Blog # 307 More on ‘evil’ and love
In times long past some philosophers and theologians ‘solved’ the ‘problem of evil’ very simply by proclaiming the existence of two gods, one the god of evil and the other the god of goodness and blessing. In contrast, our Catholic theology does not deny or fail to keep ourselves aware of a real challenge in coming up with a meaningful response to the reality of evil in the world around us and within us.
In our firm belief in God as the single creator of all that exists, we logically seek the answers to our questions about good as well as evil in God. In the Latin theology text books we used in theology courses preparing us for our priesthood ordination many years ago, I remember it being given as the ‘bottom line’ in what we could say with confidence in speaking of God: God is “totaliter aliter”. God is “totally other”, incomparable, beyond comparison with any created being. It was a proclamation of our faith in the unique supremacy of God the Creator that required us to realize every thought word or action when used in reference to God would have to be understood as analogous. This would be something like we do in our answer to the question “Who is this?” in reference to the picture of George Washington on a dollar bill.
God is not to be seen as bigger and better, more powerful and loving than we, but, in God’s absolute uniqueness as altogether different, in Himself 'untouchable by the limited equipment we have to work with as created human beings.
That does not mean we cannot truly know God, think of God, and speak of God analogously. It does mean no matter how much we progress in our knowledge of God, there will still remain more truth about God beyond the place to which we have come, or in other words we will encounter the mystery of God.
In that mystery God gave us His Son, the Word of God, incarnate, equal to us in our humanity but one with the Father and the Spirit in His divinity, capable of speaking and acting at times in a perfectly human way, experiencing our human experiences and human limitations, yet when this was the Father’s will speaking and acting as Emmanuel, God Among Us. It is fitting that we seek answers to all of our questions about creation and our Creator in Jesus.
As a result of this, a key element in our discussion of evil, primarily as pain suffering and death, is the identity we give to Jesus. The Eternal Word of God, incarnate, born of Mary, equal to us in all but sin, and given the name Jesus, is a single ‘person’.
God, Father Word and Spirit, cannot suffer, cannot die. IN Jesus, the incarnate Word, God did suffer and God did die. That fact will play a large role in helping us formulate answers to questions we have with regard to pain suffering and death. Why did Jesus die? Was God punishing Jesus in sending Him to the tragedy of
Calvary? clearly testifies that we through faith and Baptism are identified with the death of Jesus on the Cross. (Rom 6 -13). What does that mean for us, ten, twenty- five, eighty-five years after our reception of the Sacrament of Baptism? St. Paul
In the continuation of that same text from Romans, Paul gives an answer to that question: “Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we might live a new life…If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with him…His death was death to sin, once for all; his life is life for God…Offer yourselves to God as men who have come back from the dead to life.” The foundation of our gift of Sanctifying Grace as a share in the life of God through Jesus is given here by Paul in the death of Jesus in our name.
From a reference in Paul’s letter to the Philippians ( 3: 9,10), we get a better idea as to what he means when referring to the sufferings of Christ, normally applied by us to the Crucifixion and identified both by Paul and us as an act of total love for the Father: “I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope that I may arrive at resurrection from the dead”.
In expressing his desire to share in the sufferings of Christ by being formed into the pattern of his death, Paul was not asking to be crucified but to share in the love of Jesus even to the point of the total love of crucifixion if that were to be for him as it was for Jesus the will of the Father. We in our turn, through faith and Baptism are called and entitled, united with Jesus, to share the same total love of Jesus for the Father so that at the instant of our physical death in history, whether it be sudden or after a long illness, it will be what it is designed by God to be, a share in Jesus’ love leading into His resurrection , with the same faith we shared in His life and love all along.
We realize that at the instant of our physical death in history we may not be conscious and therefore capable of freely choosing at that time to make of our death an act of unconditional trust and total love in obedience to the Father’s will. But as I have pointed out in Blog # 306 we will have already done that theoretically every time we freely reaffirm our Baptismal commitment, every time we make ourselves aware of what we are about to do and then offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and when we really pray rather then merely recite the prayer traditionally given as The Act of Love.
In the Crucifixion and death of Jesus we have an evil infinitely beyond the greatest evil we could imagine, the rejection and killing of God’s beloved Son by the people He was sent to teach and for whom He was their only hope for attaining forgiveness of their sins and eternal peace and joy . That actually happened, one time only in the entire history of creation, two thousand years ago in
Jerusalem on Calvary. In God’s infinite wisdom goodness power and mercy that evil was transformed by Jesus into the greatest love that ever touched the earth.
That is the love we reach for whenever we seek the true meaning of our individual lives and of all creation. In that love is the answer to all of our questions about God and creation. That is the love we share in Baptism, in the Mass, and in the gift of Sanctifying Grace. That is the love we are invited to cherish and were told by Jesus to proclaim to all the world! (Mat 28: 18 - 20)