Blog # 305 Is God the Answer?
My claim and proclamation in Blog # 303 is that God is the answer to all of our questions, questions about goodness as well as questions about evil. Now I face the challenge of defending that claim with regard to the question of evil. The response we make to the claims we make is also important ,but it is an item based upon the identity of the claims we make, and so must wait for a clear understanding and appreciation of the meaning of our claim before we put it into action in our response.
An essential element in the introduction to Blog # 305 is a reminder of the fact that all we think or even imagine with regard to God in every case is analogical. In other words no one but God knows understands and experiences God in univocal terms, having a single meaning in every application, such as is the case when we speak of a bear as a wild animal. Analogically, we can apply the same word, bear, to a man who acts like a bear or is strong or fierce as a bear. Our greatest thoughts, most clear and sublime, are limited and not qualified to 'capture' or completely understand God other than by way of analogy, leaving essential room for truth that is beyond us yet true in God.
To ask God "Would you please help me find my lost watch, O Lord?" as if God did not know where the watch was and would go looking for it with me, would be evidence I did not know what I was asking or Who God is. "Would you please help me look for my watch, O Lord?" would be a more correct way to address my need to God .
In my desire to give authenticity to my conviction there is no sin so great (evil) that it can conquer the power of God's love (goodness), I found it helpful to begin with individual instances of what might be considered legitimate or at least apparent challenges to my conviction. This rather than first addressing the various multiple and therefore mutiplied challenges present in the suffering and death of thousands and thousands of people all at once in the aftermath of tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mass murders. I'll address that question in itself later on.
The familiar text from St. Paul's letter to the Romans (Rom 8: 35-39) is clear and powerful in supporting the conviction I am trying to proclaim that God is somehow the answer to our questions about evil, and that precisely in Jesus we find this truth realized. It is so clear and powerful that I will copy it here so you have it handy. "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword? As Scripture says: "For your sake we are being slain all the day long; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered". Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who has loved us . For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height not depth nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord."
There are three important insights in this text I take as the substance of my faith conviction regarding the question of evil. They are set forth in the final words of the text. 1. Our answer is not primarily about the various samples of evil that have or will come our way. Rather God is the key element or primary focus in our answer to evil of any sort or degree including death. 2. Since we believe God is love (1Jn 4:8), the answer to the question of evil will be found in God's love. 3. The divine love that constitutes our answer comes to us in Jesus.
In using the term 'my conviction' and 'my claim' I am not trying to establish the authenticity of a disconnected personal or individual claim but one which I am convinced is the faith of the Catholic Church and the Bible. It is not that I might have liked to have had things with regard to evil as I am convinced about them, and then initiated the claim on my own rather than that I received it in the faith handed down to me in conformity to the Bible and the tradition of the Church. It was not mine to 'invent'. It is mine to believe, to proclaim, and to share.
In the few simple words at the conclusion of the quotation from Romans that I gave above, we have an ESSENTIAL FACTOR in understanding the claim that God is the answer to every question we might have with regard to evil in creation. It is the realization that when we use the word God here, we are referring primarily to Jesus Who is God and at the same time one of us. To BE the answer to every question we might have about God, and creation, good or 'evil', is essential to the mission given Jesus by the Father, lived out in perfect and constant obedience to the Father's plan or will. In other words, to be the answer to every question we might have about God was among the essential 'reasons' the Word of God was incarnate of Mary and called Jesus, which means Savior.
God, Father Word and Holy Spirit, in God's absolute perfection, cannot suffer or die. Jesus, the Eternal Word, in His humanity could and did suffer and die. In the Incarnation of the Word the person of Jesus and the person of the Word are the same person. Flowing from this, His suffering and death and His entire experience on earth were identified as divine as well as human. His body born of Mary was a human creation animated by the person of the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit. At any one point in His experience on earth Jesus could have been called through obedience to the will of the Father to perform a miraculous action such as to cure a blind man or raise Lazarus from the dead . Through faith and Baptism, like branches on a vine and members of a body, we share that divine life of Jesus, in our own unique limited human way.
In our union with Jesus through faith and Baptism, God in Jesus can speak and teach us in human terms from a human experience like our own, of important factors in answer to questions we have relating to suffering and death such as what does obedience mean? and what does it mean in God's wisdom and design in human terms to love someone? and what does it mean in God's wisdom and design in human terms to trust someone? In Jesus we do not be receive the answer to these questions by way of analogy, but in clear univocal terms based in the historical human experiences, example, and wisdom of Jesus.
Jesus was keenly aware of and proclaimed His identity as the the unique Savior of the entire world. Here are a few typical texts along that line. " I am the sheepate. If anyone enters through me he will have eternal life." ( Jn 10: 7,9). " I am The Way, and The Truth, and The Life" (J: 14: 6). I am the Resurrection and the life." (Jn 11:25). "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that all who believe in him may have eternal life." (Jn 3: 14). '...apart from me you can do nothing." (Jn15: 5). In these and similar texts Jesus proclaimed a fundamental, and in my conviction the most important theological truth about Him in His identity as the sole Savior of all people, whether they realize it or not. His answer to our questions were given for all and can be received and applied by all
When Peter was asked by Caiaphas by what power and in whose name Peter was preaching and healing , Peter told him it was in the name of Jesus. "There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved."(Acts 4: 1-12). Apart from Jesus no one has a right to address God as our Father and claim all that flows from this fact in the prayer Jesus gave us when He was asked how we should pray. All of this is key to understanding our insight and faith in seeing Jesus as the divine answer to all our questions about suffering and death.
A clue to the meaning and importance of this insignt can be found in the universal practice of the Church in our official prayers of the Mass and in the administration of the other Sacraments of identifying and concluding our prayers in the name of Jesus. "...through Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen"
Having identified Jesus as the sole Redeemer of the entire world and believing in our union with Jesus through faith and Baptism as branches on a vine and members of a body, we ask what are the mechanics, as it were, for us to apply what we believe about Jesus being the answer to our questions about evil.
Evil persists even for a holy person. We have about fifty funerals each year here in St. Mary on the Hill parish in Augusta. Unemployment, arthritis, pneumonia, broken hips, sprained ankles, cancer of many sorts, kidney lung and prostate diseases are all among the prayers people bring to church. ...the Father's "sun rises on the bad and the good, he rains on the just and the unjust." (Mat 5: 45). What is the practical difference between the response of a saint or a sinner when it comes to sickness, suffering, and death? I am convinced there is a beautiful specific Catholic theological response. It is the answer to questions about the meaning, importance, purpose, and value of suffering and death. Without it, the 'problem of evil' would be real and would continue on in history as a problem rather than as a question for sincere enquirers. .
A difficulty is I am not sure the majority of Catholics have been adequately informed of it or day by day are aware of it. Few seem to think or experience it as a major factor in their relationship with God. This is especially sad when a call or opportunity is given them from God to put it into practice as for example whenever we offer Mass, at hard times, and at times of sickness suffering and death. Sad, as well, they stand in danger of becoming dead rather than actually dying, with death identified as something that happens to them rather than as something they do and the greatest experience possible, ever.
Obviously there has to be at least one more blog on the question of evil. Hang on!