The Word Embodied
The Problem of Evil
All creation groans (Romans 8:22).
Creation has its cost. To be creature, not creator, is to be incomplete, unfinished. Created being is radically insufficient to cause and sustain itself. Thus God, in willing that there be non-god, had to will that there be frailty and incompleteness. Such is the price of creaturehood.
And yet, even though creation is not God, it is still precious in its unfinished and dependent state. Think of the human hand, so delicate in its strength, so supple and alert, so sensitive and expressive. Yet it can be smashed in a moment, cut off, wounded. Is it better off not to exist? Or is the hand, despite its frailty, glorious? Is its frailty its glory?
An infant’s giggle, a child’s untrammeled laughter—these disarm and delight. Yet the same enchanted voice can sound doom: utter rage and fear, alarm at the terrors of the night and the demons of the playground. Would it have been better to make us all unfeeling, unlaughing, unhurtable?
We are inherently deficient and wanting, inescapably vulnerable. Such is the pain of the earth. Yet the sufferings of time, Paul writes, are nothing compared to the glory revealed in us. There is futility in our being only if our being is all there is.
The flower fades and droops. The once young body one day sags and then lingers long. Flesh hardens first, then melts away, corruptible, slave to space and time.
And yet we glory in it, and rightly so. God does as well. This paltry flesh, like all creation groaning, longs for finish, completion, and rest. Such is the glorious agony of our condition.
We, like the earth that gives birth to us, are subject to the great inexorable laws of rise and decay. We are fundamentally good, we are things that grow; and yet because we grow, we lack.
The name for this mystery beneath the formation of mountain ridges and spinal cords is physical evil, deficiency, the parasite of an unfinished universe that is good.
But the appearance of human life raised the stakes: the joys and the catastrophes. For into this world were cast creatures not only unfinished in their being, but in their nature. Men and women were gifted not just with life, but with life aware of itself, endowed with the freedom to affirm or reject the limited good that they were.
Mountains show might, and seas roar, but humans utter, “Yes.” They might also say, “No.” And it was that yes or no that made us worth God’s final risk. In addition to the great play of organic development, there would be the drama of free choice. From such a creation would come not only the glories of love, but the catastrophes of moral evil.
Some of us would not understand at all. On the paths of life, unrooted, our freedom is pecked at by passing birds. For others, the freedom dries and withers. Still others choke their choice in fear and worldly anxiety. But then, others take it all in. They embrace the limit of life, the gift of being good but not God. They cherish the gift of dependence as creatures. And they bear fruit a thousand times more splendid than the bounty of trees.
Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth. It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it (First Reading).
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University