The Solution to the Problem of Evil/Suffering

June 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Catholic Apologetics, Featured

The following series of quotes from “Revelations of Divine Justice” gives the basic description of how God can be omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly opposed to all evil/suffering (such that no greater opposition can be conceived), and yet the evil in the world exists as it does.

On this model, all evil is gratuitous (i.e. not necessary for any greater good) when considered in itself, but (through the redemption) God transforms all evil to work together for the good. Please note, though, the quoted material below doesn’t really talk about the redemption substantively, so it’s only giving a partial picture of theodicy.

The following string of quotes jumps around from different sections of the book, but should still give a decent sense of the basics. [The bracketed parts are taken from the footnotes, but are included linearly here for the sake of efficiency.]

Begin quotes:
In creation, God has given of himself in a maximally radical way. His love is one of total self-gift for the sake of created persons. In offering himself totally to creatures, God has given power to those creatures made in his image to be co-creators. That is, real power in shaping the world is given to [human beings] and angels. That which can only be done by God (such as creation of the universe out of nothing, or the governance of the entirety of reality via omniscient providence) cannot be given over to creatures, but all other finite powers and roles of importance that can possibly be entrusted to created beings have been given to men and angels for the sake of imbuing maximal importance to each creature made in the image of God. This gift of power is so absolute that even many of those actions which can only be accomplished by God himself, such as the forgiveness of sins, or the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, have been entrusted to human beings as intermediaries through the sacramental ministry of the priesthood. According to God’s generosity, if something can possibly be done or mediated by a finite power, God creates a finite creature to do it rather than doing the thing directly.

[In addition to the normal powers given to persons according to their created natures, the unfolding of divine providence can be altered by prayer without in any way entailing that the eternal, immutable God changes his mind. God eternally wills to bestow his own power to creatures; therefore (without requiring a change in the will of God) the direction of divine providence depends on the prayers and actions of created persons in accordance with the sphere of influence that they have been given. Consequently, it is entirely fitting that, for example, a person could be awakened in the middle of the night by angels to pray for something which God (in his omniscience) already knows is needed. This act of entrusting so much to the prayers of creatures is a gift in keeping with God’s divestiture of all that does not require infinite power. Everything that can possibly depend on the asking of creatures does, in fact, depend on the asking.]

[Considering the principle that God’s direct action is limited only to those things which necessarily cannot be done by any intermediary power, it follows that the natural sciences should be expected to be able to explain the vast majority of events in the material universe in terms of the operation of intermediary causes and physical laws. Consequently, it is a grave misunderstanding of the nature and power of God to conclude that the far-reaching explanatory power of science in discerning naturalistic causal relationships implies any kind of atheistic conclusion.]

In giving away all that can be given, God gives such that no truer giving is possible. This gift of power is as authentic and irrevocable as any act of giving can be. Though all power comes from God, when he gives it away, he no longer owns it even though he holds it in being. As a consequence, it can be said (in a manner of speaking) that creatures, because of the generosity of God, have power that God does not have. This self-emptying of God (such as to give away all finite power to creatures) is not a weakness, but is the perfect charity of God in which authentic importance is irrevocably bestowed upon created persons as a gift.

…in creation, God intended a total communion of love such that each person would be integral to the happiness of all others. There were to be no superfluous persons, and every free action would be maximally important to the happiness of all. In this perfect communion, the exercise of each of the gifts of power given by God was ordained by the divine will to have a universal effect. That is, in every case, the free actions of any individual would affect every other in a harmonious way for the benefit of all. Such a totally unified communion of persons where each is maximally important to all others is God’s intention for the dignity of persons. However, when the order of the created universe is violated through sin, the gifts of freedom, power and universal causal significance that would have made a person an integral part of the happiness of all become the means of distribution for disaster and chaos. …sufferings of all kinds stem from the universal impact of sinful individual actions. The world is full of maximally important persons acting in ways that violate the order of creation, and everyone experiences the consequences of the disordered actions of each.

In knowing of the eventual abuse of his maximal self-gift through sin, God either gives all that can be given and does exactly as he would have done as if he did not know that there would be an abuse of the gift, or he holds back his generosity in order to prevent the abuse from happening by giving something less than the total gift which he would have given originally. Necessarily, God either gives fully, as if evil were not a factor, or he gives something less in anticipation of evil. If God does exactly as he would have done were evil not a consideration at all, then the total gift is given without the least restraint even though he knows it will be abused; he creates exactly those whom he would have created if evil were never to have been a consideration, and gives away power and importance fully and without any degree of compromise in response to the threat of evil. However, if God holds back his generosity in anticipation of the evils that would follow from the abuse of his undiminished self-gift, then self-withholding in anticipation of evil (rather than uncompromising self-donation) becomes the guiding principle in the order of creation. Instead of unconditional love and generosity being the principle of divine action, reluctance to love in response to the threat of evil is elevated to the ultimate principle of being. Rather than the unconditional love of God, the power of evil takes the helm of the universe. It seems plausible at first glance that God’s goodness would be most exemplified by preventing the abuse of his gifts at the outset, but the deeper reality is that the self-withholding of God that would be necessary to prevent evil is the absolute enthronement of evil.”

God is infinite love, and in him there is no consideration of anything that would in any way compromise the fullness of his radical self-gift to created persons. Self-donation is God’s only act, and his love will not be diminished in anticipation of, or in response to evil. This fidelity to creatures in unconditional love is the chastity of God; he gives of himself in an entirely innocent, simple, and unconditionally faithful way without any admixture of self-withholding.

[Chastity in the human sphere is often mistaken to be a kind of self-withholding to avoid the sins of the flesh. In truth, chastity is the opposite of self-withholding. It is a radical and unconditional outpouring of self for another. Authentic chastity is only possible when one’s life is offered in totality as an undivided gift to God, and (through the power of the Holy Spirit) to others according to one’s state in life.]

In deciding the magnitude of his self-gift to creatures, God allows evil to have no diminishing influence whatsoever; he is fully himself in the face of evil and does not compromise to allow it to have any influence at all. The threat of evil is simply not considered, and love is the only principle of action. Therefore, in divine chastity, God creates persons with gifts of power and universal importance in full generosity, without any consideration of whether or not any of them will abuse his gifts by turning to sin.

Even though God is omniscient, divine chastity causes it to appear as if God is entirely ignorant of the threat of evil, for in every situation he gives everything that he would have given had evil never been a consideration. Instances of this can be seen throughout the public ministry of Jesus. He chose Judas as an apostle even though he knew of the betrayal that was coming. In other examples, Jesus healed people, and instructed them to tell no one of the miracle. However, in doing this, he knew that they would not obey, and that the public knowledge of the miracle would create many practical problems in his ministry. In every action, Jesus simply loved innocently and would not compromise with evil by allowing its threat to diminish his love. He simply refused to negotiate with evil in any way. In the act of creation, this same uncompromising love is given. Knowing fully that many of the angels would turn from him in disobedience, and that the first humans would be seduced to do the same, God considered only the essential goodness with which they would be created, and bestowed the same power and importance on them that he would have given had he no knowledge that they would turn against him.

Because of the action of the rebel angels and the subsequent sin of man, creation has become a battlefield between good and evil. In this conflict, God is perfectly opposed to every injustice and evil action. However, so as not to enthrone evil as the ultimate determiner of the order of being, God has only acted in innocent love (doing exactly as he would have done without allowing evil to have any diminishing influence), and has irrevocably given away gifts of existence and power even to those who would oppose him through sin. As a result of this, the conflict between good and evil rages on even though the omnipotence of God is on the side of the good. Though he is omnipotent, because of the perfect outpouring of power and importance to created persons in divine chastity, it can appear that God is powerless or unresponsive in the fight against evil. This, however, is an illusion as God is infinitely opposed to that which harms or threatens innocence.

The world in its present form is a combination of God’s faithfulness to his creatures in a perfectly chaste self-gift, combined with the repeated abuse of this absolute self-gift by created persons. The current state of affairs in which suffering afflicts all of human experience was not orchestrated by God any more than a burned-out building corresponds to the architect’s design of what the building should have been. As such, the evil is neither directly willed, nor is it approved in any way by God, but is endured in a kind of agony.

[In creating the world, God has only loved in the greatest way that chaste omnipotence could, that is, perfectly and without any degree of compromise with the threat of evil. He wills only the highest good without any consideration of alternatives, and this is why he loves in exactly the same way that he would have had evil never been a factor. He will not do evil by diminishing his good will toward created persons in order to prevent evil. Therefore, he endures the infinite offense of evil so that evil does not become absolute.]

[It has been argued throughout history that an omnipotent being would have the power to prevent any and all evils if it so desired; an omniscient being would know of them and know how to prevent them; and a perfectly good being would do all in its power to prevent all evil. Thus, it appears that, if God existed, and were omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, evil would not exist. The reality of evil has therefore been used in arguments against the existence of God. Various forms of such arguments have been presented, but the reasoning therein does not consider that the chastity of God entails that he is not morally free to do evil (that is, to diminish the absoluteness of his act of self-donation) in order to prevent the abuse of his love. In light of divine chastity, God can be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, infinitely offended by human suffering, and yet evil can still exist despite God’s omnipotent opposition to it.]

In keeping with his infinite generosity, every finite role of importance in the battle against evil is delegated to those men and angels who have chosen to ally themselves with the will of God. In this combat, as in all things, God retains for himself only those capacities which cannot be given away to creatures, and every other role that can possibly be given has been entrusted to the good angels and to human beings according to the powers that have been originally handed over to them.

*Concerning one aspect of natural evil:

All entities in nature are causally interconnected. A change in any one object in the natural world brings about a change in every other object to some degree. Because God created the natural world in a harmony, it follows that when a person, through the abuse of free will, brings about an event that should never have happened, then all things are affected in a way that they should not be affected.

[The primary disruption of the harmony of the world happened through the original sin because it directly contradicted the well-ordered state of affairs of original justice. Subsequent disordered actions have less of an obviously disruptive effect because their impact is, in a sense, engulfed by the broad chaos that followed the original sin.]

This disordered change may initially be very small, but it grows in magnitude over time.Just as a small change in the initial conditions of a system can have large-scale consequences, so it is that sinful acts (which are inherently contrary to God’s will and providence) have long-range effects that are contrary to God’s will and providence on a grand scale. A creature lacking free will is not capable of initiating actions that are contrary to the order of creation, but human beings, through the abuse of free will are capable of actions that violate God’s intentions for the world.

[This is not to say that if there were no sin, there would not be powerful natural events, like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. However, the providential relationship between these events and the events in human life would have been vastly different. On the original order of things, man would be preternaturally protected from catastrophe by being in right relationship with all things through perfect correspondence with the divine will, and all would have worked in his service.]

Through a personal and private act of sin, there is a ripple-effect of destructive disordered occurrences. A storm that would have watered crops can fail to come, or it can become a deluge that destroys villages. Acts that should not have happened can cause mutations that affect living things in ways that they should not be affected, thus bringing about deadly microbes, cancers, birth defects and other problems. Personal sins are ultimately the cause of all human experience of sicknesses, accidents, and natural disasters. Because of the impact of sin, everything in the natural world is dislocated in some measure, and man suffers the consequences of unfortunate events that are at variance with God’s original design. The innocent are as vulnerable to accidents, sicknesses, and disasters as are those who commit the sins that cause them. The disorder brought by sin falls where it will without any regard for justice or the dignity of human life. These events are the senseless, large-scale consequence of individual violations of the right order of reality that God has established. They do not make sense because they originate in sin, which is inherently contrary to order and reason.

In human experience, there are often coincidences that suggest that some kind of divine providence is at work. It sometimes seems that the smallest needs of people are given attention by God, and man has evidence of his maximal importance. In contrast, there are experiences of tragic suffering that suggest that man is totally unimportant and that there is no providence at all. This juxtaposition of apparent providential care and senseless tragedy is stark and scandalous. It seems that God helps a person with small problems in answer to prayer, while an earthquake on the other side of the world brings devastation to an entire nation. To attempt to make sense of this disparity, some have said that all things are God’s will, and that the events that seem like horrible violations of man’s dignity are really sent by God to bring about a good beyond human comprehension. Alternatively, others say that man is without help in the universe, and what appears to be divine providence is merely a psychological illusion. On this view, the coincidences that seem to imply supernatural intervention are really just a matter of man’s interpretation of reality according to wishful thinking. Neither of these opposing views is correct.

God exists, and wills man’s good, but because of the disorder that has been caused by sin, the world is no longer operating in obedience to God’s perfect will according to the original order of creation. As sin is against God’s will, so it is that the far-reaching effects of sin are also against God’s will. These effects of sin are universally broad, and they affect everyone negatively in different ways. Because they are incompatible with the providence that man expects from God, these amplified consequences of sin cause the world to seem as if God does not exist. Man suffers because he has the experience of finding himself in a world that has no concern for him. However, in the midst of this apparent non-existence of divine providence are instances of answered prayer and the visible providence of God in those situations where the effects of sin have not totally overwhelmed the proper order of things. Both senseless disaster and solicitous providential care are happening at the same time.

*A second aspect concerning natural evil:

In the material order, there is both tremendous beauty and artistry combined with a horrendous cruelty and disregard for life. The order of the animal kingdom follows the pattern of the strong victimizing the helpless, and (even though it involves non-personal creatures) it is difficult to reconcile this with the intentions of a good God.

…in accord with the delegation of power given in divine chastity, authority concerning the unfolding of the material order was given to the angels. With power over the material world, the fall of the rebel angels would necessarily register in the material order in serious ways. God’s will is to create life, but the will of the rebel angels is to countermand this at every opportunity. Hence, there is an interplay between life (which is facilitated in obedience to God by the good angels) and death (through the work of the evil one and his allies). Ultimately this discord (through the mechanism of survival of the fittest life forms) was directed providentially (through the guidance of God under the co-operation of the good angels) towards the creation of more advanced life, and ultimately the body of man emerged despite the best efforts of the evil angels to destroy life absolutely through mishap and omission. Possibly, as the union of matter and spirit, it was man’s role to redeem the material world from the effects of the angelic fall. Though the material order was good in itself, it seems that man (through the use of preternatural gifts) was originally commissioned to subdue and reorder the world in a way that would cause it to reflect the glory of God more perfectly.

*Some initial background on the redemption:

For suffering and dying man, the only complete intervention of God’s justice is to cause it to be that the very act of things falling apart is the same as them triumphantly coming together in a higher order. Only in this way is there no permanent diminishment wrought by evil. This total conversion of defeat into victory is redemptive suffering, and it is the way that God perfectly saves people from the diminishment (and hence eternal loss) caused by suffering and death. God’s choice to save the world through redemptive suffering comes not from any inherent value in suffering, but from God’s hatred of suffering, and his will that its power to cancel man’s destiny be perfectly defeated. Redemptive suffering is not God taking something from man, but is God’s act of bringing perfect justice to man so that suffering has no power to diminish him in any degree. God sees suffering in the same way that he sees sin – as something to be fully opposed with every morally good means possible. Therefore, through redemptive suffering, God causes it to be that the elements of defeat are transubstantiated into the elements of victory. God enables man to participate in infinite glory by means of the very thing which otherwise would have cancelled human destiny forever.

The fact that God’s generosity remains undiminished despite the threat of evil means that man is still able to receive the total gift that God intends. This gift is the fullness of God’s love, the maximal dignity of freedom, power, and universal importance, and the fullness of the unity of humanity, where each is perfectly important to all. Another word for this gift is heaven. God has not compromised the fullness of his gift in any degree in response to the threat of or the actuality of evil, and only because God has remained faithful in offering the fullness of his gift by loving man according to this undiminished dignity does heaven remain open. However, in order that God continue to love sinful man according to this maximal dignity, each person must remain free and universally important no matter what. If the dignity of freedom and importance were to be taken away, it would hurt a person permanently, for one would no longer have universal causal significance, and thus would be excluded from the unity of humanity. Therefore, in order to safeguard man’s eternal destiny, God must forever preserve the universal impact of the free actions of each even though they have done evil. Though man sins, the impact of his actions remain universal, and thus he retains the same dignity of freedom and causal importance as when he was created. However, others must pay for this high dignity to be retained through their suffering of the universal effects of his sin while God directs these evil consequences in such a way that his providence draws a greater good from them. Consequently, it can be said that those who suffer make it possible for sins to be forgiven because they allow God to continue to love sinners as if they were innocent, bestowing maximal undiminished dignity upon the guilty despite their abuse of God’s gifts

  • ThePhoenixRisen

    Seems pretty long winded.

  • Mark Moore

    ” . . . and yet the evil in the world exists . . . ”

    This is not the core problem of evil that the Bible presents.

    The core problem of evil is not how can God allow evil, the question is how can God himself be so evil?. How can a God that purports to be merciful engage in endless genocides, torture, misogyny and slavery? He actively kills children, he gives women the pain of childbirth for the “Crime” of eating a piece of fruit.

    This is a God that can’t forgive even after a hundred generations. For this slight of eating the fruit he plans to torture billions of people for all eternity if they don’t think the right thought.

    How much more evil can you get than this God? Who on earth has ever been able to achieve the evil of this god? What god matches the god of the Bible for outright evil?

    The problem of evil is the God himself.