People are fickle creatures. We never can seem to be happy with what we have. First, it’s too dry, so we ask for rain. Then it’s too rainy, so we ask for sunshine. It’s too hot, so we ask for cold. It’s too cold, so we ask for warmth. We humans never can seem to really make up our minds what we want, and what we don’t want. There are a couple of matters, however, where we are consistent. Humans consistently do not want to suffer, and we do not want what is evil.
You might counter this statement with the accusation that there are many people in the world who do evil things, and they don’t seem to care. True enough, but-unless they are deranged-such people aren’t doing evil for the sake of evil. Most people do what is evil either out of weakness, or because they mistakenly define freedom as being able to do whatever one wants. There are others who-just as mistakenly-do what is evil as a way of “proving” there is no God. They reason that if an all-good God really existed, then He would not allow evil to exist.
There are others who seem to seek out suffering. The world shuns such people, referring to them as fundamentalists (a “nice” way of calling someone a religious fanatic, or quack). Yet, these people do not truly seek suffering, nor do they necessarily desire it. Such people simply realize that suffering is an unavoidable part of life. The Master, Jesus Christ, suffered and died. Since the servant is never greater than the master, we must also suffer and die.
Too often have I heard people complain about suffering and evil in the world. People either blame their suffering on God, or they say He can’t exist. It is reasoned that an all-good and all-powerful God would never allow His creatures to suffer. He would never allow them to sully His universe with sin.
On an internet forum once I was debating the existence of evil and suffering with an individual who was very bitter. Several years previous to our conversation his daughter had been murdered. The father was understandably upset, yet he took his anger too far. He began to advocate the immediate execution of anyone guilty of a violent crime. He openly questioned why God had allowed him to suffer the loss of his daughter. He felt that evil had to be fought with evil.
I am not here concerned with the issue of capital punishment, but to execute every person guilty of a violent crime is not justified. Capital punishment must only be used in extreme circumstances. I somewhat understand the father’s grief, but evil can not be fought with evil. Evil only breeds evil. This questioning of God in time of suffering, or in the face of evil, however, is something I think most people-if not all people-experience.
We want only good things for ourselves and those we love. When bad things happen we can become discouraged, angry, and confused. Why does God allow evil and suffering to exist? Doesn’t He love us? Doesn’t God wish to protect His creatures?
The short answer to the last two questions is yes. The long answer is a bit more complicated, and it ties into the first question. Evil and suffering are related, after all. God does love us, and He desires to protect us. Yet, to love and to protect someone does not exclude the idea of suffering. God truly loves us and wants what is best for us. This means that God must allow us to suffer. God created us, and so He knows what is best for us. He is constantly working to do what is best for us. Yet, He doesn’t want robots.
God created us with free will. We can choose to love Him and do what He asks, or we can choose to do our own will. But if God wants us to love Him and do His will, then why did He give us free will? God gave us free will because He wanted rational creatures. If we were programmed from the beginning to love God and do His will, then we wouldn’t really be rational creatures at all. We would be robots. Our response to God wouldn’t then be true love. It would simply be a programmed response. Love is always voluntary.
Evil and suffering exist in this world because mankind gave the wrong response to God. Instead of loving Him and doing His will we did our own. Adam and Eve, as the first two human beings, spoke for the whole human race. They were the only two humans on earth at first. From them everyone else who would ever live would inherit their human nature. When Adam and Eve sinned they damaged that human nature. So when they had offspring the only thing Adam and Eve had to give their offspring was a wounded nature.
Adam and Eve’s sin not only ruined human nature, it also destroyed our friendship with God. When God created man He endowed him with certain gifts. Man’s gifts were:
1) Control of the passions by reason;
2) Freedom from suffering and death;
3) Great knowledge;
4) The gift to reside in heaven at the termination of his life on earth.
When Adam and Eve sinned, mankind lost these gifts. Mankind also lost the friendship of God. This is why Jesus came into the world. His mission was to teach us the truth, and to suffer and die for our sins. But not just for our individual sins, no. Jesus died to repair the damage done by the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. He suffered and died to restore the friendship between God and man. When the Bible mentions Jesus’ death for us it often uses the singular “sin”. Jesus’ death repaired the damage of the original sin, and gave us the opportunity to have our individual sins forgiven so that we may enter heaven. That is why, in Colossians 1:24, St. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…”
Jesus’ Passion repaired the damage done by the original sin. All we need now is to apply His suffering and death to our own individual sins. This requires our participation in suffering and death. Our salvation isn’t something that happens to us, but it is something that we must take part in.
So, why does God allow suffering and evil to exist? He allows it because it resulted from a choice made by the first man and woman. They chose their own will. As a result, God removed from them the gifts He had freely given. They were left with a damaged nature, and they had only this to pass on to their offspring. We, in turn, sometimes choose our own will, as well. This is allowed because God wanted rational creatures who could choose for themselves. He wanted us to voluntarily love and serve Him, not to do so because we were programmed for it.
God also allows suffering and evil in this world to show us just how great and powerful He really is. God is powerful enough to have created a universe completely free from evil and suffering. Yet, God is more powerful than that. He is so powerful that He can allow evil and suffering to exist, and yet His will is still fulfilled. No, God doesn’t will our sins; but He “works around them”, as it were. We can do what God does not desire, and God’s plans will still work out. He is still victorious. What a wonderful, powerful God we have! So let us rejoice in our sufferings, and let us do our part to cut down and remove the evil in this world. Doing so will put us on the side of the all-powerful, all-good and infinite God! After all, no one likes to lose.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity