The existence of evil has proven to be a thorn in the side of Christianity for a long time. Thank you Sherlock, for that brilliant insight, is what my Dad might say after reading that, so let me explain a little more. If God is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing, why is there suffering and pain in the world? So maybe a better way to start off would have been ‘the existence of evil is problematic in believing God exists.’ Many people (notably Epicurus, among others) have in fact looked at this seeming contradiction and concluded either that a) God does not exist, or b) He does exist but isn’t all-powerful or all-loving. Now there are many people out there who believe that God does exist, and we know that evil exists, so how do we resolve this?
This question has been around for a long time and there are plenty of different answers already out there. In no particular order, people have speculated that evil and pain exist 1) for the greater plan (or the greater good), 2) as a punishment, and also as instruction, 3) because of the Fall of Man (that is, Adam and Eve eating the apple in the Garden of Eden), 4) to make a point about disobeying God. These aren’t all the reasons people have come up with; I just tried to mention the more common ideas.
For me at least, none of these reasons ever seemed quite satisfactory. I’m not saying they aren’t true, just that they never seemed…enough. For instance, if God is all powerful and evil exists for the greater good, why not bring about that good now? Why wait? The punishment idea has always seemed too outlandish. We all know that terrible things can happen to good people, and that great things can happen to horrible people, so that doesn’t seem fair. I could probably include the Fall of Man in this as well; it doesn’t seem fair to punish all of mankind forever because one man disobeyed God.
So why then? Why does evil exist? I think that the answer is free will. God gave mankind free will, and it is for that reason that evil exists. We can choose to live righteous lives, to act in an honest way and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, or we can choose not to. Unfortunately, we don’t always make the right choices. Our impulses are selfish and greedy and often we give in to our baser natures, and when that happens we end up (deliberately or not) hurting others. Now I believe that God could easily step in and right our wrongs, he could make all the right choices for us, but obviously if he did we would no longer have free will. Some have asked why doesn’t God simply take away our ability to commit evil acts, or to immediately rectify our evil impulses once we have committed them, but this is the same thing as taking away our free will. If we cannot choose to do evil, then we have no choice at all, and our free will is gone.
But wait, something still doesn’t seem right. What about natural disasters? Sickness and the like? How about just plain bad luck? No one chooses to have an earthquake, or choosesto have cancer, how does free will even come into play here? This is a good question, one that deserves an answer all of its own, and so I will tackle this question in my next post.
Before we all shove off for the weekend, I just wanted to say Happy Easter to everybody! I hope Lent went well for you all, and that you didn’t miss whatever you sacrificed too much. I read an interesting bit of news the other day about a man who gave up food for Lent, and decided to only drink beer just like our Franciscan brothers did so long ago. Now if only I could find some really good beer, I might have to try that next year!