The Problem of Evil
by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem.
“There he found a man named Aeneas.”
In a currently released film, the supervillain proposes the dilemma that if God is almighty, He can’t be all good; and if He is all good, He can’t be almighty. The underlying idea is that if God is all good, then He should logically remove all evil; but since evil does exist, then He lacks the power to prevent it. Conversely, if He has all the power He needs to make goodness permeate everything and everywhere, without any shadow of evil anywhere—yet it doesn’t happen—then He lacks the goodness to care. But a God who is not both all good and all powerful is not really God at all. Therefore God does not exist.
This objection to God’s existence is hardly novel, and neither is its answer. God’s goodness permits evil for the sake of bringing good out of it, which is surely a work of infinite power. But further questions follow. Whose good? And what kind of good?
In two instances presented in Scripture, we see precisely this principle in action. God allowed Aeneas to endure physical infirmity until St. Peter healed him. And yet, how does it show God’s infinite power if He only gave Aeneas back the good health he had lost? Rather, God works miracles in the natural order to prepare us for superabundant gifts in the supernatural order. And yet, even here there is a problem. The Acts of the Apostles clearly says St. Peter “went down to the holy ones in Lydda,” and “there he found a man named Aeneas.” This Aeneas, then, was one of the holy ones and already had the faith to realize that his eternal reward infinitely surpassed his temporal sufferings. But after his healing, “all the inhabitants of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.” In other words, the evil of his ill-health was used to bring about the surpassing good of numerous conversions, but not his own!
Again, the much praised Tabitha had suffered the greatest natural evil of physical death. We have heard how St. Stanislaus raised a man from the dead, who, after having given legal testimony, preferred to return to death, and presumably a state of guaranteed happiness. Thus we can conjecture that what Tabitha gained from resurrection was actually a loss. That is no show of God’s power at all, until we remember that many in Joppa learned of it and came to believe in the Lord. They rose profitably from spiritual death because of her unprofitable rising from physical death.
We learn, then, that, although God’s power and goodness are such as to bring moral good out of physical evil, it isn’t necessarily the moral good of the one who suffers, which is an agonizing realization. So, even though universal principles are most certain, the application of them to the here and now is blindingly opaque. We can guess what possible good things God may draw out of what we suffer, or even what we do, but oftentimes it’s a shot in the dark. And when the evils are moral, and grave, and annihilating, we can be tempted to propose the same dilemma as our supervillain. When those we love most snub us, speak ill of us, backstab us, what can we do but throw ourselves at the feet of the Crucified?
Turns out, that’s the very right thing to do. The answer to every question, our only peace of heart, is Jesus Christ crucified. What greater good did God bring out of our many sins? One answer is certain and sufficient: Jesus Christ was crucified. More love was given to God the Father in that moment than He had lost by all the sins of men. So if our heads are spinning with confusion, if our hearts are crushed with grief, if we seek an answer that will never come in this life, let us embrace the cross, confident only in the mercy of our risen Savior, and ever repeat, “Jesus, I trust in You; Jesus, I trust in You; Jesus, I trust in You.”
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