Holloway on… Looking at the problem of evil - Part I
Looking at the problem of evil - Part I
It is said that the only real and intelligent objection to belief in the existence of God, is the problem of evil. Many will be inclined to agree. Certainly any discussion among younger teenagers about the goodness of God and the power of God will eventually drift to the demand “If there is a God, why does He let it all happen?” If, on the plane of moral evil rather than physical or ‘natural’ evil, one replies with the real freedom of the free will and the real power of personal sanctifying grace to sweeten and transform our personalities if we will allow Him, the rejoinder comes, “Well, yes, but if He is almighty why does He not stop me from sinning and going to hell?” One has heard of a certain seminary professor who teaches his students that “God cannot be called almighty because of the problem posed by evil, but unsurpassable, yes, certainly”. I hope the good God feels flattered at being so put at the top of the class, even if not quite in a class of His own. One is not surprised to learn that the same honest man is unsure of any real distinction between matter and spirit, or between God and his creation. It would follow.
God cannot square the circle
In a mere article we will ponder what perhaps we may understand and can answer concerning the problem of evil, without losing pages on what we cannot. We will do better to keep to the old categories of almighty God and eternal God, because as God is utterly and totally Being, “pure act”, and the transcendental source of all dependent reality, these ancient categories of natural theology are going to be true. Failure to penetrate “mystery” is not due to incompetence in God’s being but in ours. One remembers back to youthful days, at St. Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, during the last war, and to a theologian of some distinction (Fr. Bernard Leeming, S.J.) remarking: “I think the solution of the ultimate problem of moral evil, Fathers, the allowing of the damnation of the spiritual creature, is insoluble to the finite mind. We can only point to the enormous evidence for a Good God, and the complete coherence of the order of his providence for our good. In that, as in the Sacred Heart, we can take our confident refuge”.
Fr. Bernard may have been right about the ultimate impenetrability of the mystery of grace and salvation. If he is right (and of this one is less than sure) then the mystery resides in the nature of God and the majesty of God, which even in the order grace we cannot fully penetrate. We have to avoid the neat Calvinist solution of arbitrary predestination, so very logical to the finite mind. We have also to worry that Catholic schools of thought which teach that “God can always and efficaciously will the salvation of the most deliberate sinner …” but of course “according to the modality of free will” may not be saying the
same thing as Calvin. In all the aspects of our post-scholastic but pre-conciliar theology, we need to be careful about admitting cheerfully the infinitely more perfect worlds and orders that God could have created but didn’t. We may be saying that God can always make an infinite number of ever more perfect circles … and of course keep them square. We do not know whether some of the postulates theologians make arbitrarily in the name of the omnipotence of God, are simply incompatible with the order of the divine wisdom.
God and “Necessity”
At the root of the so-called “problem of evil” is one great, necessary lack of determination on which this writer at least suspects all else hinges. It is that God cannot will us, or our being, or our finality (which is the same thing as our fulfilment) with an intrinsic, metaphysical necessity. God cannot will the angel either, with an intrinsic necessity. God can only will Himself — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — with a necessity which is absolute, because God alone, in his own essence is the unique and only Reality which is “necessary”. If God shall decree to know, will, and want anything other than Himself — the spiritual creature made to His, to God’s, own spiritual image and substantial likeness — then that creating, and the communion of that calling unto God, must be an offer, a gift, in God, and in the creature, a desiring in the order of the intrinsically unconstrained.
Matter is constrained and predetermined of its nature; it has no one lasting “ego” andfulfilment as men and angels have. It cannot commune with God, even as it cannot offend Him. The spiritual creature, angel or man shares as spiritual in God’s own self-recognition, self-love, and in that self-determination which we call “freedom”. Its fulfilment will lie in its cooperation with God, as God seeks it and desires its love. There will be God’s one truth, not any truth, God’s one order of goodness, not anything the creature likes. The creature is not its own happiness; it will discover its happiness only in God, in a recognition free from the fundamentals of its being. It will not find God without the seeking and prompting of God; yet its own response is known as “free” from the root of its dignity as spiritual. The spiritual creation does not have to obey from very nature and definition as matter does. It can adore and will itself to its own destruction. Yet, come to think of it, do we have any evidence from the pages of the Gospels that, in any confrontation with Christ, the “unclean spirit” ever asked for its own annihilation?
Creation as Community
If God creates within an order, a ministry of being, spiritual creatures must be expected to act upon one another in a community of knowledge, love, and influence. This presumption must apply to the angels as well, but upon that order of being, so little known to us in detail, we will not linger. The proposition certainly applies to human kind — from the first .dependency of our being conceived, to the last grace ministered to us at the hand of another, in Christ’s name, the last prayer whispered in our ear by loved ones, as we die. Thus, we are at all times a society of friends, gathered around the Person of God. It is inconceivable if we are capable of refusing the relationship which defines our “righteousness” within the very being of God, that our life-ministry upon others should always be for good and never for evil! The alternative is to say that to be “good” God must always create an order in which it was morally if not metaphysically impossible to reject Him at all. Such a concept is opaque, for it does not cohere with any exercise of “freedom” as we know it on earth, nor with that inner sense of joy in obedience to God as “loved
Person” which we sense when we obey the voice of conscience. It does not fit in with that sense of saying “no” with “darkness all surround” which we experience in the deliberate refusal of God’s known will.
There is one point of difficulty to which to confess, in this matter of the “freedom to sin” of the created spirit: the “special privileges” of Our Lady. In an earlier meditation forthe Immaculate Conception (FAITH Vol. 14. No. 6 1982) one suggested that her immunityfrom Original Sin was not really a special privilege in any event, because if Christ is predestined as the meaning and climax of all creation, then Mary, as willed before Eve, was not intrinsically liable to Original Sin but only extrinsically by physical descent in time. Likewise, while God cannot will anything by an intrinsic necessity except Himself, the role of Mary in God’s plan is as close to a work within the Divinity as is conceivable for any creature, touching as it does the union of natures in the Person of Christ. The love with which Mary is loved by God for Himself in his divine ordinance is the nearest thing one can get to a grace which, in the subject receiving it, makes deliberate sin, mortal or venial “metaphysically” impossible and actually morally inconceivable from its sheer degree of communion with the Being of God — a degree that is which makes all else unlovable and undesirable which is opposed to the beauty of God. If there is an order of dependence in being, all of it the utter gift of God, there is no possible intrinsic reason why we should all expect or require of God the status and privileges of Mary. There is no point in being jealous of the Blessed Virgin: of all of us it is true “What hast thou, which thou hast not freely received, and if thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou had’st not received it?” (I.Cor. 4:7)
The Mass: God’s Holy Communion with all Creation
We really do not know when we talk of it being in the power of God to create a spiritual order in which truly and freely no creature would ever sin, whether we are talking about an order which is possible at all, or again an order in which all the other characteristics which bind together our ministry of love, service, action, and communion would be really and freely manifested to the glory of God. What we must require of God, if God decrees to create an order and communion, a “society of friends” between Himself and mutually to one another, is that the order so created shall mirror to the fullest degree we can conceive, and beyond the fullest we can conceive, all the attributes of God, including most essentially the mercy, comprehension, understanding and forgiveness in love, of God. Such an order we do know and experience in the Incarnation of the transcendent God and the redemption of mankind, in the whole gamut of His work.
Sometimes we forget that the redemption is a work done and still doing in the Person of Jesus, God and man. As a work it is manifest in Christ’s resurrection, teaching us that our fallen flesh is membered to a victorious personality and a glorious and immortal body. Whatever, through the pressure of sin, evil communion from others, pain, and ignorance, cannot be repaired or even healed a little in this time, is still covered by that living, personal, continuing redemption which consummates beyond the grave what could not be operated here. Of this, through time, but into eternity, the Mass, in which not a man but Jesus re-presents Himself among his people as One ever offered and ever offering, is the most moving of signs. One thinks of it every time one raises the consecrated Host to the people. Then, borne to the hands of God, by the angel who ministers the gifts of men to the Father (Eucharistic Prayer I), He who is our peace with God is given back to us as the pledge of peace and our peace with each other. Then, in Him and of Him we eat the Bread of Life at the common table of Our Father and grow in wisdom, age and grace personally and as a People before God and men.
Of such an order of creation, dignified in the first moments of its spawning by the decree of the Incarnation, redeemed not by one act, but by the living communing of the same Son of God and of man, I am not willing to say that God could have done more, God could have done better. What we can see is that all good, even to our personal reception into the bosom of God at the moment of our death, is a work and a communing. From the moment of the “Big Bang” through to the intercession for us of Christ and his saints, we are in the presence of one continuous ministry, in which we create or destroy in the order of being, of reality, for ourselves, and upon our brothers and sisters.
Rupture of Unity-Law of Creation
Christians, including Catholics, have forgotten the doctrine of Original Sin: within that doctrine, intelligently and coherently understood, is the actual answer to the problem of evil within the order of creation and within the actual order of our lives as a ministry one to another, as God has constituted that universal relationship. That order includes — or better, is founded upon — the Incarnation of The Word, as the source and life-principle of the angelic order, and of the life of our own order, as Son of God and Son of Man. (Colloss. 1:16-17). Therefore the reluctance to speculate about an infinity of better orders of being which God could have made but did not. There is no conceivable crowning of the universe that betters the making and fulfilling of Angels and of Men in Christ, Sacrament of All Creation. The order within which such a Gift is decreed must be supremely worthy of the unique majesty of the Gift.
Concerning man’s life and order, the doctrine of original holiness teaches that all human life and being is a communion and a ministry of one upon another. Before the advent of man, this community of the inflowing of being by one thing to another (which is the best definition of causality) was true of that ‘community’ which is the entire material cosmos. In the theology which inspires FAITH, it is often called “the Unity-Law of Control and Direction”. Yet, this law of ascent in one ministry of development, truth and goodness is manifest in matter only as the foil which sets off greater jewels embedded. The first jewel is the nature of man, and his creation in original holiness. In man this Unity-Law continues unbroken in a higher but now free and spiritual order for the perfecting of the sons and daughters of God. A jewel beyond compare crowns the making of man: the Incarnation of God as the Christ, the Holy One who is the summit of the Unity-Law in person, in the continuity of one unbroken, coherent economy of creation. The Incarnation of God in Christ is not simply an event, but also an activity: the summit of the creative Law, through which God makes all things, maintains all things, and brings all things in balance to their perfection. We human beings are always too a living and a causal part of that one “creation in community”, for better or worse, for good or for degradation (see Col.1: 16-26. Eph. 4:1-13. Hebrews 2:7-16).
Every aspect of human life damaged
Original Sin then, that overlooked but vital doctrine of the reality of our state, and the introduction into the material universe for the first time of “the problem of evil”, teaches the rupturing of that living holy communion of good, by which from the first pair men were to minister life and fulfilment to one another through Christ. It is not some abstract order of good which is ruptured; these free and spiritual creatures themselves are appallingly wounded in the depths of their beings. They cannot, and even within God’s order of redemption they do not, respond to God with the fulness and fairness or beauty and good as they should. The good we minister is never perfect, and in many the ministry of their lives, as a work and impact upon others, is a ministry of evil, of destruction of peace and order.
In the economy of God in which we actually live, this is the whole answer to “the problem of evil”. Every institution of human society is wounded and lessened by the disharmony and greeds of sin, that “law within my members” that contradicts the Unity- Law, “the law of God” — a Law which being of life, and working only to the fulfilment of life, “delights me according to my inward man” (Rom. 7:22-24). At the time of a certain British air disaster caused by the wickedness of men, we heard a lot about God’s permission of this sort of thing destroying people’s faith in his existence at all! One understands the grief, and the disorientation of loss, the numbing pain of horrible, unexpected sorrow. But yet, in itself, how small, and unconsciously selfish the complaint. We seek that the providence of God should always work to spare our little local utopia of happiness, when the burdens and the same causality which caused the evil, fell upon the only-begotten Son of God’s delight — who was not spared, but tasted death for all, and gave Himself, rising again, as the certainty of our renewal and lasting joy (Col. 1:24).
This is the first part of Fr. Holloway’s Editorial for FAITH magazine, May/June 1989. It will be concluded in our next issue.