence, we are responsible. (I say responsible, not guilty.)
13. We may not feel at ease with the idea that we contracted and (biologically) inherited the sin of Adam and Eve; but we can still recognize that deep within us is always the capacity to sin. Even if we do not sin now, the capacity to sin is present. Great Saints have always been struggling with this. The presence of this capacity is a mystery. This is how we can approach original sin. All humans encounter this deep presence and no human is able to overcome it and delete it. We are in a combat even here.
14. In the “Our Father” prayer we end with saying “deliver us from evil”. Notice we do not say, “deliver me”….we say “deliver us”. That includes all humanity. We have a unity with all humanity even in our capacity to do evil and thus sin. So we pray that we are not put in situations that will trigger our tendency to sin. Our solidarity with all humanity is not only a solidarity of sin but also a solidarity of combatting against sin.
15. I suggest that we read, in our private time, a letter of Pope John Paul II, SALVIFICI DOLORIS.