How can there be evil in a world that is the creation of an omnipotent God who is also perfectly good? Such is the Problem of Evil. I have often heard that it is for moderns the single greatest impediment to faith in God. This is odd, considering that the most succinct response to the Problem of Evil was expressed in one of the oldest works of literary art we have: the Book of Job, which may be the oldest book of the Bible.
The response of the author of Job to moderns who have a Problem with Evil is this: you are Unclear on the Concept of God. What part of “I am the LORD thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me” do you not understand?
Moderns who have a Problem with Evil are still operating on the basis of what they want things to be like, rather than confronting things as they are. They want God to be something they know how to love, rather than what he is. They treat God as though he could be captured by their conceits – as if, i.e., he were an idol of their own devising. They want to think of God as a kindly, decent old chap who makes everything comfortable.
Well, he’s not. That’s all. He’s GOD. He’s so big and terrifying that if you ever saw him you’d be so scared you would be blasted to bits. That’s why he hides himself from us; if he didn’t, we’d evaporate into dust and ashes. Even most of the angels must hide their faces from his Glory.
The very first step, and the most important part, of our journey toward salvation in God – or even to being grownups in the world that he made – is to abandon all, and I do mean all, of our puerile notions about him; for until we do, we have not yet left off our idolatry. Most of them aren’t actually childish, but were learned as we left childhood and its utter conviction that there really are monsters under the bed, elves at the bottom of the garden, and Santa Claus at the North Pole. It is just as we leave behind our first innocent and eminently practical Realism that we learn in Sunday School that God is Love. It is the first step toward juvenile nominalism, because – trying to coddle us – our elders omit to tell us that the Love of a Father is worthless, as such, if bereft of the terrible wild power of a Father, that could – every child knows this – at any moment blossom into world-destroying rage, unless it were restrained by Love.
Until you get that God is, first, this Power that creates and destroys worlds, and only secondarily the limitation of that Power by Love, you are going to be stuck like a little boy wishing you could get from your Father more candy than you have yet gotten. You will be stuck on what mere love for you would do, had it neither any justice, nor any being, order or motive of its own, that far transcended your parochial purposes, thus enabling them. Once you get that God is Power, and that everything comes first of that Power, your priorities are straitened. Then, you obey the First Great Commandment, and say with his Son, “Take my life, Lord; Not my will, but thine be done.” What is there, aside from that? Nothing. In so saying, there is perfect rest; peace; salvation.
But not pleasure. Being a shield mate and thane of God is no cakewalk. Indeed, it is for his very most faithful servants, who are most convinced of anyone that there is in reality – i.e., as God understands things – no Problem of Evil, that God seems to have prepared the greatest trials and torments; as the lives of Job, or Hosea, or Paul – or Jesus – so well attest. To be a Christian – to be, that is to say, a proper human being – is to be willing to complete in one’s own body the sufferings of Christ. It is, further, to agree that whatever comes to pass, however evil it may be, is in like wise a contribution of some sort to the Providential work of redemption prepared in eternity for the whole cosmos. The Christian recognizes death, to be sure, in all its forms and types, and he mourns; and he understands death as swallowed up already in everlasting, limitless victory. Indeed, with the Atonement, death is become itself the swallowing up of death. Thanks to the Passion, which as essential to the eternal life of God is the archetype of creaturely existence, creaturely change and corruption are now, and so forever, the motor of everlasting life.
Yet even for those who are clear on the concept, and who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, the fact of evil in the universe he creates can itself be a source of suffering, as indeed it was to Job. One recognizes that whatever exists is what God wills it to be, and as is proper to his slave and angel one agrees, bows low, worships, and adores. Yet one wonders; for, as the origin of all intelligence, God is the very soul of intelligibility. It must all make sense, somehow. God must be doing it this way because it makes sense.
And so it does.
To create beings different from himself, God has no option but to create beings that are not perfectly good; for only God is perfectly good. Nor could he create beings that are guaranteed to be faithful expressions of their ideal natures; such a “being” would have no power of its own to act, for its action would be wholly specified by its form. Its existence, then, would be like that of the form of a triangle, rather than like that of any particular actual triangle. To be concretely actual is to have enjoyed real options (all but one of which were somewhat erroneous).
Thus the only way God can create anything at all is to create beings that are able on the one hand to obey his ideal will and completely fulfill their true natures, and on the other to fail, and fall from that completion. As with his inability to perform actions that make no logical sense, such as creating a stone he cannot lift, this limitation is no defect in God’s power, but rather the very expression thereof.
So things are free at the very root. This freedom goes along with creaturely being, per se; and this fact is reflected in the etymology of “sin,” which is rooted in the same Aryan word as the English “is” and the Latin “esse.”
All right: but why would a creature created good, and instantiating its own proper good under the Divine Will, ever decide to disagree with God? Why would any creature ever choose to fall? Because beings that are not omniscient cannot understand the consequences of their actions. Consider that before Adam and Eve ate of the apple of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they had no notion that there might be such a thing as wrong, or evil, or what those things might be like. Before Eve bit the apple, she did not know that it is wrong to disobey God. She might have been able to string together the right words to express the notion, but only as a computer might have done, that had no idea what it was saying. And before the serpent who tempted Eve fell, he too would have been in this same situation of utter ignorance of the meaning of disagreement with God – how could Satan have known “what it is like” to disagree with God, before he had ever disagreed with God?
There are lots more ways to exist than there are ways to exist in perfect agreement with God; for there is only one way to agree with God, while there are infinitely many ways to disagree.
The upshot, then, is that God had no choice, if he was going to create anything at all, but to create things that could sin, that would have no reason not to begin sinning, and that would have lots of ways to sin. Instead of “sin,” in that last sentence, I could have said, “err,” or “miss the mark,” and the gist would not have changed a bit.
Why then does not God wipe out all sin, so that the sin of a creature has no opportunity to injure any other creature? Because this would be to cheat his creatures of their effects, and ergo of their being. It would be to make them as if they had never been; would be to unmake them.
A being cannot properly be said to exist unless it can exert some causal effect. To clarify, and emphasize how radical this requirement is, consider that even to be just located somewhere is to have some causal effect. No other thing can be located where I am except in a different way than I am (as the United States is located differently at my locus than I am). To exist is to have an effect upon the range of possibilities that can be realized. That I am sitting here right now means that you cannot be sitting here right now.
But there is more to existence than just being located somewhere and exerting an effect. For a thing to exist in and as just itself, its effects must be just its own – must derive from its own properties and acts. If the effects of a thing were entirely determined by some other thing, it would have no truly independent existence of its own: no character or form, apart from that of the agent that had used it instrumentally. In practice, we never encounter such a pure instrumentality. On the contrary, we find that we cannot use anything as an instrument unless it has some character or property that is just its own – this being the very thing that makes it useful to us in the first place – and that we cannot alter without destroying it, together with its utility. A hammer is useful to us for hammering things only insofar as it possesses the form of a hammer, quite apart from whether we happen to be using it or not. We could not use it as a hammer unless it just was a hammer (or, like a rock, shared some relevant properties with hammers; a wet noodle would not answer as a hammer). If it were not a hammer before we needed to hammer something, we would never pick it up when the time came to hammer. So even the causal effects exerted by a thing as an instrument of some other thing derive from its own independent reality. A thing cannot work as an instrument, unless it be first in its own right, and independent of any uses to which it might then be put.
To exist, then, is to effect. If God were to wipe out the effects of a being’s act – i.e., of its constitution of its being at a given point in its existential career – he would be wiping out that career. He would be unmaking it. It is an aspect of God’s love that he does not do this. He lets his creatures be, and act. But notice that this is just another way of saying that God creates his creatures. Then, they act.
Once they have thus acted, their acts are unavoidable facts. All subsequent creaturely acts must take account of them. They are therefore both causally indebted to the motions they inherit from their past, and ontologically committed to their ramification down through history – i.e., to the integration of their past with their present constitution. No thing is an island. E.g., it is not possible for us to behave as if WWII did not happen; the whole shape of our world is affected inescapably by the facticity of WWII. We must all behave as if WWII happened, and thus to conform our acts to its facticity is ipso facto to commute that facticity from our past into our future. We must so constitute ourselves as to represent to the future the significance in our past of WWII.
By extension, the same goes for every creaturely act, however tiny. Once a thing has happened, it cannot be unhappened. Such is causal order. Thank God for it.
Such then also is the medium of Original Sin, with which we are all stained by our very coming into being in this fallen world. The Fall is a fact. It cannot be undone. We must work with it, as an aspect of who we are from the very beginning of each moment; and so must God.
NB that the Fall is not limited in its effects to the domain of human life. Man fell as a sequel to a prior angelic fall. Indeed, the whole created order is fallen. Such are the sequelae of the fall of Lucifer. What we know as natural is nature fallen.
The amazing thing, then, is not so much that the world is evil, as that we care about that evil; for, that we do in fact care is thanks only to the fact that, even as fallen, the world is basically good, and life worth living. The truly amazing thing about evil is that any good at all has survived in spite of it.
What would the world be like if it had never fallen? It is hard to say; perhaps it would give some indication to suggest that perpetual motion would not be impossible in such a world. We would not there be able both to eat our cake and not eat it – there would still be a causal order – but there would never there be any lack of cake, no matter how we feasted.
In our world, there is no perpetual motion. In our world, choices come at a cost; and thanks to entropy, the cost to the whole system of any given act is always at least a bit greater than the creative benefit it might produce. So this world must end. God cannot change this fact without cheating what is, and has been, of its facticity; without destroying his creatures. So he must make the best of a bad job.
This is no problem for him. But it is often a problem for us, at least in the short run, because it often entails that we suffer in service of the Providence of salvation for the world, at its resurrection. The reason God keeps his promise to Noah, keeps creating this fallen world and enabling it to go on in its crazy tragic way, is that he wants as many creatures to be as can be, and he wants them to be as good as they can be, so that their goodness and virtue may be resurrected; so that there will be more everlasting enjoyment in Paradise. If you work and sacrifice pleasures to raise children, there will be more children in Heaven everlastingly. Provided there is Atonement and Resurrection to everlasting life, then, the net hedonic effect of creaturely existence, howsoever tragic, is, without exaggeration, infinitely good.
And this is true even of the sufferings of Job. In Job 2:6, God says to Satan, “[Job] is in your hands … but spare his life.” So saying, God is not informing Satan of a new situation, for Job has been in Satan’s hands from birth; has been a member of a fallen world, under the influence of a fallen angel. Satan’s power to do evil to Job does not result from God’s dictate, but from the fact of Satan’s angelic nature, which gives him power, and from the deformation of that nature by his rebellion against God, which turns his power toward evil.
God could unmake Satan, undo his role in our world, and in so doing save Job from the power of Satan. But in so doing, he would destroy our world, ab initio, so that it would not be the sort of world that would give rise to such as Job. To save Job, God would have to destroy him. And to do this, he would have to unmake Lucifer too from his very beginning, so that, as Job might have put it, the morning of the day when Lucifer was created would never have come. And this God the Father would not do to his most glorious Prodigal Son. For God still loves Lucifer. That’s the only reason Lucifer could still exist. That God still preserves even his archenemy Lucifer in being, and saves the life even of the Prince of Darkness, shows how much he loves his creatures, despite their wickedness.
The deal YHWH makes with Satan over the accidents of Job’s life is in any case, as a matter of sheerly hedonic calculation, a total winner for Job. God knows that Job is saved; that Job will enjoy him forever, together with all his children. He knows that even if Satan’s trial destroys his body, Job’s essential life is imperishable, and will be preserved; for he knows his own will to preserve it. God knows, as Job does not (yet), that the death of all that Job loves is swallowed up already in life everlasting, that outpasses all his sufferings as endless day surpasses the tiny slice of night we suffer during the blink of an eye.
Back then to moderns and their idols. When I was a liberal and thought legalizing abortion was mere common sense, I can remember reflecting that it would be better for unwanted children if they had never been born. In the third chapter of Job, this is what Job wishes for himself; that he had never been born, but had instead moved directly from womb to tomb. He curses the day of his birth. But this is the counsel of despair; it is the counsel of one who has no hope of everlasting joy. For those who have no such hope, the evils of this world simply cannot be compensated by any worldly goods, under any circumstances, for all such goods are but partial and defective to begin with, and in the end death ruins all anyway; thus life cannot be redeemed, and is therefore essentially absurd and stupid, so that when push comes to shove the whole shooting match is a vicious waste, through and through an insult to our dignity.
Notice, then, that the failure of hope everlasting results in an indignant nisus toward universal destruction. It gives rise to the culture of death, that seeks escape from the pain of existence in a flight from being that would prevent all goods. Despair would repair the defects of goodness entailed in fallen creaturely existence by preventing that existence altogether. It seeks the perfection of nothingness. It does this as an eminently moral project; as the only honorable thing. And indeed, if death is all there is in the end, it is correct in so doing. Thus the self-righteousness of the servants of Moloch: by their own lights, so far as they penetrate the Darkness that suffuses everything and overwhelms it at the last, they are the children of light.
In the limit, this perspective cannot but end except with the wish that the world had never been created, nor Lucifer either, whose fall corrupted everything. It cannot but end with the wish that God might not have exerted his creative power at all. But because God is eternal, and therefore simple, he is pure act. It is not as though God might have refrained from the work of his power, for his act of creative power is his very being. To wish then that God might not have created is to wish that he might not himself exist.
We see, then, why liberals so hate those of us who order our lives according to the existence of God (however poorly). Our very being is a reproach to theirs.
Thus the essence of our counterrevolution against the Kingdom of Moloch is expressed in the simple act of loving God. There is – there can be – no more seditious act.
 This is the “God” that Dawkins and his ilk rightly insist does not and cannot exist, because it is an absurd notion; erring themselves likewise the while in imagining that in debunking their own similarly defective notions of God, they are talking about God himself, who thunders from the whirlwind.
 Baptism is a ritual recognition that the facticity of God is prior to the Fall; so that Original Sin, as supervening upon the prior being and act of God, is subject thereto, and not therefore ultimately dispositive of our destiny.