Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Priest Reflects on God and the Problem of Evil

My friends Charlie and Maria recently brought to my attention the following reflection by a local priest. As you’ll see, it’s a very humble and honest sharing of his thoughts on the age-old problem of evil in the world.

What struck me most about this particular reflection was how refreshing it was to hear a priest actually ponder, question, and acknowledge his “limited viewpoint” and thus his willingness to simply “bow before the mystery” of God. It makes a welcome change from the pontificating we so often hear from clerics, and their insistence that they or the Church itself has all possible answers to the complexities of life.


Dear People Whom God Loves,

I don’t pretend to solve a problem that has vexed philosophers and theologians for centuries. These are just my personal thoughts that are helpful to me. The following is the way the issue is usually framed:

1. Evil exists.
2. God is benevolent (loving).
3. God is omnipotent (all powerful).

Is it possible to rationally hold all three statements as true?

1. That evil exists is common (maybe universal) experience.

2. If God is benevolent, then God will want to eliminate evil. If God wants to eliminate all evil but does not, it means that God is not omnipotent.

3. If God is omnipotent, he can eliminate all evils. If he doesn’t, it means that God is not benevolent.

Some philosophers have held to belief in God and given explanations about why evil can exist with a God who is benevolent and omnipotent.

Some philosophers hold that reason compels us to deny that there is a God. Better to have no God than one that is either a monster or a weakling.

From my limited viewpoint, it seems to me that they are all thinking of God as a being. An infinite Being. A being as we are beings, but infinitely greater. With that starting point, I doubt that there can be a satisfactory solution. When we think of God as an infinite Being, we are presupposing that God acts like other beings but on a much larger scale. This makes God the biggest being in the universe but still one of its beings.

When we image God not as a being but as the source of being – the non-being – the emptiness (i.e., the non-being) from which all beings come, we will not be trapped into the box of thinking that God acts by cause and effect as we do. Then we can bow before the mystery.

To put this in traditional theological language, God is being, God is not being, God is more than being.

If you have read this far, you may think that this is just a bunch of nonsense. That’s okay. Just throw it away. I throw it away, too, when I am with God.

I believe that God is. I believe that God loves us. I believe that God helps us. I believe in the power of prayer. I don’t pretend to believe that I know how God works.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Elizabeth Johnson and Images of God (Part 1)
Elizabeth Johnson and Images of God (Part 2)
In the Garden of Spirituality: Paul Collins
In the Garden of Spirituality: Uta Ranke-Heinemann
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)


CDE said...

I notice the priest does not once mention anything about Christian revelation or the Bible.

Vatican II asserted that the study of Sacred Scripture is the soul of theology (Dei Verbum, 24). So if we really want to get beyond a merely human way of thinking about God, we would do well to use divine revelation as our primary source for doing theology.

Anonymous said...

As numerous scholars and theologians have sagely observed, the "problem of evil" was never a problem, with polytheism. Indeed, it was a "non-issue" and irrelevant.

But once monotheism became the ONLY explanation, then the problem of evil is sufficient and necessary to repudiating all theism. An omnipotent, omniscient, omni-beneficient deity just cannot permit or allow evil and remain a viable god. In the words of J. L. Mackie, that is the miracle of theism, that it can embrace a loving god that slaughters innocent children and infants, gets his jollies over genocide, and, even when breaching his Covenant with his "faithless children of Israel," still finds neurotic believers who think it is their fault, the Pope's fault, the Gentile's fault, that Elect of Yahweh got the same massacre as the Egyptians and Palestinians got at Yahweh's Hands, are now the victims of their own Yahweh's fickleness.

Some Jews admit they created the whole fraud as an elite social club through a fiction of mom's vaginae, which even Martin Luther thought beyond the pale, but how does a Jew disprove the German Ubermenchen Fascists who prove their gods upstage their Jews impotent Yahweh, who did not rescue the Jews from the Fiery Furnace (an OT story, the rabbi's purged as "too Christian," and needed more control of the narrative.)

Jews versus Arianism is a story as racially, morally, and economically absurd. But, absurd or not, people bought into the trade, and by most accounts, six million Jews (not to ignore gays, Slavs, disabled) got their chance to prove Yahweh's potency. Jewish conversions to Christianity have never been more prolific. Sadly, the god of Yeshiva is still the same deity of Gas Camps in Aushwitz.

Yet, sixty years later, a woman's Jewish vaginae still presses the point that even Elie Wiesel thought a lost cause. Humans are "elect of YHWH" because mom's vaginae make them the "chosen." The question might be, "chosen" for what?

The Tankah makes it clear, but the stubborn still refuse to listen. Yahweh abandoned the "children of Israel" eons ago, but they, like to hedge their bets, in which their Jealous, Wrathful, Capricious Patron Deity actually fulfills his Covenant? When Yahweh fails, and he never has failed to fail, his failed children in the mythic Israel start blaming everyone else for all their misfortunes, for all the pogroms, for all the bigotry, or being "wild ass of children." Lately, they've blamed the Palestinians they invaded, occupied, evicted, and segregated as their Holocaust II. Now, the Palestinian is guilty of not giving Yahweh's Elect their land, their country, and their wealth. And Americans must give their military personnel to defend the Zionist prerogative. None dare call is racist, because Jews are not a race, not a belief, not an ethnicity, not even a language family, merely children born through Jewish vaginae, that only male rabbis can distinguish from not Jewish-vaginae.

Some call it the "Victimization" the "Obsessive-Compulsive" and the "Oedipus Freud Complex." They write the books, they should know. I suggest Freud's "psychology" can be thoroughly understood as a "Jewish Phantom" metaphysic, while his philosophy is far more gentilic and without hysteria. The "Problem of Evil" is that Yahweh is Satan, and stubborn people refuse to accept the fact.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that, while we commonly encounter how the "problem of evil" causes doubt in the existence of a personal Deity, it likewise is one of the more common reasons for transitioning from agnosticism/atheism to belief. Because "evil" makes no sense in a purely natural cosmological system, among many other things.

And the distinction between God's deliberate and permissive wills in the context of human free will - something many human beings can apprehend if not comprehend in their own relationships - gives lie to the classic formulation of "the problem of evil". Because without it, love does not really have a space to grow.

The classic Christian theological resolution of this problem is truly liberating and progressive, and the attempts to elide or reject it are deeply anti-progressive despite cosmetic appearances to the contrary.

Christian said...

Quite right Liam,

in the examples of #2, and #3 above; the conclusions are non-sequiters.

Anonymous said...

"distinction between God's deliberate and permissive wills"

What? Rhetorical nonsense aside, YOU know the distinction between God's DELIBERATE and PERMISSIVE wills?

Why of course you do. Only a god could. Only a god would speak as though such distinctions were a part of the human dynamic. So, now that YOU know the distinction between GOD'S different wills, please inform the rest of us so that WE too may know the will of god as YOU know it, so we don't have to endure all the crap that human ignorance suffers, or all the claptrap that know-it-alls insist is theirs to unburden us.

Please: UNBURDEN my ignorance. Tell me the Mind of God, the Problem of Evil, the Sin of Homophilia, the Idolatry of Judgment of Others, and all the wonderful KNOWLEDGE about the Mind of God YOU possess. Are you the Messiah, too? Incarnate? Alleviate my HUMANITY, so that I may join among your DIVINITY.

Anonymous said...

Well, look whose worldview is threatened,,,,

Apprehend, not comprehend: read first, rant second.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Michael.

Thanks for the humble homily. I would like to see some discussion from an evolutionary point of view.

What do people mean by "evil"? We aren't talking about natural catastrophes like hurricanes, tsunamis, etc, and we aren't talkng about accidents like fires. We are talking about human cruelty and sociopathology, aren't we? Slavery, the Holocaust, genocide, killing and subjugation of people?

Can those failures of people to love and care for each other, even in mob or systematic manifestations, be accounted for in developmental terms?

Our cultures have not evolved very far from the self-interestedness of animals, and then we have the added complexities of mentality, including the twistedness that comes from unfilled emotional and spiritual human need.

The way I look at it, the creation, including humans, is in process toward fulfillment in the great mystery of goodness and love.

Classical Catholic teaching has it that humans are in the process of becoming divinized through participation in the Christ life. God could have created a Stepford universe, but the process of becoming is the creation we've got and it is up to us by loving kindness to each other to help it happen.

I'd like to hear what you and others think of this line of reasoning. I'd appreciate serious talk and no putting me down with superciliousness.