A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Some Answers to an Old Riddle

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?”  Why are we afflicted with horrible diseases?  Why the disasters which overwhelm innocent communities?    Why did a dear one have to die from cancer or in a motor accident?   The goodness of God would seem 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.

To start with, God could have made us governed by a set of instincts like animals, but instead he gave us  the power of free will, 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 the same degree.  Infinite good, infinite love must be balanced by a loveless evil and hate if we are to have  an absolute comparison, a fair choice.   And so with free will, evil comes into the world..........Affluenza

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

But why should we be victims to catastrophes like floods, pestilence, AIDS?

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 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 like earthquakes and cyclones with their resulting human misery?

Lesson of the Cross

Lesson of the Cross

That takes some answering.   But it does make some sense from a standpoint of Christian thinking.   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 wearing the prestige brands of clothing and knicknacks, having a BMW car, living in a big modern home in the well-to-do neighbourhoods; or just having the latest cellphone or superphonic sound system 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.

You can see the outcome of the current wave of materialism and self-centredness in the diminishing number of vocations to be nuns, brothers and priests.  Why sacrifice your life to the Lord when a material heaven is within our grasp?    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 Down’s Syndrome?

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..  Often it is heart-wrenchingly lovely to see the devotion and self-sacrifice lavished on a child born with major disabilities which demand constant loving care.   To the ungodly, materialistic “me” society around us today this makes little sense.  Better the child should have been aborted and forgotten.    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 the preceding arguments don’t convince us,  then take a different mental tack.  Think of all the disasters which cause human misery that are caused mainly by our own fault.   The scale of death and misery caused by our own wars and persecutions  far outweighs natural disasters.

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 question God?

In trying to understand these questions we must be aware that our intelligence, our comprehension, is limited.   A person with a high IQ is capable of understanding moral or philosophical questions in far greater depth than one gifted with less intelligence.   And no human being is capable of comprehending any infinite dimension. We can ponder on the fact that eternity must exist, but it is beyond our grasp.   We can look between the stars on a clear night and see into infinity, but we cannot comprehend it.   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......”   To quote author John Buchan “they lack invisible support.”

In fact, they commit a sin of intellectual pride.   

the.lamberts @paradise.net.nz 


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