Monday, November 12, 2007

The Believer and Reason -- the Question of Evil

Faith is not an act of the blind; it is an act of reason. The believer sees the existence of evil and considers all of the possible hypotheses for the existence of evil, including the hypothesis that God is Himself a sadist. After all, if God created everything and evil exists, then does that mean that God created evil? In his many works on the existence of evil, Augustine of Hippo considers this possibility many times.

The believer, properly utilizing reason, will consider the logical implications of (1) the existence of God and (2) a God who is or can be sadistic and evil. Such a hypothesis invariably leads to nihilistic existentialism, that is, if it does not twist itself up in logical knots first. As Augustine demonstrated, in answer to the Manicheians, "evil" (including the evil of sadism), does not and cannot have an existence in and of itself. That which we call "evil" is really nothing more than a privation, detraction, distortion, or perversion of the "good," which is to say it is a privation, detraction, distortion, or perversion of truth.

If God is the creator of this reality, then He is necessarily reality itself. He is the "Is" from which all else comes. He is not merely truly real, then, but is Truth itself in its fullest transcendent sense. So, for God to be evil is to say that God is contrary to truth, that is, that God is contrary to Himself. And, logically, a thing cannot both be and not-be at the same time; God cannot be both truth and untruth.

Now, reason will also dictate that a sadist-God is not the only answer to the question of evil; there are other possibilities.

The believer will also consider the question of evil from a premise of faith -- that God is good and God is love, and is therefore incapable of evil. Starting from that premise, what reasonable other explanations could there be for evil, what reasonable other explanations could there be for the appearance of abandonment, for remaining silent?

One explanation could be that things are not always as they seem to our fallible eyes. There might have been times when Blessed Teresa of Calcutta thought that she was alone, but that is not necessarily true. I remember watching "Mother Teresa," a movie starring Olivia Hussey, and there was this scene where she sees this old and frail man, near death, and the implication of the film is that she is seeing Jesus.

Such an implication, of course, is entirely consistent with Matthew 25:35-40,
"'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"
(Also consistent with Joan Osborne's song "One of Us.")

I have no doubt that Blessed Teresa saw Jesus everyday; she saw Him everyday in the faces of the sick and diseased and dying. But why should He remain silent? Why shouldn't He shout out, "Here I am"? Perhaps it was the silence that allowed her to exhibit the love for others that she exhibited in abundance, much like any parent (or teacher) might remain silent when a child or student seeks to be spoon-fed knowledge. Perhaps it was to allow her to participate in Christ's Passion, where He was abandoned (not by God), but by mankind.
These could be the explanations, or there could be other explanations, but the claim of "God is a sadist," which believers are perfectly willing to consider as a hypothesis, is not the only explanation, nor is it even the best explanation that reason might suggest.

God Invites Everyone to Form Part of His Holy People

Pope Benedict XVI
Address at the Angelus
November 1, 2007

On this solemnity of All Saints' Day, our hearts surpass the limits of time and space and open up to the vastness of heaven. In the early days of Christianity, the members of the Church were also called "saints." In the first Letter to the Corinthians, for example, St. Paul addresses "you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours" (1 Corinthians 1:2). In fact, the Christian is already holy, because baptism unites him to Jesus and the paschal mystery, but at the same time he has to become holy, conforming himself to Jesus ever more intimately.

Sometimes it is thought that sainthood is a privilege reserved only for the chosen few. Actually, to become a saint is the task of every Christian, and what's more, we could even say it's the task of everyone! The Apostle wrote that God has blessed us from all eternity and has chosen us in Christ "to be holy and without blemish before him" (Ephesians 1:3-4). All human beings are therefore called to sainthood, which ultimately consists in living as children of God, in that "likeness" to him according to which humanity was created.

All human beings are children of God, and they all should become what they are through the demanding path of freedom. God invites everyone to form part of his holy people. The "way" is Christ, the son, the Holy One of God: No one reaches the Father if not through him (cf. John 14:6).

The Church has wisely placed in close succession the feast of All Saints' Day with the commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. May our prayers of praise to God and veneration of the beatific souls, whom today's liturgy presents to us as "a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue" (Revelation 7:9), be united to our intercessory prayers for those who have preceded us in the passage from this world to eternal life. To them we will dedicate our prayers tomorrow in a special manner, and celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice. In fact, the Church invites us to pray for them every day, offering our daily sufferings and weariness so that, completely purified, they may enjoy forever the light and peace of the Lord.

In the center of the assembly of saints shines the Virgin Mary, "humble and more exalted than any creature" (Dante, Paradise, XXXIII, 2). Placing our hand in hers, we feel ready to walk with more energy along the way of sainthood. To her we entrust our daily tasks, and we pray to her today for our dearly departed with the profound hope of one day finding ourselves together again with them in the glorious community of saints.