I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.
I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.
You can find the earlier installments here.
Here are questions 27-28
I. The Father
27. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing then what is evil?
There are two kinds of evil: evil suffered and evil done.
To evil suffered we give the name ‘creation.’
To evil done we give the name ‘no-thing.’
Evil suffered is what comes to a creature from outside it, the evil that happens to a thing for which it is not itself responsible.
Evil suffered is relative in that the suffering of one creature comes about by the flourishing of another; for example, when a lion eats a lamb the evil suffered by the lamb is real but it comes about by the lion simply fulfilling its lion-ness.
Evil done is particular to responsible beings, as in, wickedness.
Evil done is ‘nothing,’ meaning it’s an absence or privation within a person.
A wicked person does not possess within them something called wickedness. There’s no such thing as ‘wickedness’ in and of itself. Rather a wicked person is someone with an absence of good, a person who fails to be fully human.
If we were ‘free’ in terms of being independent from God, then evil suffered would present the only problem of evil, for God, having no control over our free actions, would not be able to prevent evil done.
However, since God is the cause of all things, both evil suffered and evil done present problems for believers in God.
“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
– Matthew 5.45
28. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, is God responsible for evil and suffering?
But guilty? No.
If God is the cause of all our actions, even our ‘free’ acts, then God is the cause behind both evil suffered and evil done in that God has created all things in the world and continually holds all things in existence.
In the case of evil suffered, God has created and continually holds in existence a world in which the flourishing and fulfillment of one creature leads to the suffering of another. A tumor flourishing as a tumor leads to the suffering of the person with cancer.
A lion fulfilling it’s lioness leads to the suffering of the lamb.
So God is responsible for much of the evil suffered in the world, but God is not ‘guilty’because there is not another kind of world God should have created. A world where God stops the lion from eating the lamb, for example, would be a world where God prevents the lion from fulfilling its lioness. In other words, a world of machines rather than a world of creatures.
In the case of evil done, God has created and continually holds in existence every person who commits evil. Even as those people commit evil, God holds them in existence. Their evil acts are never ‘free’ in the sense of being independent from God so in this sense God is responsible for evil done.
However, God is not ‘guilty’ of evil done for evil is not a thing which God has created. Evil is a privation, an absence, identifiable only in relation to the good God has made. Evil is a defect, the failure of people to flourish and fulfill their humanness.
Whereas there does not seem to be another world free of evil suffered that God should have created, it does seem possible that God could have created a world where humans do not fail to fulfill their humanity.
That God did not create such a world is a deep mystery to which we can only reply by way of the Cross.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12.21