The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Locating the Problem of Evil

So a friend and former co-worker severed his spine in a bike accident and is now paralyzed from the waist down.

For an avid biker, this could signal the end of usable life. Not so for Sam.

I've known too many people to come through tragedy--true tragedy--stronger and thankful for it--in some cases saying it was the best thing that ever happened to them--to think that the Problem of Evil is about what happens to you.

The problem of evil is much harder to locate for those who think, as Swinburne says, far more important than what happens to you is how you react to it.

Sam is thriving in the kind of way I've seen enough before that it is now familiar. So where's the evil? I mean the unredeemed evil?

Clearly, some people do not react the same way to the evils which have befallen them. Why not?

Is that where true evil is, in the circumstances that cause people to react in bitterness and anger or suicide in tragic circumstances? But isn't it de-humanizing to think there are circumstances that can *cause* this? And don't all the many and varied cases of positive responses to evil show that *anyone* can react to evil in strength?

I just don't know.

My only sketch of a theory is that true evil occurs when someone suffers seemingly alone. We commit true evil when we don't reach out to those suffering.

But isn't God always present? He might always *be* present, but he doesn't always *feel* present. Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani. Saint Matthew records Jesus as saying this on the Cross, but he was quoting a Psalm that also includes the following:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?" ( Psalms 22:1-2, NIV)

That gets it about right. So why would God hide? Sin is one answer: we draw away from God, put up barriers between us and ipso facto we do not feel God's presence. But that can't explain the dark night of the soul of Saint John of the Cross or the spiritual struggles of Mother Theresea (yes, they were many and serious).

And so many are between those too extremes--the person so wicked as to be cut off utterly from God and the Saint to be trusted with darkness. Why does God hide from the mass of mankind?

Evil remains a mystery to me.

The only thing I can think of is that there is some great good which cannot be had without counting the costs. If God is real, then no suffering in this life is worth taking account of. That, I think, is clear. It is certainly the explicit perspectives of the great Martyr-Saints Peter and Paul and the Marty-Saints that came right after them, especially Polycarp, and explicitly stated by Saint Augustine. But, on the other hand, if all we see is all there is, lose the loss of one's body, or worse a loved one, is an *infinite* tragedy, unredeemed and unredeemable.

So is the point of God's hiddenness and the suffering that results a necessary evil for us to understand just how stark a contrast we face?

I can only say that in my life it is this reflection that has made me most see the *goodness* of God's existence. I was convinced of the *truth* of his existence before I cared. Now I care.


At Friday, July 06, 2007 10:13:00 PM, Anonymous Amanda said...

I loved this post: it was eloquent and clear. And I appreciated that you did not feel it necessary to wrap up all problems with answers. It was quite an encouragement.

I don't really have anything to add to your thoughts other than this: the problem of evil is a problem for everyone, not just for those who claim Christ (or other supernatural being). The difference comes in answering the problem: while some positions offer hope, others do not.

At Tuesday, July 10, 2007 10:42:00 AM, Blogger Vlastimil Voh├ínka said...

"... if all we see is all there is, then..." the universe really seems to be a terrible (nay, unsufferable) and cold place, yes.

See for some musings on that.

But, hey, He *is*, do not despair.

At Monday, July 16, 2007 3:25:00 AM, Blogger Steven Carr said...

' If God is real, then no suffering in this life is worth taking account of.'

That's why I follow the example of God and pass by on the other side when people are in trouble.

At Monday, July 16, 2007 11:32:00 AM, Blogger Foolish Thing Nine said...

In a sermon a couple of weeks ago, the pastor was trying to show us the difference between God's love and human love. He said that the reason that we should always depend on God's love first is because His love is perfect and unfailing (two ambiguous words that no one really bothers to define). But what it came down to was that God is always there and can always be trusted to understand and to care and to provide comfort when we are hurting - and our human 'lovers' will fail us.

At Monday, July 16, 2007 1:59:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...


Sure, but that's a future-reference theory. In the present it can seem like God's love itself fails. Jews felt this during the Holocaust. Sometimes people feel it in lesser situations

At Monday, July 16, 2007 2:00:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Steven, it sure seems that way sometimes, thus the problem of divine hiddenness.

Fortunately, more and more good philosophers are turning their attention to this core problem.

At Monday, July 16, 2007 2:01:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

By the way, Steven, perhaps you were in Mass this Sunday? The Gospel reading was of the Good Samaritan.


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