Monday, April 05, 2010

Why Does Evil Exist?

“O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” – The Exsultet, Traditionally Sung at the Easter Vigil

A simple answer of why God allowed the Fall of man runs like this. God did not desire man’s sin but He respected man’s free will by allowing him to eat the apple. If that works for you, then I say let it continue to work for you (and don’t continue reading).

But in fact that argument doesn’t work. Imagine the parent that placed a knife in his child’s crib, hoping that the child wouldn’t play with it. The parent does not will for the child to play with it, but he will respect the child’s free will. It would be better, apparently, for the parent to avoid placing dangerous objects in the child’s crib. The parent can preveniently protect the child from evil by not allowing him access to it. This prevenient protection does not violate the child’s free will. On the contrary, it allows the free will to be even freer since it cannot make a dangerous mistake. Likewise, God could have simply not placed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden.

Now could God have created a world without evil? Absolutely speaking, that is possible. God could have created a world where evil didn’t exist. But for at least two reasons, God desired that evil should exist. First, so that all possible good might exist, and second, that we might know Him.

The good of perseverance and fortitude cannot exist without the evil of pain and suffering. Without evil, we would lack the good of martyrs. It was God’s desire that the good of perseverance, etc. would exist.

Another reason why God created a world with evil is so that we might know Him. Following Aquinas, as quoted in my article on the Divine Metaphor, “We can speak of simple things only as though they were like the composite things from which we derive our knowledge.” Now in God there is no evil, nor is there a hierarchy of diversity, one thing more perfect than another. God is simple, but we can only know the simple through complex things. Therefore, in order for us to know God, it was necessary to create a complex universe organized into a hierarchy of diversity.

This hierarchy of diversity, which God created, is intended to show us what He is like by analogy. The Scriptures teach us that God is like a king, for example. This is meaningful to us because a king is the highest office; in that particular respect, God is like a king. Of course, we cannot compare God to a human king in any direct sense because whatever can be said of God, in truth cannot be said of anyone or anything else. Our kingship is only like God’s “kingship.” Even the goodness and beauty of the world is only like God who is truly good and truly beautiful. God the Son, is also compared to a lion. This is meaningful for us because lions hold a place of honor among the beasts. They are mightier and fiercer than the other beasts. In this regard, God the Son is like a lion. Rather, a lion is like God the Son.

To simplify this thought, imagine that all beasts were exactly the same. God could not be referred to as a beast because He would not be like a beast. He is only referred to as a lion because lions are greater than other beasts. Imagine if there were no government. God could not be likened unto any human office because no man would be above any other man. But God is above us, and in that way is likened unto a king. This is only a simple way to conceptualize the point I’m trying to make. Imagine (the absurd proposition) that God created a world without this hierarchy of diversity or distinction. If all things were equal, we could in no way relate to God because in our finite capacity, we cannot comprehend God. We only know Him by knowing things which He has revealed to us via the material world. We understand His greatness only by understanding the greatness of kings and lions, etc. and by amplifying that greatness to the best of our ability.

Evil is not a thing that God created. As St. Augustine taught, evil is simply a privation of good as a shadow is a privation of light. But the good of a king cannot be grasped without the privation of that kingly goodness which exists in his subjects. The goodness of the lion cannot be known to us without the privation of that same goodness in his prey or in the lesser beasts. That is: If privation of good didn’t exist in this world, we would have no way to understand God’s goodness.

God could have instantly given us the capacity to see Him directly (which is the Beatific Vision or Heaven), but He chose not to for reasons given above (that the good of fortitude, perseverance, etc. should exist). Thus, in order for us to know Him at all, without the Beatific Vision, it was necessary to create a world wherein privation of good existed so that there would be a hierarchy of diversity whereby we might know what God is like. Our participation in evil, which is by no means necessary, consists in turning away from the Creator and choosing a created good. Jesus Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, overcame the world by never choosing a created good over God the Creator. May we imitate Him this Easter season and until we finish the race. Amen.

Originally posted at Called to Communion: Why Does Evil Exist?