Evil

1. I live in a country where, on a daily basis, I see tremendous evil inflicted on people. Why does God allow this?

2. If God is a God of love, why does he allow tragedy to occur? Is it just for some greater purpose? I can't believe that a loving God would do that.

3. If the devil does not exist where does evil come from? How did man's inhumanity to man start? Cain and Abel?

4. I took a class on the Old Testament. In our study of the Book of Job, I was interested in how the righteous are often afflicted by God and those who know God have a certain burden to carry. Can you explain that to me?

5. I think I understand what you say about the devil. But if he does not exist, then how do you explain the temptation of Jesus in the desert? Was Jesus just suffering from some hallucination? And if the devil does not exist, where does evil come from? Did man's inhumanity to man originate with Cain and Abel?

Q 1: I live in a country where, on a daily basis, I see tremendous evil inflicted on people. Why does God allow this?

A 1: Over the years I have come to realize that God did not create a perfect world. In fact, God did not create a completed world. He only began the process of creation and then entrusted us with the task of bringing it to completion or fulfillment. Not that God leaves us alone. He seeks to help us in this task through the presence of the Spirit, through the Word and Sacraments.

The unfortunate reality is that we do not always seek to work in harmony with God. We, therefore, are the reason that so many bad things continue to happen in our world. But in the same way that we are the cause of so much pain, we can be the remedy. It is a question of our attempting to work with the presence and power of God in our lives. Toward this end, not everyone has to possess the same faith or belief system. For the Christian, once we embrace the Gospel values of love and forgiveness, we can be a powerful witness in our world. Not that our witness will bring about a speedy resolution to the problems we encounter, but it is a start.

This is not meant to be a simplistic answer. As Fr. Wilfrid Harrington wrote: "Faith does not save us from the darkness and the riddle, but it is the answer because it reaches, through the darkness and beyond the riddle, to the Son and to the Father” (God Does Care).

Q 2: If God is a God of love, why does he allow tragedy to occur? Is it just for some greater purpose? I can't believe that a loving God would do that.

A 2: I agree with you that God is a God of love, and that God does not allow tragedy for some greater purpose. One way to approach this problem is to acknowledge that God did not create a perfect, nor a completed, world. God created a good world and entrusted us with the task of bringing it to completion and ultimately to perfection. Some tragedy is just part of the natural phenomenon, as in the case of natural disasters. Some tragedy is part of the imperfection of humans as in the case of accidents caused by careless or thoughtless activity. And some tragedy is part of the sinful world as in the case of murder or war. None of these tragedies are the "will" of God, but rather are part of the evolution of the world itself and of the human race. God allows them precisely because the world is still being created and brought to perfection. To the extent that we truly become co-creators with God, at least the tragedies that result from carelessness and sinfulness will be diminished and hopefully eliminated.

Q 3: If the devil does not exist where does evil come from? How did man's inhumanity to man start? Cain and Abel?

A 3: In homilies on creation I have referenced Fr. Michael Himes in describing the origin of evil as our rejection of God’s judgment that we are good as recorded in the Book of Genesis. The temptation of the serpent in the third chapter of Genesis is to reject what we heard in the first chapter, namely that we are created in God's image and that God looked at us (humans) and declared us good. The serpent is essentially telling Adam and Eve that they are not good, that they are junk; that they are not like God and that if they want to be like God, they have to do something in order to become good. When Adam and Eve give into that temptation and eat from the forbidden tree in an attempt to be like God, evil enters into humanity. And it grows from there. That is the origin of "man's inhumanity to man". As Fr. Himes says, “In the first generation we are separated from God, in the next generation (Cain and Abel) we are separated each other, and by the time of the tower of Babel, we can no longer even speak to one another.” The way out of this mess is to begin to believe and accept that we are indeed good, just as God said. Then to begin to believe that each other is good.


Q 4: I took a class on the Old Testament. In our study of the Book of Job, I was interested in how the righteous are often afflicted by God and those who know God have a certain burden to carry. Can you explain that to me?


A 4: Perhaps the best way to begin to understand the Bible is to recognize that it is a series of reflections on God, our relationship to God and God's activity in our lives. Although it is the Word of God, the reflections are done by human beings and it their words that we read in the Scriptures. In that context, Biblical writers have attempted to explain the apparent contradictions between the belief that God is good, that God has created a good world, and the reality of inexplicable suffering. The Book of Job is perhaps the best example. And yet it does not adequately explain away the contradictions, perhaps one reason is that Job is a purely fictional character.

One phrase we often hear from people is "God never sends you more suffering than you can bear." However, regardless of what one might think about God and his involvement in our lives, God does NOT send suffering to people. There is something profoundly wrong about that kind of thinking. It is also very un-Gospel. When we look at the example of Jesus, we see that whenever he encountered suffering, he confronted it and sought to conquer it. One scholar suggested that what Jesus could not conquer was the unresolved remainder, and that is the kind of suffering we must bear. Another way to explain this is to say that the only kind suffering God asks of us is what comes from living the Gospel. Jesus is the perfect example. He lived a good life. However, his attempt to proclaim the Good News was too challenging for some people and it ultimately led to his death. That was the suffering God asked of Jesus. The only other choice would have been to abandon the Gospel. God asks and expects the same from each of us, but he does not afflict us with suffering.

A second thing we often hear from others is that we should offer our suffering up to God. Even worse is the suggestion that suffering in this world leads to blessing in the next. What kind of God could possibly want us to offer him our suffering? Also, if God created a good world and wants us to enjoy it (as the Scriptures tell us), then how could suffering here lead to more blessings in heaven?

What makes Job such a profound example for all of us, is that at the time the book was written, the Israelites did not believe in the resurrection. That would certainly counter the idea that suffering in this world would benefit us in the next. More importantly, though, is that throughout his personal sufferings, Job never abandoned his faith. He did not offer up his suffering to some sadistic God. Rather, he believed that through it all God remained an intimate part of his life. Our suffering might be more bearable if we stopped thinking that God caused it, or wanted it, or used it as a way of securing a better eternal life. We would be much better off if we followed the example of Job and took comfort in God's presence even in the midst of suffering.

Q 5: I think I understand what you say about the devil. But if he does not exist, then how do you explain the temptation of Jesus in the desert? Was Jesus just suffering from some hallucination? And if the devil does not exist, where does evil come from? Did man's inhumanity to man originate with Cain and Abel?

A 5: First of all, let's take a look at the temptation stories in the Gospels. The Gospels do not comprise a history book. They are theological reflections on the person of Jesus and his mission in the world. The temptation stories demonstrate Jesus' dependence on God and his refusal to replace God with any other power. In that regard they serve as remarkable examples for us. As we have probably all discovered, it is too easy to supplant our dependence on God, whether we choose rely on some political powers or economic system. Whether we choose our own instant gratification, or take comfort in the honor others bestow. Jesus chose none of these. He emerged from temptation with a stronger reliance on God.

As to the origin of evil, that is far more complex. Although the story of Cain and Abel is an attempt to explain the devastating effect evil has on us, even to the point of tearing apart our families, evil pre-dates Cain and Abel. Some people see evil as originating in the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This is, first of all, part of the poetry of Genesis. Even so, it is important to note that the serpent is never referred to as the "devil" or "Satan". The Book of Genesis does not portray the serpent as the source of evil. It would be more accurate to suggest that Genesis sees evil as being with humans from the beginning. If there is an origin to evil, it would be in the inability of Adam and Eve to resist temptation. In that sense, evil emerges from within us. Jesus' refusal to give in to his temptations assures us that we also can resist the temptations we encounter, thus reversing the effects of the weakness or "sin" of the first humans.