Does God Do Evil “For A Reason”? Part II
When God governs the world, He does so through “intermediaries.” This is a rather loaded term that, itself, implies quite a bit. When Aquinas writes that God governs creation through intermediaries he means to say that in the act of creating the world, God relinquished control over His creation in a specific way. When the Bible mentions angels (both good and evil) at work - or at war - in the world, e.g. “the principalities and powers” (Eph. 6:12), this is an aspect of God’s providence. He has given authority to intermediary beings to be involved in the bringing about of His will. This providence also includes examples of anointed persons or peoples whom God calls to bring about His will on the earth. As we mentioned in a previous post, God set humanity in the garden to care for and protect creation (Gen. 1 & 2). God wanted the earth to be full of life and goodness. He commanded our first parents to “be fruitful and multiply,” and God didn’t mean anything about apples or calculators. Rather, God created us in His image, meaning with freedom and real agency to co-create with God’s love. We are, in a sense, intermediaries through whom God’s providential work unfolds throughout the world. Aquinas sums up this intermediary sense of providence by saying that it is not the result of a “defect” in God’s power - as if God wouldn’t be able to seize control of every single atom within time and space - but as a result of God’s goodness. And, he caps this off by saying that God imparts the “dignity of causality” even to creatures. Now what does this all mean for you and me? It means that God, because He desires creation to share in a co-creative work with Him, gave to everything that exists a “way” of being-and-behaving, and He allows each creature to be-and-behave with freedom appropriate to their nature. He also gave to certain beings a greater share in His governance to cooperate with Him, participating in His work and power, in order to bring about the proper “end” of all things. This helps us appreciate just how much God entrusts to you and me. God did place angels over the face of the earth to share in His governance of creation and humanity. Some of those angels rebelled and we now call them demons, the worst of which is Satan. These angelic intermediaries are involved in the world stage of history, they are real players, with real authority and power determined by what they are, angels. Just as a person with evil intent can do harm to another, so too a fallen angel retains its ability to impact the world adversely, even if God does not want them to do evil (such evil is a sin and God shares with us what the consequence of sin is through revelation). We humans have been called by God to work with Him and all of his angels and saints (in heaven) to build His kingdom in the world. This means doing good, avoiding evil, and engaging in the life in the Spirit for the spread of the Gospel to combat and uproot evil and bring freedom, healing, and invite people to salvation. In short, this is a longwinded way to say that, your neighbor’s are to blame for their dog soiling your lawn, not God. Your neighbor’s, by the fact that they are human beings, with free will and proper authority over creation, are given an intermediary role in caring for and training their pet canine. If their pup wanders into your yard and deposits an unsavory gift, God did not “make” that happen. God created the world with a real dignity of causality, that allows for creatures to exist and behave in their proper order, according to what they are as beings, whether an oak tree or an ant or gravity. God did this out of His goodness, that we might share in the dignity of His by co-laboring with Him to bring about good.
These two distinctions about providence now enable us to more deeply nuance our image of God in order to properly appraise the sayings “God did it for a reason” and “God wanted to teach us a lesson” and so on. These sayings, and their like, do not capture the truth about the sufferings we endure, because they do not hold in tension what Scripture and Tradition reveal about the world God created. God does not cause boats to sink after hitting icebergs, nor does He make evil happen for pedagogical intents. Rather, God gave to water the ability to freeze and made it so that even the Titanic would sink if enough water filled it. This caused the horrible tragedy of the Titanic, but God did not tug the iceberg in the boat’s way to teach Rose how much she should appreciate Jack. There are many reasons why the Titanic sank, but God did not do it. He gave a proper intermediary role to all those involved and, because we are often mistaken in our actions or even negligent, the result was very, very unfortunate. And, that is exactly the point, it was unfortunate and not by “cosmic design.”
Why doesn’t God do something about the evils in the world, then? In response, I would invite you to spend time with my previous Easter blogpost. In that I share the Good News about how much God is involved in the world doing good. In the person of Jesus Christ we see the work of God’s love on display and impacting human history even to this day, and that, for the good and for good reasons and to teach us about the truth of who God is and who we are in Him. We see in the entire Scriptures a constant call to covenant faithfulness by God who often used intermediaries, like angels, prophets, judges, kings, and even “ordinary” believers, to call people back to fidelity. Why? Because God loves us and does not squash our independence (an independence that is not rightly a rebellion but a cooperation, participation and communion of charity with God and humanity). Evil was not wanted, willed, intended, or “allowed” by God like a hall monitor might let a friend skip out of class without a pink-slip. God set the world with a proper order and providentially engaged intermediaries to help bring about the hoped for end - and a good end - for creation. When evil happened as a result of angelic and human sin, God’s work began unfolding for our redemption through Jesus Christ. What is God doing, then, in response to evil? Everything good! Thanks be to God.
When tragic circumstances result in evils that we suffering, we can say, without a doubt, that God did not want that to happen. We can let people know that God does have a plan in all of this, and it includes healing, mercy, and, for those who have lost loved ones, an eventual reunion in heaven. We do not need to tell people that God “did” the evil. And, we don’t need to unintentionally make people think that God did a horrible thing for a “learning moment” in their life. What you and I can do is stand in our role as royal intermediaries, ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and witness to them the compassion, communion, and healing of God’s Spirit at work within and through us. Some evils will not be resolved until the End Times. But, many evils can be ameliorated, converted, made right, healed, and forgiven through the power of Jesus Christ at work with, in, and through the Church by the Holy Spirit. This is not about a “defect in God’s power” but the dignity of our roles as sons and daughters of a loving God. A God who calls us to image Him in the world according to the pattern of Christ’s life at work in us.
I know that this has been a very long blogpost. And, if you made it this far I thank you. I want to emphasize again that I never, ever believed that anyone using the sayings that I mentioned meant any harm to anyone, nor do I think those who said things like that meant to portray God in a dark light. Rather, I hope that the Good News about who God is and who we are can help shape our thinking, words and actions, in order to better represent the goodness of God even more clearly and effectively. God loves you and those you love so much. He does not want us to suffer. We see in Revelation 21 that God is at work creating a new heaven and a new earth where every tear will be wiped away, because He makes all things new. Although we might not taste the fullness of that banquet in this life, we are not without the grace to experience much more of that goodness in ways that we could not even imagine. God is at work in the world. And, the Good News is that God is at work only doing good for us and to us and through us. I pray that we can all step into that river of life and allow more and more of His goodness to flow through all that we are and do to bring healing, mercy, and justice into the world with God’s Holy Spirit.
In Peace & Prayer,