GOD’S GOODNESS and THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
Please Choose the Right Statement:
S1: Ang isang bagay ay mabuti dahil niloloob ng Diyos.
(Something is good because God wills it.)
S2: Ang isang bagay ay mabuti kaya niloloob ng Diyos.
(Something is good that is why God wills it.)
S1: says that something is good because God wants it to be good. This implies that the goodness of a thing or an act depends on God’s fiat – His judgment of it to be good. Seems like nothing is wrong here. He’s God anyway. Thus, as in OT times, killing is sometimes wrong (cf. punishment of Cain in Gen 4:8-12) and is sometimes right (e.g. killing your enemies like the Philistines in 1 Chron 14:10ff), “depende sa will ni Lord” (depending on the will of God).
S2: says that some things are already good from the beginning and that goodness is the reason why God wills them. It also implies that God only wills what is good.
It is easy to accept S1. It respects the power of God who decides which is good or bad. S2 is a bit complicated – it begs the questions: Who created these good things in the first place, ‘di ba si God din? God also created evil, ‘di ba? Is this why He can allow evil things to happen to good people? Hmm…now it’s more complicated.
S1 is a very common position. After a tragic experience, we are often consoled by friends: “Hindi ka naman bibigyan ni Lord ng pag-subok na hindi mo kaya eh. Tignan mo na lang kung ano’ng message ni Lord para sa iyo sa kabila ng trahedyang ito. Baka parusa yan sa iyong mga kasalanan!” Consoling naman na malaman na galing pala kay Lord ang snatcher ng cell phone mo. At may blessing pala ni Lord ang lasenggong driver na sumagasa sa anak mo? Consoling din na you deserve what you got from the hands of God nevertheless. Hmmm Ganun nga ba? If you are an S1 person, ganun nga. Pero maling mali! You are very wrong!
B.WHY IS S1 VERY WRONG?
1. The end does not justify the means. Besides, it is wrong to look for consolation in the lie that evils are willed by God simply to tell you “I love you my child.” An oxymoronic idea of God you have!
2. There are moral absolutes. Killing, robbing, etc. are evils. No God (who is the Absolute Good) will arbitrarily decide otherwise.
3. God’s gift of responsible use of freedom is irrevocable. He just doesn’t strike dead a criminal before, during or after a heist. Only in that sense of respecting human freedom that He allows evil to co-exist with the good.
4. It is wrong to presume that your “cross” comes from God. Even Christ’s cross didn’t. It’s okay, though, if you think you are as holy as Job or better than Jesus Christ. Mabuti ka pa!
5. While sin causes tragedies, it is not always the immediate cause of the calamities in our lives! And Jesus tells us that what happens to people is not something sent by God for his purposes.
√ The Gospel (Lk 13:1-9) affirms that things (good or bad) can indeed happen at random to any one. Bad things do happen to good people while bad people are beneficiaries of good things too! Indeed, randomness governs the distribution of events in our lives – a good reply to those who ask “Why me?” BUT, is this a good response, really? Is it enough to say, “Talagang ganyan ang buhay, swerte swerte lang” and expect to find consolation?Nope, I say. So, why do bad things happen at all? Let’s see.
In 1978, Harold Kushner, a rabbi, published When Bad Things Happen to Good People, where he attempted to answer the ancient query: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Excerpts of his responses follow: “There is no reason for those particular people to be afflicted rather than the others. These events do not reflect God’s choices. They happen at random…”(p.53). Our lesson to learn is to “accept the idea that some things happen for no reason, that there is randomness in the universe” (p.46). (These excerpts are cited from A critique of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner” by Dr. Norman Geisler).
√ Kushner cites randomness of events too just like our Gospel lesson. However, a further reading will reveal Kushner’s wrong premises, as one critic observes: God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives, but sometimes “even He can’t bring that about” (p. 43). Why? Because God Himself “is not perfect…” (p. 148). If God were all-perfect the world would not be so imperfect as it obviously is. An imperfect world indicates an imperfect God. As a matter of fact, “There are some things God does not control…” (p. 45). Thus, the world is out of whack because it is out of control.
The Wrong Question
An imperfect God? Certainly, such audacious position is unacceptable. Besides to believe in an imperfect God is to deny the very existence of the God you believe in! But how did Kushner arrive at such a fallacious answer? Quite simple. By asking the wrong question.
Instead of asking“Why do bad things happen to good people?” we should be asking instead“Why should anything good happen to people at all?”Or to be more specific, “After all that we have done – proving ourselves unworthy of His calling to be His children – what merits do we possess in order to deserve God’s blessings?” Putting the question this way makes us realize, “Aba, oo nga naman. We are all imperfect creatures. Iba’t-iba nga lang ang levels and degrees of sinfulness natin.” So when we ask“Why me, Lord, mabuti naman akong tao?”we really presume we’re perfectly good – a bold thing to do. Besides, if we claim we are perfect, then we prove we are not. The hard fact is we aren’t. Is this pessimism? No. It is just an acceptance that we are born into this world in need of God, a perfect God.
Jesus twice reminds us to balance this principle of randomness of events with personal atonement and moral responsibility. He says: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”(vv 3,5) – referring to the victimized Galileans and the victims of the Siloam tower tragedy respectively. In other words, what Jesus seem to tell his disciples is this: “Oo nga, mabait kayo o hindi pwede kayong makaranas ng kasamaan. Kung gayon, mas mainam pang magsisi na kayo at magbagong buhay ngayong mas may alam na kayo kaysa kanila na inabutan ng kamatayan nang hindi naka-handa.”
This is a reminder too of yet another principle: “You reap what you sow.”You sow spiritual unpreparedness, you reap eternal destruction. Jesus does not remove personal responsibility in the person who experiences either the good or the bad.
Let us go back to our S1 / S2 choice at the beginning of this lecturette. The common wrong choice is S1, the idea that good and evil depend on God’s willing it. So that when evil happens, God is the culprit. The consolation is that He uses evil to love us more. Of course, this is wrong! Beware: if you further pursue this thinking, you will end up embracing Kushner’s positions too!
The Catholic position is in S2: Something is good that is why God wills it. The concept therein is that God is Good all the time and all of God’s creation is good! The Good is out there objectively and not arbitrarily determined by God as S1 implies. S2 means that you believe that no evil can come from Him. He can only will good things to happen to you! S2 means that you also affirm the existence of evil; that evil is man’s abuse of the gift of freedom.
So, how do we treat the evils happening to us?
St. Paul gives the answer: “All things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28). With Love for God, nothing in impossible in the face of tribulations!
In the face of moral evil, let us remember what Pope Francis reminds us when he says: “The only war that we must all fight is the one against (moral) evil. We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us that there is nothing we can do in the face of violence, injustice and sin.”♥