[A Quiner’s Diner reader asked about the nature of evil. I am reposting my essay on the subject from December of 2015 which followed a mass shooting.]
By Tom Quiner
God teased us.
When Moses asked who are You, He responded:
“I am what I am.” (Exodus 3:14)
That tells us a lot, doesn’t it?
Fourteen centuries later, Jesus asked His disciples,
“Who do they say I am?”
And they replied in Matthew 16:14 – 20:
14 “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
St. John distills the essence of God’s response to Moses into a single sentence:
“God is love.
He says this love is real and tangible:
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
If God is Love, and if God made us, that suggests that our lives are significant, that they have purpose.
This Advent, more than most, I await God’s coming with the expectancy of a child. I join the chorus, “the whole world is waiting for Love.”
I join the chorus in light of the prevalence of evil in this world. Recent mass murder in San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, and Roseburg, Oregon have left us shaken, on top of so many, many more in recent years.
The faithful are once again challenged by the world’s skeptics to explain how could there possibly be a god in light of non-stop carnage, year-after-year, decade-after-decade.
Twenty centuries since Jesus walked the face of the earth, men still kill men. And yet last week, a husband and wife murdered 14 people who had befriended the couple, even throwing the wife a baby shower.
If God is real, if God is Love, how can He allow so many innocent people to be butchered like this?
That doesn’t seem very loving, does it?
St. Augustine formulated the dilemma this way:
If God is all-good, he would will all good and no evil.
And if God were all-powerful, he would accomplish everything he wills.
But evil exists as well as good.
Therefore, either God is not all-powerful, or not all-good, or both.
The key words here are that “evil exists.” But what is “evil?”
St. Augustine explains that evil is the absence of good. In other words, evil isn’t a created thing.
Christian apologist, Gregory Koukl, explained the Augustine philosophy regarding evil this way:
First: 1) All things that God created are good; 2) evil is not good; 3) therefore, evil was not created by God.
Second: 1) God created every thing; 2) God did not create evil; 3) therefore, evil is not a thing.
Augustine built on the premise:
“Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.’ All which is corrupted is deprived of good.”
Mr. Koukl clarifies:
The diminution of the property of goodness is what’s called evil. Good has substantial being; evil does not. It is like a moral hole, a nothingness that results when goodness is removed. Just as a shadow is no more than a “hole” in light, evil is a hole in goodness.
Augustine says we can’t choose evil, we can only turn away from the good:
“For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil–not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked.
When you think back to St. John’s description that “God is Love,” the possibility of evil makes sense.
If God is Love, and if He made us in His image, then He made us to love. Humanity has the potential to love. But love is a choice.
You can’t love if you’re lacking in free will. Otherwise, your existence would be defined as mind control. Your existence would be much the same as a puppet on a string.
God didn’t make us that way.
He allowed us the free will to turn away from goodness, and the encouragement not to.
Our time in this life is intended to be a time of moral growth, a turning toward the good.
In a perverse way, evil contributes to the greater good, according Mr. Koukl:
… certain virtues couldn’t exist without evil: courage, mercy, forgiveness, patience, the giving of comfort, heroism, perseverance, faithfulness, self-control, long-suffering, submission and obedience, to name a few. These are not virtues in the abstract, but elements of character that can only be had by moral souls. Just as evil is a result of acts of will, so is virtue. Acts of moral choice accomplish both.
There’s a sound reason why God has allowed evil. It doesn’t conflict with His goodness. God is neither the author of evil, nor its helpless victim. Rather, precisely because of His goodness He chooses to co-exist with evil for a time.
Let us together pray for the victims of these ongoing mass killings. Let us pray for God to console their family, their friends, their community.
In this Advent season of 2015, may this tragedy serve as a catalyst to turn us toward God. God is Love. May His Son, the Prince of Peace, dry our tears.