There is no way of escaping it in our culture’s 24-hour news cycle. There’s no way to escape witnessing the evils that are carried out in this world when we’re all glued to our smart devices, TVs, and phones in our daily lives. One of the latest examples of such evil came from yet another fatal school shooting in the United States. Innocent people were killed, and usually the first thing that many people ask is, “Where was God?” or “How could a good and loving God let this happen?”
Asking That Question of “Why”
Admittedly, the problem of evil is probably the hardest thing for us as Catholic Christians to understand. These are often honest questions, and one can’t be faulted for asking them. But we do have trust to believe that God has good reasons for permitting these things to happen. We must always remember that God never wills such evil things to happen; we have ample evidence of this from Scripture and Tradition.
But this doesn’t stop our brothers and sisters from asking that question of “why”. While there’s no way I can completely tackle the entire subject in this space, I’d at least like to address the issue in some small way as we try to make sense of the things we see and experience around us.
Recently, on public social media, I read the heartbreaking comments of a first responder, whose faith had clearly been shaken. This person was honestly trying to understand how so many horrible things can happen. Obviously, this person had seen a lot. When you’re a police officer, fire fighter, or paramedic, you tend to see things that can deeply disturb you. This person’s original comments follow:
Ok, I am a paramedic. I tried to save a 2 week old beaten to death by his father. I understand that what happens are consequences of your decisions, but what did that baby do? How does that fall into the whole loving god? Or the children born with major medical issues? The ones that can never leave the hospital, whose entire lives are spent laying in bed breathing and eating through tubes?
Evil and Free Will
This is a question that plagues the hearts of many people, both Christians and non-Christians alike. What can we say to such a person that has witnessed heinous crimes like the one that is described? How do we show that a loving God is still in our midst? I’m not God, so I can’t comprehend why this specific, horrible action happened. But when I hear about horrible things like this, things that break my heart, here are a few things that run through my mind.
God is an omniscient and omnipresent being. This means God is outside of time and can see every event (past, present, and future) as one eternal now. This also means that God sees the whole picture. He sees how this despicable decision the father made to harm his child will affect human history. He also sees where this child will live for eternity. In contrast, you and I only see part of the picture. Could it be, that somewhere down the line, God could bring good even out of the most evil action?
As Christians, we believe that God is all good and all loving. God may permit evil, but this fact does not mean that God is not loving. Despite what happened to this two-week-old baby, we know that God is all loving because of his gift of free will to us. He wants us to love Him freely, and to love others freely, and for us to reciprocate that love. But if God controlled our every action, we wouldn’t be loving; we’d be robots. So, evil is permitted, but never condoned and never willed by God.
God Knows How the Story Ends
We won’t understand this side of the veil how the death of this two-week-old baby fits into the whole picture. But we must have trust that, while we see an incomplete picture, God knows how the story ends. As Christians, we believe that this life on Earth isn’t the only life. If it were, then I’d be asking the same questions that you are. But since I know that we all have a chance at eternal life, a life in communion with God for eternity, I have a well-founded hope and trust that the wonderful things this child will experience in the next life will exponentially outweigh what the child experienced in his earthly life.
When we talk about suffering in this life, we often forget to give attention to what will happen in the next life. Our suffering doesn’t have to be wasted, not even the suffering of a small child. If we can call God our Father, or Abba (which literally translates to “daddy”) as Jesus did, then can’t we expect that same Father to console us when the trial is over? Whatever kind of horrors one may experience on Earth will never compare to the beauty we experience in Heaven. To think that an almighty God couldn’t make up for something that happened in the temporal world severely limits God. Again, when we ask questions like this, we have to realize that we’re only seeing one side of the picture. The rest is obscured from our view until we reach eternity.
This isn’t a full answer to the problem of evil, but it is a start. Just because it’s difficult to recognize the tragedies in our lives with a loving God doesn’t make doing so impossible. If we as Catholics find ourselves in such a situation, we must pray for an increase in the virtue of faith. We must also lift those like this first responder up in prayer so that they will be consoled, and realize that God truly does have a plan for each one of us, and that plan is for us to be happy with Him in eternity. Nothing could be more loving than that.