The Problem

Fra Angelico, St. Dominic Adoring the Crucifixion

The problem of evil or the problem of human suffering is one of the most common and powerful objections brought against theistic religion and most profoundly against Christianity which insists that God’s very existence is Love. From my own conversations and the debates I have heard between theists and atheists the suffering of humans and animals appears to be the greatest obstacle to faith in God for people today. 

Yet the atheist’s assertion that a good and just God should never allow suffering contains within it the seed of its undoing. The fact that human beings are the one creature on earth that can ask “why” as we endure or watch another endure pain and anguish shows our image in the likeness of the creator. Human reason, our ability to associate meaning and purpose and intelligibility to the created order is the radiant fire of the divine mind of God. However, that same intelligence often leads us astray. Christian faith is no gnostic dualism. As such, evil contains no substance, evil is not a thing. Evil is an absence, a deprivation of the good. Humanity is not originally evil, we chose the ephemeral, the passing world over the infinite but disturbing grandeur of Love. 

Therefore, when we are tempted to wallow in our own self-pity, cursing the one who made us and questioning why He should act so mercilessly, so unfairly, let us instead reach for the antidote: repentance. The world will never be set to rights until every human soul is reconciled to Christ. A tall order but one which begins right where you sit, this very moment. Many spiritual people accept the popular truism that we despise and attempt to correct the fault we see in others because we are so painfully aware of that own fault within ourselves. When we call God to account for all the pain in the world, are we not at some level aware that we are in at least a small way responsible for that suffering. 

A good doctor will always clearly diagnose the problem before proscribing a cure. Jesus did just that, he saw how many had turned from God. Although His Jewish brothers and sisters went through the routines of religious duty, God was absent from many. The same is true today and so Christ’s words are just as pertinent to contemporary fears and doubts. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Mt 4:17) Jesus is just as alive and close at hand as he ever was, this is the gospel promise. So St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “You were more inward to me than my most inward part.” Perennially we must remember, God has never left us but we have turned from him. To rectify this relationship and put aside our fear of suffering we must do what the doctor said, “repent,” in Greek metanoia, “turn one’s mind around.” A judgment we place on all things, our neighbors and friends, our family, our politicians, ourselves, and finally on God. The answer is simple, we must acknowledge our own complicity, seek forgiveness, and, most difficult of all, accept that we are forgiven.

Our hope is in the one who joined in our suffering and redeemed it. Jesus is present to everyone of us and most especially to those innocent who suffering. There is no contradiction between the love of God and our suffering in this world there is only the ever-present confusion of the human heart.

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