Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Is God the Author of evil?

Why evil? Why does it exist, and if God is the First Cause & the ultimate cause of all things, is God the cause of evil?

My sister Marguerite posed this question last night at Outreach, when the rest of us were sitting around gabbing and playing Freecell (that would be me). Marguerite has been grappling with the question of late.

"That'll keep you busy for a week or two," I told her. :-)

She doesn't quite buy the idea that evil is a necessary consequence of free will. Under that theory, if we were forced to always choose the good, then we have no choice at all and hence no freedom. That doesn't answer the question of evil for Marguerite.

This morning I was thinking about Augustine's definition of evil as the absence of good. Evil is not an actually existing "thing", he says, but only the absence of the good.

But evil appears to the casual observer to be a truly existing thing -- there is a force and a solidity -- a substantiality -- to the evils human beings do to one another, that appears to bely Augustine's definition. Auschwitz, for example, seems to have been quite an existant entity of evil, what with its substantial infrastructure, all the apparatus of killing and disposing of bodies, the smoke and the selections, the actions and interactions of persons.

It occurred to me this morning that Augustine's theory does not require evil to have a passive quality, as the phrase "absence of good" has heretofore conjured up in my mind. Created in God's image, we are dynamic, creative, acting beings. We exert tremendous influence over our environment, both other living creatures and inert material things.

The essence of Goodness is love. When love is present, all of those energies and influences act creatively as God acted in the six days of creation - God's days not our 24-hour ones. As persons created in His image and likeness, our intellect and will - spiritual faculties which are capable of "moving mountains" in the material world - function correctly and sanely in conjunction with love.

In the absence of love, they still function mightily. The energies and influences of our spiritual faculties of intellect and will still work powerfully to change and mold the physical universe. But the power is not tethered to its purpose -- love -- and so the energies go wild and result in Auschwitz and other insane creations of human powers absent their proper ties to goodness.

So we can say, as Augustine does, that evil is the absence of good (and not a real creation) while still recognizing that it is not passive but intensely powerful and capable of wreaking destruction and inflicting suffering.

And is God its Author? Insofar as he gave to us our powers of will and intellect, and with them the capability of changing and molding physical reality, He is the First Cause of all that we do, even those things done in the absence of good. But the reason "God draws good out of evil" so readily is that the evil done by absence of good is an aberration, it is intellect and will untethered to good. When good is added, when God or we add love to that mixture, He is able to draw good out of it in a way that is true to its own nature as created physical reality.

He un-does the absence of good. Suffering does not disappear, but suffering which is endured yields its own nuggets of gold if it is mined with attention. Meaning, if we live examined and not unexamined lives, we grow in wisdom and grace through the evils we suffer as much as through the good that we do.

Or so it seems to me this morning.

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