A Line in the Sand

August 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Featured


Since the time of the Apostles, the Church has been engaged in the business of explaining Christian doctrine and defending it against error from both outside forces and inside forces (heresies). 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be ready to give an explanation for the hope that is within you.” Recently, Cardinal Levada stated that the Church needs a New Apologetics for the New Evangelization. But why? What are the “new apologetics” that are needed, and why do we need them?


We see in Western Culture not only the rise of new atheism, but the entrenchment of it, along with a growing population of disillusioned ex-believers who have left the faith in favor of other ideologies. There are a number of doctrines that would be considered the primary “talking points”; the doctrine of hell, for one – why would God, supposedly so loving, be willing to send someone to eternal punishment for merely finite crimes? Then there is the doctrine of original sin – does God really blame us for something that someone else did thousands of years ago, such that even babies need to be baptized in order to be kept from hell (and did he really need his Son to be tortured and die in order to forgive us for it)? And what about the fact that there is so much (SO much) evil in the world, including things that we humans have no control over, like natural disasters? Is God, supposedly so loving and infinitely powerful, really unable or unwilling to stop them – or worse, does he send them?

These questions are not asked merely by the intellectual elite as was primarily the case in times past, but are rather the questions on the mind of the “man on the street,” and even a critical high-school student would be able to engage an apologist on these matters fairly competently; ask any religion teacher. And aside from the work of the Holy Spirit (who will always be engaged in the task of conversion of hearts, regardless of how much people do or don’t understand about God), it’s only getting worse.

Obviously, something is wrong.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that every aspect of the faith is a response to the problem of evil:

“If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question. … There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.” (CCC, paragraph 309)

The term “evil” as it is being used here is not to be understood merely as moral evil, but as any deprivation of a due good. Moral evil, suffering, death, and natural disaster all come under the broad definition of “evil” as given by the Church.

Being central to every consideration of the faith, it follows that if one does not understand God’s relationship to evil correctly, every other aspect of the faith will be held wrongly regardless of the apparent orthodoxy of language or religious practice.

Consider another simple truth, again from the Catechism concerning the goodness of God:

“God is infinitely good and all his works are good… We must therefore approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror.” (CCC, paragraph 385)

We must remember that God is the conqueror of evil, perfectly opposed to it in every respect. He neither causes evil, nor fails to oppose it fully. If God is good, then he is opposed to evil. If he is perfectly good, then he is perfectly opposed to it. All of the truths of the faith, to be themselves and not distortions of what the Church proposes for our belief, must never compromise God’s goodness in any degree.


Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, writes:

“God does not tolerate evil, but reacts to it with all the power of his holiness… Woe to us if he didn’t! A compromise with evil at that level would destroy the very ethical foundation of the world.” (Father Raniero Cantalamessa, “Where Love and Justice Meet”)

But those familiar with Christian apologetics will recognize that every known act of reasoning about the relationship between God and evil (at least by those thinkers who rightly remain loyal to the classical conception of God as both omniscient and omnipotent) has involved God not perfectly opposing evil because evil is being used as a necessary means to a good end. Opinions differ as to what this good end is, but the “means to an end” relationship obtains broadly.

Despite the fact that God’s infinite goodness necessitates perfect opposition to every evil, the “old apologetics” does not argue (or even consider) that God is perfectly opposed to evil. Why not? The reason is a simple one: The possibility of the world being filled with evil of all kinds while God is perfectly and omnipotently opposing every evil with all the power of his holiness seems like a definitive logical vacuum. We’ve reasoned that if God were perfectly opposing evil with the fullness of his being, he would surely be more successful. Thus, appearing to be logically impossible, explanations of theodicy in terms of a “perfect opposition” between God and evil have not been attempted. Instead, we have opted for explanations in terms of God holding back his opposition because of there being some “purpose” to evil.

But, whatever “goodness” could be predicated of God on the “purpose” model would be nothing like a goodness that respects innocence and human dignity. Rather, this purported “goodness” opts to violate innocence and human dignity for an unknown purpose. According to the available models, we are left to conclude that if a child were to suffer from smallpox, it is because God either sent the disease, or at least finds it useful in the grand scheme of things (perhaps to facilitate stoic virtues) and thus decides to not do all in his power to oppose the evil.

This is not exactly the type of deity people want to get to know better, much less abide with forever. Almost everyone can see the ugliness of our rhetoric but us, and we continue to wonder why there are not more converts to the faith.

The fact of the matter is that most Christians have quietly given up on perfect beauty and goodness being true of God.

We apologists wanted to have some kind of explanation about the problem of evil beyond what we did indeed have, and so we compromised to make God complicit in evil in order to have something to say. Instead of saying that God perfectly opposes evil with the fullness of his holiness, we say he is holding back because he is using evil as a means to an end.

The New Apologetics will take a different stance: If God exists, he is omniscient, omnipotent, infinitely good, and his perfect goodness entails a perfect opposition to every evil (including all suffering of the innocent). All evil is infinitely offensive to the infinite goodness of God, and while he unfailingly draws greater good out of every evil, his act of “permitting” evil is not to be understood as involving any degree of approval. Rather, God’s permission of evil is the endurance of that which is infinitely offensive to him.

Why then is the world the way it is? Have the saints not clearly taught that all things are under God’s sovereign control and that suffering is a gift from God? What about the Bible, which depicts God as directly causing suffering? We are very much aware of these questions, and the burden of explanation is now upon us. In the forthcoming exposition about these matters, NewApologetics.com will not compromise anything proposed for our belief by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Whatever the true theodicy is, it cannot involve God being anything less than perfectly offended by evil. This non-negotiable adherence to the perfect goodness of God is the “line in the sand” separating the New Apologetics from the old.


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