Saturday, December 15, 2012

Getting to Know Evil...Again

Thought I’d republish this from last July given what happened in CT yesterday in case it might help someone. I have a daughter in kindergarten myself. Seems like she was born yesterday and I could not imaging making funeral arrangements now. Another thing I find troubling is the fact that many who mourn the loss of these children today would have gladly supported their killing six years ago…when they were in their mother’s womb.

341 - 270 BCE
Many are familiar with what the Greek philosopher Epicurus said centuries ago:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

We wonder how a God that is all knowing, all powerful and all loving can permit evil. We conclude that there must be at least some error, weakness or indifference about God. A flawed assumption with this kind of thinking is that finite humans can fully understand perfect knowledge, perfect power and perfect love. Think of a child receiving a flu shot. Should the child conclude that the parents either do not know shots are painful, they do not have the power to stop it or they just don’t care? This is NOT meant to compare a shooting to a flu shot. It is meant to compare the perspective of a child to our prospective to God.
St. Augustine of Hippo
354 - 430
Like us, St. Augustine had similar questions about evil before his conversion to Catholicism. He practiced Manichaeism in his younger days, which taught that there were two forces in the universe of equal power, one good and one evil. This would mean that God cannot be all powerful since there was a matching power of evil to counteract Him. Being the intellectual that he was, Augustine knew about Catholicism. He knew that Catholics taught God was all good and all things came from God. He had a question for Catholics, which we can read about in his Confessions, Book 7. The question was “From whence came evil?” If God is all good and all things come from God, where did evil come from? How could evil come into being at all?

It’s simple logic, but once again we have a bad assumption. The assumption is that evil has “being”.Catholics taught and still teach (because Truth does not change) that evil has no substance or “being”. Think of physical darkness; it has no “being”.Darkness is merely the absence of light. It doesn’t come from anywhere or find its source in anything; it is merely the lack of something. By the way, the Devil is NOT the source of evil, just like night time is NOT the source of darkness.
I'm finding this post disturbing.

After his conversion, Augustine equated evil to “disharmony”. I play some guitar and I’ve owned my current guitar for over twenty years. I can hear when it is even slightly out-of-tune, even if one string has the slightest disharmony with the other five. It may sound perfectly fine to you, but I know it can sound better. In a sense, I know my guitar’s perfection within the context of its nature. When all six strings are way out-of-tune, the guitar is gravely out of harmony with how it should be, and playing any chord would make an “evil” sound to anyone’s ears. It’s been said that without evil there would be no such thing as good. That is akin to saying without an out-of-tune guitar there would be no such thing as an in-tune guitar.

Thomas Aquinas tells us that good signifies “perfect being” and evil signifies “the privation of perfect being”, so when a thing lacks a perfection it ought to have, we perceive the deficiency as an evil. Blindness is evil for a human because a human ought to have sight. Blindness is not evil for a stone because a stone should not have sight. Also, think of a tree seedling trying to grow into as perfect of a tree as it can within its nature. Things preventing this like insects, disease, bad weather, animals or a man with an axe are evil to the tree, in the sense that they bring deficiency to it.

How does any of this help anyone? Does it take away the pain and confusion when a loved one is suddenly and senselessly taken from us? So what if evil has no “being”? So what if we understand evil better? We can still ask, “Why does God allow the privation of goodness to happen?”
One thing I’ve learned from years of dealing with complex problems in my professional and personal life is this….The more you understand a problem, the better you can deal with it, EVEN IF you can’t necessarily solve it. And so it is with the problem of evil.

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