4th Sunday of the Year
One of the recurrent challenges posed by non-believers to Christians , or even by believers struggling with their faith is how can one believe in a good creator God when there is so much evil in the world. I can appreciate the depth of this challenge to faith when it is reported that each year there are 45 million abortions worldwide. It is also understandable that even Christians may well question why God does not somehow intervene and put an end to this carnage. Even the Apostles asked Jesus in the boat when a storm came up and he was asleep, “Do you not care that we are perishing!” So anyone can honestly question why God tolerates such massive evils in His creation.
Now the response of the believing Christian when confronted with such massive evil has to begin from two firm beliefs based upon the absolute goodness of God. First, we believe that no moral evil in this world can be traced back to God as its direct cause; and second we believe that all evil entered into creation and continues to grow through the sinful rebellion of free creatures. First, there was the rebellion of angelic creatures, and afterwards men rebelled against God; and thus sin has to be seen as the ultimate source of all the true evils in creation.
However, we Christians, in addition, believe that God not only is never the cause of the evils that afflict our world, but we also believe that God is the only hope for curing our own sins and finally eliminating these evils forever. For those who repent and believe, there is true forgiveness and destruction of their guilt. Moreover, it is certain through revelation that God will finally eliminate all evil from His creation at the end of time when it will be transformed by the glory of Christ, when he comes again. And we Christians also believe that while evils are tolerated in time, God in fact continuously brings some good out of these evils, but not always in ways that we can understand. We do not “see” yet the full workings of divine providence and must live with the partial vision of faith, seeing through a glass darkly, as St. Paul teaches. (1 Cor. 13:12)
Thus, for believing Christians faith enables us to firmly trust that nothing happens in this world that is not subject to divine providence, which means further that God does not permit evil to touch our lives, whether caused by ourselves or others, without allowing this to happen for his own good reasons and for our own good ultimately. The saints firmly believed in divine providence and lived by their conviction that if only we place our faith and trust in Him, God will definitely bring out of these evils a far greater good than we can ever understand while in this world. Our generosity of faith will be far outdone by the generosity of His Love.
Of course, this response will always leave an unbeliever unsatisfied. Only the true believer can understand that everything, even the ultimate resolution of the problem of evil, must be left to God to resolve. Faith alone produces the humility to simply bows before the mystery of God’s ways, for the humble believer alone will cling with every fiber of his or her being to the goodness of God and the love of God which he or she firmly believes can and will overcome every evil in the world, beginning with the evil of our own sins, the undeniable cause of evil in our world.
The Christian approaches the problem of evil, then, from the viewpoint of two of Christianity’s most fundamental articles of faith, the absolute goodness of God and the fact that the greatest evil in the world is human sin and that sin is the ultimate source of all the other evils that afflict us.
However, we also believe that our good God has in fact already begun the overcoming of this greatest of all evils by allowing His only-begotten Son, sinless though He was, to subject Himself to what the world at large considers to be the ultimate evils, that is, to the physical evils of untold suffering and death. God’s divine Son freely submitted himself to these terrible moral and physical evils and conquered them precisely so that our own sins might be forgiven.
Now, if we believe that God’s love has so conquered the worst of evils, human sin, by undergoing the lesser evils of suffering and death, how can we doubt that God will also overcome these lesser evils in the world, evils which often afflict us, and turn them also to our advantage, compensating us for our suffering, just as he turned the suffering and death of His Son to our advantage? The compensation may not be material – though sometimes it can be, however rarely – but it is always rewarded spiritually , a growth in our likeness to Christ crucified and risen, a reward that makes us more and more like God’s Son by the spiritual transformation of our souls by His grace.
Such living faith transforms the believer into one of the “little ones” so often praised in the Holy Scriptures, and so loved by Our Savior. The “little ones” are the lowly and the humble of this earth who place their hope, not in themselves or in some utopia of perfect justice to be found in this world. They place their hope and trust in God and the perfect justice and rewards of the world to come. Such faith leaves the final resolution of the evils of this world in the hands of God, and such faith leads directly to humility and meekness and lowliness, qualities that the world despises, and that the great atheistic reformers of this world hate and despise. The worldly would never say blessed are the lowly or the meek or the merciful, but blessed are those who throw off their shackles and wreak revenge on those who have done them wrong. They would profess blessed those who use the power of this world to stamp out social and political evils, even if they have to suppress their consciences and commit the greatest moral evils to right the social and economic evils of this world.
Certainly we Christians know full well that there are terrible evils in this world, terrible social, political, and economic evils that need correction. And we have witnessed a century in which violent revolutions have tried to correct these evils by throwing off what is seen as the great obstacle to a fast solution to very real injustices, that is, the objective moral order tied to God as well as the belief that only in the next world will all evil be finally conquered, by God. The atheist blames Christian belief in God not so much for the evils themselves, but for being a great obstacle in the way of doing the kinds of evil things that seem to them necessary if these societal evils are to be overcome now, in our lifetime, and not in some world yet to come. Our religious belief also is thought to keeps us Christians from working to alleviate such evils, that is, by joining the revolution and doing whatever has to be done to put an end to these evils.
Now this sense of urgency of atheists is understandable since they don’t believe in any world but this one, and for them time, their time, is short. So atheists want total victory over evil as quickly as possible, here and now, no matter what violence or terror it takes to produce it! This recourse to revolutionary violence always finds a great obstacle in the moral code of Christianity. So godless revolutions find it necessary to destroy Christian belief, first, belief in a final resolution of evils by God in a world to come, and second, belief in any absolute moral rules grounded in God.
Likwise, the same thing can be said about other forms of revolution, for instance the revolution in the life sciences in our day. Once again, the atheism or agnosticism that often is the ideology of people in positions of power in these fields will find the same problem with Christian beliefs that godless political revolutionaries have, due to their terrible impatience in finding solutions to problems, again since life is short and there is no life beyond this world. Thus they deeply resent and reject any obstacles placed on their research and experimentation by absolute moral norms of Christian faith.
What we need, then, to effectively reduce if not end the violence in our world, spawned by these godless ideologies, is a profound renewal of faith among Christians, a faith in the victory of God, and the resolution of whatever evils we can overcome here and now by following God’s ways, no matter how difficult. Christians, like everyone else, want to see an end to these evils, and we are bound by both faith and charity to work to do whatever can be done, within God’s laws,to overcome them.
But Christians know well that the greatest trap for mankind is to think that we have the power to rid this world of all its evils, and to think that we have the right to ignore God’s moral law if we think it necessary in order to conquer some evil now, quickly. This attitude is the great trap of Satan because this way leads to lawlessness and uncontrollable violence in our world. For once we tear down the moral law of God and set up our own flexible code of morality, we have built a moral order on the shifting sands of human folly and ignorance. The Devil, whom Jesus said was a murderer from the beginning, lays this trap for mankind and mankind often succumbs to this temptation and leaves itself defenseless by rebelling against the very laws of God which alone can defend man from Satan and our self-destruction.
The non-violent, peaceful solution is wonderfully found in today’s Gospel. The truth is this: that blessed are the poor in spirit, the humble, the meek, who place their faith and hope in God. They do no harm to their neighbor in trying to relieve his or her suffering, because they are true to God’s laws. As Zephaniah said of them in today’s first reading, “Seek justice; seek humility” for those who seek justice in humility “shall do no wrong, and speak no lies.” For this they may be despised by the world, but as Paul said to the Corinthians, God “… chose the world’s lowborn and despised, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who were something, so that mankind can do no boasting before God.”
Perhaps after man’s current lawlessness has run its course, and we painfully discover that many solutions to evil are worse than those very evils, then once again, perhaps, the lowly shall inherit the earth. It is the poor in spirit and the merciful who hunger and thirst for justice, but who do no wrong in seeking justice, who shall have their fill. God alone can help us to solve our great problems, to conquer these very real and terrible evils but without doing even greater evil by undermining the moral code of God that protects us. Only when we become lowly, poor in spirit, merciful and pure in heart, can we imitate God’s own mode of working and bear lasting fruit in this world. The meek and humble of heart alone are patient in the midst of trials and trust that God will more than spiritually compensate his children, in this life and in the life to come, if we but trust him in this world, by not breaking his law to solve our problems. That is the lesson Jesus always teaches us in the beatitudes. Now, if only we can learn it once again in our day.