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Graham Osborne

Why does God allow evil?

Voices July 9, 2018

The suffering of children, like this child at a field hospital in Aleppo, Syria, is hard to understand, writes Graham Osborne. But God shows his great power by always bringing about a greater good from any evil he allows. (CNS photo/Ghirh Sy, EPA)

If God is truly good and “all-powerful,” why is there evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? A young child dies and their parents are heart broken. Or a terrorist detonates a bomb inside a crowded church. How do we explain these things in light of Christian teaching? Some even suggest that the occurrence of evil and suffering disproves the existence of God all together.

To begin, lets lay some groundwork. God is love (1 Jn 4:16-18), and it is against his nature to do evil. And if God is good, then everything he has made is good: “And God saw that it was good” (Gn 1: 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 31). But it is also important to realize that evil is not a created thing. It is the absence of good, and the choosing of something that is contrary to God’s will. So God neither creates, nor does, evil.

But if God is all-powerful, how is it that he allows evil and suffering? Let’s take these two things separately, for while they are related, they are not the same thing.

The answer to why there is evil is, in some ways, quite simple. God created us to know and love him. But to truly be able to love, we must be able to freely choose – to choose between good and evil. Love is simply the desiring, and doing, of good for another. If we cannot freely choose to do this good, we cannot truly love! We would simply be robots programmed to perform a particular task that would have no merit to the person performing it.

But that said, every act of love that we perform, first comes as a prompting of God’s grace. “Apart from you (Jesus), we can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). But we are still free to choose this good, grace or not.

And evil is the ultimate result of the abuse of this incredible gift of free will that God has given to us (and the angels). Some choose not to do the good. But God must also allow us this option to choose evil if he truly wants us to be able to love. If God overruled our free choice each time we chose to abuse this freedom and commit sin, big or small, we would eventually realize that, practically speaking, we were not really free to choose at all! (Catechism of the Catholic Church 303-311)

But here is where God shows his great power: by always bringing about a greater good from any evil he allows. “We know that in everything, God works for good for those who love him” (Rom 8:28). St. Augustine puts this beautifully, writing: “For almighty God … because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.” St. Paul confirms that, “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom 5:20).

Similarly, the Catechism reminds us of the ultimate example of God powerfully drawing a greater good from even the greatest evil: “From the greatest moral evil ever committed – the rejection and murder of God’s only Son, caused by the sins of all men – God, by his grace that ‘abounded all the more,’ brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good” (CCC 312).

But we often lack a heavenly perspective when assessing God’s power to bring greater good from an evil. What do I mean by this? Sometimes we don’t interpret or try to understand events in light of the truth that heaven is real! We may certainly believe in heaven, but we may find that this belief is seriously lacking when it comes down to it – when difficult challenges arrive.

For example, if a young, baptized child dies for some reason and ends up in heaven, it still can be incredibly difficult to understand and accept. Where is God in such a situation, many will ask. It is natural to miss that child, and parents can be incredibly saddened by such a loss – that we can’t be with our child, hold him and watch him grow up (my wife and I lost a little one a few years back, and a day doesn’t go by that we don’t miss him).

But, if that child is in heaven, in the presence of God for eternity, what greater good could there be for him? Truly! In fact, my job as a dad is done! My little one is in heaven and there is nothing better than that. Yes I miss him. But if I really believe in heaven, is there any other place that a parent would ultimately choose for their child?

Clearly, we can’t always know why God does what he does, or understand his plan and wisdom. We can’t see the big picture the way he does – or the final outcomes drawn out from seemingly unrelated events. “His ways are not our ways” (Is 55:8-9).

Evil and suffering will sometimes be a mystery to us (suffering will be the focus of my next column). But if we believe and love God, we must also trust that he loves us (Jn 3:16). “I know well the plans I have in mind for you … plans for your welfare and not for woe … to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11). So let this be the foundation we view evil and suffering from: Jesus I trust in You.