In the face of inexplicable tragedy, some zealous religious folk readily preach a message of divine retribution. The burden of blame is placed on the sinfulness of society as a whole, or on a specific group within society. This does nothing but promote an unearned self-righteousness for the finger-pointers, and undeserved hatred for those singled out.
Much of what is evil in the world can be explained by cause and effect. If we abuse our bodies or partake in dangerous behaviour, we increase the odds of suffering physical consequences. If we take up arms against a neighbour, chances are that we will start a war. If we hoard the bounty of the earth, then others will suffer from deprivation. Many causes of evil are due to the misuse of that awful gift of free will.
But who or what can be blamed for horrific natural disasters or widespread epidemics? Is God to be blamed? Is God a vengeful deity with a limited amount of patience, ready to teach us a lesson at any time? If so, whose side is God on when so many of us claim to be the favoured ones?
It is theological presumption to cling to a God of one’s own liking. But I have to believe in a loving God, not a God of retribution. I cannot believe that God would bring suffering merely to get even with a specific population group. The core of the Christian message is that God became one of us in order to save us. Jesus preached a gospel of love not of anger and destruction.
The short answer to the question of why evil exists in the world is – humans are created with free will. Created in the image and likeness of God we have minds to reason with, hearts to love with, and the freedom to choose how we act.
Respecting the free will of each person is to respect their inherent dignity as humans. We are rightly horrified at any form of coercion or force imposed by governments on their people. We do not believe that society or religion has the right to dictate how many children we may have, what faith or beliefs we adhere to, what clothes we can wear, or what we can think or say. We uphold the right to freedom with a passion.
But we also know the gift of free will can be twisted and perverted to serve ourselves with no regard for the good of others. We have the freedom to amass wealth, with no regard to the massive poverty around us. We have the freedom to gain and hoard power, while denying the rights of others. We have the freedom to abuse our bodies, believing it is no business but our own. We have the freedom to inflict pain, suffering, and even death on our sisters and brothers.
We can also deny our own free will by refusing to take responsibility for our own lives. Yes, evil happens to us that we have no control over. But there comes a time when we need to stand up and do something about it. We need to reject the victim mentality of wallowing in self-pity and pointing the finger of blame. We need to reclaim the dignity that was taken away from us, by replacing powerlessness with empowerment. We have to embrace our free will and stand up and fight against the evil and injustice that hurt us and continues to hurt others.
The gift of free will should fill us with awe, for its power can be both awesome, and awful.
Wretched, rotten things happen to all of us. And they happen to those we love. “Why did this happen to me? I don`t deserve this” is a tough question for anyone to answer.
Evil in our lives is always difficult to accept, but even harder when it is out of our control. We read about a tragic car accident and quickly search for the words “alcohol or speed was probably a factor.” Aha! There was a reason. The accident could have been avoided. Someone our age dies suddenly of heart failure. Well, he or she drank too much, smoked and/or was overweight. A couple is divorcing after a twenty year marriage. The entire town knows one of the spouses was having a fling. No surprise.
But how are we to make sense of the inexplicable accident or death? How do we make sense of the person who lives an immaculately healthy life-style and gets cancer or has a massive coronary at a young age? How do we make sense of the relationship that falls apart for no apparent reason?
Many theologians have tried to explain the problem of evil in the world. If God is good, and all that God created is good, why does evil exist?
Catholics have a great answer for unanswerable questions. It’s a mystery! The next few blogs will be a humble attempt to ponder this mystery.