A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The problem of evil in the world

Bill Lambert

by Bill Lambert

Like most of us I've always been bugged by the age-old question: "If God is love, why does he permit so much evil and misery in the world?"  The goodness of God seems incompatible with the evil and suffering he permits.

The biblical answer is the story of Adam and Eve who were banished from the Garden of Eden into a cold, hard world because they ate from the tree of knowledge. But that legend doesn't offer a comforting explanation to today's generation of mankind.

After a lot of thought (because I'm no philosopher)  I've managed to arrive at some answers which have helped me to get a handle on this paradox.   Maybe they will help some others.

God  gave us  the power of freewill, so that we could return his love or reject it.   It follows logically that evil must exist if we are to have a choice between good and evil.   And if we are to have a fair choice,  good and evil must exist to some degree. And so with free will, evil comes into the world..

We can't blame God for the existence of evil if we are to enjoy our free will.

There is an immutable law of consequences.   If I perform any act, it has results be they beneficial or harmful.  If we cut down forests it is inevitable in certain circumstances that we will cause landslides or floods. The world is only coming to appreciate that if we continue to exploit  recklessly the resources of planet earth, we will upset natural balances and environmental changes will result, in most cases to our detriment.  If we live in insanitary conditions, we will bring on infections and diseases, perhaps on a major scale.   If we  flout the moral laws which protect our sexual health,  we risk sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS. It's not so much a judgement of God on the wicked; it is the consequences of concupiscence.

We can't blame God for the consequences of our own behaviour.

Alright, what about natural disasters?  If  the world was a perfect place why would we aspire to heaven? In some of the more developed Western economies like our own there is the prevailing illusion that perfect happiness is available if we have enough money.   All around us people are falling victim to the 21st century disease of "affluenza"  - believing that all the ‘mod cons’ will bring happiness. Happiness is all here and now if you can grab it in the lolly scramble.  And in a lolly scramble "me" comes first.

Natural disasters provide a wake-up call that this world is not an end in itself.

 It seems to be part of God's loving plan to remind us that this life is  only a preparation for eternity.

What about individual tragedies, like the child born with birth defects? It is one of the proofs of God's love that out of every misfortune, good can result.   Think of the children  with severe disabilities who know the loving care of a devoted mother or father..  But to a Christian,  such a life of self sacrifice is a beautiful way of coming closer to the realisation and awareness of God's own love flowing through us, and a doorstep to knowing him in the next world.

It may be difficult for us to understand, but perfect love gives all until all that remains is more love.  That was the lesson of the cross.

Yet why should there be sickness and disease?   Why would a loving God inflict this unnecessary suffering?

The argument here bears some relationship to the opposites of good and evil.   If there were no winter, how would we appreciate and enjoy the warmth of summer?   If there were no sickness, how would we know the benefits of good health?   It there were no unhappiness, how would we know when we are happy?  If there were no sadness, how would we know joy?

If we seek to hold God responsible for the miseries of humanity, we should first get  our own act right.

Finally, who are we to criticise God?

In trying to understand these questions we must be aware that our intelligence, our comprehension is limited. The actions of  the God who created the universe are way above our comprehension.

We can only see through a glass darkly, as Paul tells us.  We are looking at a tapestry from the reverse side.   The rest is faith.

There are many rationalists and atheists who take the view: "If I cannot understand it, it cannot be..if it doesn't make sense to me it cannot be true...If I can't see it or touch it, it is a figment of someone's imagination.."

In fact, they commit a sin of intellectual pride.

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