Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deacon F. K. Bartels

4/13/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Faith in Christ. It really is the answer to the problem of evil. For Christ gives to the victor in the war against evil, fought in freedom governed by love, eternal life and peace and happiness.

It sounds very nice, a world devoid of suffering and every type of evil. However, there are some problems with such an idea, at least for now, given the present situation. What would it mean for us if there were no potential for evil? Atheists often reject God in protest against the reality of evil in the world. But is the reality of evil a reasonable objection against the existence of a personal, loving God? Perhaps it is helpful to reflect on some of the good that, with God's help, can be brought from evil. 

Adam and Eve deny their creatureliness in the Edenic Paradise, desiring to be as gods without God, and thus commit original sin.

Adam and Eve deny their creatureliness in the Edenic Paradise, desiring to be as gods without God, and thus commit original sin.

Highlights

By Deacon F. K. Bartels

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

4/13/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: The problem of evil, suffering, sin, original sin, why does God allow evil, God brings good from evil, Deacon F. K. Bartels


GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) -- While estimating the number of atheists in the U.S. is complex, several studies show that the rejection of the belief in God is on the rise. Often, studies seeking clarity about the actual numbers of atheists base their questions on the contemporary definition of the term, namely, that an atheist is someone who does not believe in God, which does not give due consideration to the full scope of atheism.

The Council Fathers of Vatican II noted that the "word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another" (Gaudium et Spes 19 2). This is the case because there are a number of distinct deficiencies in belief in God that are associated with atheism.

For example, Vatican II observed that while God is "expressly denied by some, others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about him" (Ibid.). Here, agnosticism is identified as a subcategory of atheism. This view is better understood when we define atheism as a rejection of a personal God who transcends the natural universe. Agnosticism rejects a personal God because it holds that nothing can be known with certainty about God; therefore, God does not relate to anyone personally because he does not make himself or his will known to humankind. Agnosticism views God as nothing but an unknowable albeit powerful deity.

Vatican II identified other types of atheism that include unbelief (in God), relativism, religious indifferentism, nominalism, rationalism, and empiricism. The point is, atheism can take many forms, which means that when these phenomena are taken as a whole atheism is a bigger problem than we might realize. Gaudium et Spes correctly warns that atheism is one of the more serous problems of our age. It is especially entrenched among people under age thirty.

In any case, the question that must be asked is, why the rise in atheism? Vatican II gives a few causes. First among those listed is that "atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world" (19 2). The problem of evil and suffering has long been a major obstacle to belief in God. The question posed is often similar to this: "If there is a good and loving God, then why does he allow people to suffer, especially innocent people?"

Next, that question often evolves into a statement of protest: "A good and loving God would not allow innocent people to suffer; therefore, there is no (personal) God." We can understand how the problem of evil can tempt people to reject a personal, loving God who transcends the natural universe yet is also present everywhere by his power and essence (God's immanence) because it is so repulsive, dark, horrifying.

Evil seems unfair, something totally contradicting God's power and goodness that is offensive to beauty and truth. It seems God would surely eradicate it if he truly loved his people. When the suffering of innocent children is considered, the reality of evil seems all the more deplorable. Some would say it is terrifying. When we reflect on the morally evil atrocities committed in history, the use of "terrifying" becomes an entirely inadequate adjective.

From Where Does Evil Come?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the problem of evil has a point of origin in human history. Man was originally "not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself" and with the created universe (CCC 374; see also Genesis 1-2). However, at the dawn of time, humankind fell from God's grace through the commission of original sin by our first parents. Adam and Eve denied their creatureliness and dependence on God. Situated in the Edenic Paradise, they desired to be as gods without God.

"Genesis 3 uses figurative language" that "affirms a primeval event" (CCC 390). Our first parents were tempted by the devil and, in giving in to that temptation, let trust in their Creator die in their heart (CCC 397). This profound abuse of freedom caused profound consequences for humanity's future. The harmony our first parents originally enjoyed was broken. Human relationships were damaged and harmony with creation was disrupted as it "became alien and hostile to man" (CCC 400). After the first, original sin the "world is virtually inundated by sin" (CCC 401; see also Genesis 3). As St. Paul affirms, all men are implicated in Adam's sin (Rom 5:12, 19).

We see, then, that God is not directly responsible for the reality of sin and evil in the world. It is humankind who has brought this upon itself. It is humankind, influenced by a wounded nature and the tendency to sin (concupiscence), who perpetuates moral evil day by day.

It is accurate to say, however, that God allows evil. It is, of course, not outside of his plan for humanity because he has made allowances for it. First of all, he has definitively answered the problem of evil with the sending of his only-begotten Son into the world as Savior of humankind. Through and in and with Christ, evil has no ultimate power over us. Yet, for now, due to our human condition we are subject to potential suffering and the effects of sin and evil. But why does God allow evil to continue? Would it not be better if he eradicated it from the face of the earth in order to bring about unending peace, security and happiness?

It sounds very nice, a world devoid of suffering and evil. However, there are some problems with such an idea, at least for now. If God were to wipe out evil right now, before the end of time, the return of Jesus Christ and the general judgment, it would mean that he would have to do it himself, without our participation. Given the present state of humanity's wounded nature, in order to bring such an eradication of evil about God would have to subdue our freedom, overpower it. He would have to destroy the power to choose. In observing how God interacts with humanity, it is clear that he respects human freedom. It is a part of God's plan from the beginning. In his limitless wisdom, God created humankind as rational creatures with free will, made in his image and likeness. He will not annihilate human freedom.

Because God created us as free people, freedom is, then, important. It is important not as something to be used without limits for our personal pleasure, which brings about suffering and destruction, but rather as something to be used in order to direct us to our final end in God. An authentic freedom used wisely is always ordered toward the good, our own good and the good of others. A properly exercised freedom is inseparable from love of God and love of neighbor.

But back to our original problem. Evil and suffering can be an obstacle for people with respect to belief in a good and loving, personal God. Now, we know that God is good and loving; we know that humanity itself is ultimately responsible for sin and evil in the world; and we also know that God allows for the reality of evil. That means God must have some purpose for allowing it. What is that purpose?

God Always Brings Good From Evil

While I do not pretend to totally understand or be able to offer a complete explanation for the reality of evil in the world, it is true to say that God brings good from evil. The death of Christ on the cross, the greatest evil, brought about the greatest good. There are many other examples. It is also true that God, in his infinite wisdom, allows his children to participate in his plan of loving goodness. That is, he uses secondary causes or instruments (people) to help bring about his plan. This means he invites us to participate in the war against evil and in bringing to bear the fruit of goodness in the world.

Another way to think about this is to reflect on some of the good things that become possible due to the reality of suffering and evil (I am not suggesting evil is good; it is not, but with the help of God good is brought out of evil). What might some of them be?

Courage cannot exist in a world where there is no possibility of suffering or injury. If injustice, sin, evil, treachery and so forth is nonexistent, so too is courage. Devoid of a battlefield, there can be no courageous soldiers. Further, in the absence of suffering, one person cannot show compassion toward another. If nobody is wounded, can anyone offer healing?

Is it possible to rescue a person who is in no peril? A child who is not lost cannot be led safely home. If no one is in need of shelter, no one is needed to provide it. Could we truly be a human family if nobody ever needed any help from anyone?

We can even find good things in the reality of bodily death. Apart from it, would anyone be moved to magnificent accomplishments? If that moment of death when we must give up everything into the hands of God were not on our horizon, would we turn toward God at all? And who would want to continue on in this present fallen state of life, filled with emptiness as it often is, forever anyway

And what about love? Can the real and true choice to love exist in a world where there is no possibility of its opposite? Can we know what it means to love if we cannot understand at least something of what it means not to love? To choose to love is to possess the ability to choose not to love.

What about loving God? The choice to love God is dependent on freedom. So long as we possess real freedom, we also possess the ability to commit evil, which is a deprivation of the good, and turn away from God. Love of God hinges on true, real freedom. So long as it exists, here and now, there is the potential for it to be abused.

The primary reason the problem of evil becomes an obstacle for people is that they either forget or fail to recognize the crucial importance of freedom in its relationship to love of God and love of neighbor. Devoid of freedom, we cannot choose to love God nor anything nor anyone. A freedom-less humanity is a race of puppets, robots covered with flesh who motor meaninglessly about in their daily tasks, slaves to feigned love.

I began by noting that atheism is a much bigger problem in the world than many of us realize, and that Vatican II cited the violent protest against evil in the world as a major cause of a rejection of God. That is because the human spirit revolts against suffering and evil. It finds it repulsive. Yet it is important to understand that God brings good from evil--always--and allows it in order to afford us the opportunity to enter into his war against it. It is in the trail of life found on the battlefield against evil that we are perfected spiritually as we unite our will to the will of God.

Last, suffering and evil is temporary. Evil has no permanent hold on us. Therefore, ultimately, it is not the real problem some imagine. It is passing, for Christ is risen and will come again. Therefore, as the Catechism reminds us, we must "approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror" (CCC 385; cf. Lk 11:21-22; Jn 16:11; 1 Jn 3:8).

Faith in Christ. It really is the answer to the problem of evil. For Christ gives to the victor in the war against evil, fought in freedom governed by love, eternal life and peace and happiness. Yet we fight, not merely for reward, but for love of him who loved us to the end.

-----

Deacon Fred Bartels serves the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, as a member of the Catholic Clergy. He is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at joyintruth.com

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for May 2015
Universal:
That, rejecting the culture of indifference, we may care for our neighbours who suffer, especially the sick and the poor.
Evangelization: That Mary's intercession may help Christians in secularized cultures be ready to proclaim Jesus.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More Living Faith

Pope Francis admits to giving up TV in 1990 Watch

Image of While being in the eye of the international media, Pope Francis has little time for media. He's just too busy, and pledged not to watch TV after a pledge to the Virgin Mary in 1990.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While frequently in the media's eye, Pope Francis in fact has little time for the media. After making a promise to the Virgin Mary, the Pope claims that he has not watched TV since 1990. He did not even watch the matches of his football team San Lorenzo de ... continue reading


Pope Francis wants to be remembered as 'good guy who tried to do good' Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In his brief time as the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has done many remarkable things and has captured the world's attention. He came off as surprisingly humble in a recent interview with a fellow Argentinean journalist. Pope Francis says he ... continue reading


A Baltimorean's reflections on the Baltimore riots

Image of

By Tony Magliano

"The God of peace is never glorified by human violence," wrote the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Whether it's on an individual, city, national, or international level, violence always dishonors God, and makes bad situations worse. The recent Baltimore City riots ... continue reading


Catholics worldwide vow to get the word out on Pope Francis' message on climate change Watch

Image of Environmental advocates, working with bishops, religious orders, Catholic universities, and lay movements hope that there will be a transformative impact in the fight against global warming.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis will release his anticipated teaching document on the environment and climate change in the coming weeks. Over the past several years, more faith traditions have rallied behind environmental protection. Churches have begun to press ecological ... continue reading


The Church Needs to Be Baptized Afresh in the Holy Spirit Watch

Image of Do I still believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available for ordinary Christians? You bet I do! I believe that Pentecost still happens. I KNOW it still happens. We can ALL know it still happens because we can experience its effects in our own lives. We should not be afraid of the Holy Spirit! In fact, we should regularly seek to be filled with more and more of the Spirit.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

We need to pray for a New Pentecost for the Church in this hour! We need more of the Holy Spirit for the New Evangelization of the Church - so that a renewed Church can engage in the missionary task of the Third Christian Millennium. We need to be baptized afresh ... continue reading


Brotherhood of the Belt: Struggle, Trouble and Failure in the Christian Life Watch

Image of The Martyrdom of Peter

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Peter's wrong choices were not the end of the story of Gods plan for his life. Peter's denial crippled Peter emotionally and spiritually. He lost his way. That was until he encountered the Risen Christ. There, in that encounter, he allowed the belt of ... continue reading


The Purpose of Pentecost is the Birth and Ongoing Mission of the Church

Image of The purpose of Pentecost is the birth - and continued rebirth - of the Church.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

The Church was empowered by the Holy Spirit to live differently in the midst of a world awaiting the fullness of redemption, to live as a new people to lead the world back to the Father, in and through the Son. Through their experience of the Holy Spirit the early ... continue reading


Top 5 Roman Catholic colleges in the United States Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

What constitutes being the best university is oftentimes subjective and usually in adherence to one's beliefs and practices. Choosing a college is one of the biggest decisions many people are making. Some opt for those that offer the best training in the fields of ... continue reading


Don't take your children 'hostage,' Pope tells separated couples Watch

Image of Christian communities, Pope Francis says

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In discussing the role of parents educating their children, Pope Francis in his General Audience, advised separated couples to "never, never, never take the children hostage!" LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Pope spoke on the role of parents in the ... continue reading


8 encouraging Bible verses to lift you up Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Sometimes getting up in the morning can be the hardest thing you'll do all day. When life's worries press down on you and take your soul hostage, the most important thing you can do for yourself is turn to God. He will always be there for you, through the good times ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Sirach 36:5-6, 10-17
5 Send new portents, do fresh wonders, win glory for ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 79:8, 9, 11, 13
8 Do not count against us the guilt of former ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 10:32-45
32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for May 27th, 2015 Image

St. Augustine of Canterbury
May 27: At the end of the sixth century anyone would have said that ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter