July 19, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Why evil exists in the world

John F. FinkThose who don’t believe in God sometimes point to all the evil that exists in the world as the basis for their disbelief. If God is supposed to be all-good and all-powerful, they say, where is he during the numerous natural calamities that take the lives of innocent people or during massacres of innocent people?

Put another way, if there is such an all-powerful and all-good God, why didn’t he create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it?

Unfortunately, there is no quick answer. God could have created a better world, but he chose not to. Instead, in his infinite wisdom, he willed to create a world in a state of journeying toward an ultimate perfection. During that journey, there exists both physical good and physical evil, including both constructive and destructive forces of nature.

In particular, God chose to carry out his plan for the world by making use of his creatures’ cooperation. He gave us humans not only existence, but the dignity of acting on our own. He had so much trust in us that he gave us free will. It’s a gift he gave only to his highest creatures, to angels and humans.

By giving us free will, God made it possible for us to go astray, and it was precisely by humans exercising a free choice that moral evil entered the world. This does not, however, make God responsible for moral evil. He permits it because he respects the freedom he gave his creatures.

Anyone in authority should understand how free will works. Perhaps a father tells his teenage son, “You’ve got to learn to help around the house. I’d like you to mow the lawn today.” When the father comes home from work, he finds his son playing with his friends, the lawn unmowed. The father wanted his son to mow the lawn, but his son freely chose to do something else.

That’s the way it works between God and humans: God wants us to do what is right, but he has given us the power to decide for ourselves. We can freely choose to do something good, and we can also freely choose to do something bad.

Of course, God knew in advance that humans would sometimes use their freedom to do evil. But he wanted his higher creatures to be able to freely unite themselves to him and to each other. An entire world of creatures that worked like machines couldn’t freely give him praise. Why would he bother to create such a world? Of course, he didn’t.

There is also this: God somehow knows how to derive good out of evil. St. Augustine wrote that God, “because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.”

For us Christians, the greatest moral evil ever committed was the murder of God’s Son, an evil that brought the greatest good: Christ’s glorification and our redemption. †

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