If God is Good, Why Does Evil Exist?

09-10-2023Weekly ReflectionFr. Robert Aliunzi

Dear Friends,

I was inspired to write this article on this topic by someone I was counseling a few days ago who was angry with God after losing both parents and two siblings in an accident several months ago. Just before that he had lost his beloved grandmother after a long battle with cancer. He heard a preacher say that God is Good which riled him even more. Now, in Uganda and in most parts of East Africa, there is a common call by preachers at the beginning of their homilies which goes: “God is good”, and almost reflexively the congregation answers: “All the time!” And the preacher with greater energy continues: “All the time” and the audience responds: “God is good, and that is his nature, Wow!” But if God is good, all the time, then why is there evil wondered this friend of mine? Dear friends, this is perhaps one of the oldest and most persistent rhetorical, philosophical, and theological human questions Christian theology in particular, has struggled to answer albeit, unsatisfactorily to many. I will not claim to have a satisfactory answer myself either.

St. Augustine whose feast day we celebrated on August 28, struggled with this same problem of evil before and even after his conversion to Christianity. He experimented with a philosophy called Manichaeism, which posited two forces in the universe, one good, one evil constantly in battle with each other. This dualism between good and evil, light, and dark, spirit and matter was so appealing that it seduced many throughout Christian history. It is, however, as St. Augustine himself came to realize, incompatible with Christian doctrine because Christianity holds that there is only one God, that all that exists comes from God, and that God is all good and God himself is Good.

For Augustine, the problem of evil ultimately is resolved by looking not at what exists but what is missing. He argues that evil is an absence of the good. So, evil is not something God created but something missing, something out of order. In his book “Confessions”, Augustine describes his epiphany in these words: “I saw that it was not a substance but a perversion of the will when it turns aside from you.” Evil came about because human beings have disordered wills, and turned away from God, he concluded.

All of creation is good, but we are still supposed to love God above all else. Augustine calls this ordo amoris, or the order of loves. Love of God, love of neighbor, love of self, love of creation— all these should be ordered with God at the top. When our loves are disordered and we choose wrongly, then evil emerges. Selfishness, pride, lust for power, and greed are all easy to imagine through the lens of disordered love, and grave evil has been done and continues to be done because of each of these even today.

St. Thomas Aquinas another great theologian and doctor of the Church, argued that persons choose something that they perceive as good. However, often our judgments are wrong. We are often seduced by evil; we are tempted because we perceive it as good. But where Augustine and Aquinas focus on the seductiveness of disordered goods, 20th-century philosophers point out evil is also mundane. We ignore or fail to see it emerging. Each small, disordered choice makes the next choice of evil easier and even almost unnoticed. This, according to me, is why we should not wait to fall into mortal sins before we go to confession. We should go to confession even when we have only venial sins because when unconfessed, these venial sins can lead us to mortal sins.

I am aware that however intellectually sound and clear (or confusing) these arguments might sound, many of us including my grieving friend may find it still emotionally unsatisfying. Yes, we may have accepted that God did not create evil, but still ask why God would allow evil to persist. Why would a good God allow the holocaust, genocide, racism, or terrorism such as the September 11th, to happen? These legitimate questions will continue to be asked in the face of the calamities we continue to face but, ultimately, I think the problem of evil is not about God but about humanity and its freedom. We have to find our own answers to this question, but genuine answers must always be rooted in God Himself who has created us with freedom and with love.

So, dear Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, even though we are constantly assailed by evil in our society and in the world today, let us take comfort that God is good. He indeed loves us, and He has already won for us the battle through the blood of His beloved son Jesus. Romans 8:37: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.”

I love you!