God’s Good Chaos: A Reflection on the Problem of Evil

The problem of Evil is one of most staggering dilemmas for the human mind. If we define it as such, then we acknowledge a spiritual component, and yet if we do that, we also acknowledge a greater power which allows for the existence of this evil, or more specifically, anything in this world which is likely to cause suffering of sentient beings, including the very make-up of the physical universe itself.

In the light of a belief in a divine ground of reality that is love itself, it often seems impossible to reconcile such a state of affairs. And yet to deny either transcendence or suffering deprives the world and our own senses of all meaning and claim at accuracy or trivializes the very real and cuttingly painful events that are all around us and which shake us to the core. It’s a bit like watching cars pass by, and trying to construe a meaning from the color patterns. That, however, does not mean that those cars do not have a purpose for being on the road.

Here is my own subject of Theodicy, that is, the Problem of Evil, or more specifically the presence of evil in the world supposedly created by an all-loving and all-powerful God. Needless to say, countless theologians over the years have taken a stab at this, but I feel that some reflections are more worthwhile then others. Indeed, I feel some actually cause more harm than good in their attempted explanations, either falling under superstition or victim-blaming to uphold their logic.

I’m going to limit myself to the issue of “natural evil”, because “moral evil”, for me, is kind of a non-issue, that can fairly easily be summed up with free will. “Natural evil” however is another matter, because it has to do with things beyond our control, like natural disasters and predatory animals that eat other animals and, sometimes, us. These forces aren’t “moral” at all, per se. They’re just forces shifting to and fro according to their internal natures in order to manifest or sustain themselves.

I’m going to cut to the chase a bit about the scientific nature of all this, and how it is necessary for each to carry out its own function for the current world to hold any sort of balance, i.e. animal species keeping their numbers limited by eating each other, and elemental cycles causing tumult in order to maintain our atmosphere. The main issue comes in with this question: why would a compassionate God make all this stuff an inherent part of how this universe keeps trundling along?

I don’t think any of us can pretend to answer that question, but I also feel like dismissing any sense of meaning is equally simplistic and ultimately false. I believe there is “meaning” even in the jagged laws of nature; there is order wrought into them, even evolutionary in nature, and the very existence of something rather than nothing attests to a more profound story than mere chance. We are indeed trundling forward, but it seems, for something greater than we can see. We would have to close our eyes to that in order to dismiss this real dilemma of evil, because frankly it would not be a true “dilemma” if we did not have a hope of justice and rightness in our hearts.

I do not believe every movement of the natural world as it carries out its prescribed functions is so much predestined as permitted, and yet it is the “backdrop” of our own ability to grow, to relate, to love, to move, to have our being. It’s a free universe, autonomous to the point of working out the individual destinies of its parts that brings about the functioning of the whole. The laws of nature exercise a mysterious balance to make the planet in habitable by life at all. Each species has its own proper place and balance within the whole, something along the lines of “The Great Circle of Life”. Each element is bound by its own faculties.

Take fire for instance. It’s an element, neither good or evil. And the very properties that enable it to cook and warm also might enable it to set a house on fire. By the natural assertion of its own properties, it may overcome the property of other substances, such as wood. Water is life, and yet can also be death if submerged beneath it, whence it drowns out air. Electricity is a boundless blessing, unless one is electrocuted. The same with gravity. We wouldn’t be able to survive without it, yet it also might cause us to fall off a roof if we slip. And our bodies develop in given ways that depend on the mutation of cells, which also allows for disease.

Should God intervene to alter each causality of this? Some might say yes, although in the long term it would make this universe more of a “play-thing” as opposed to a real one. Also, if fire wasn’t always fire and water always water, and gravity wasn’t always gravity, we would be lost, a ship literally without an anchor floating around in the vastness of an unruly universe. On a deeper level, could God have made a more “perfect” universe in which we all basically existed as spirits without the presents of dense physicality which make this dense physical features and developments something of a “necessary evil”? Yes…but it certainly wouldn’t be “our world.” And I posit that the very nature of “our world” is somehow inherently necessary in the eyes of God, somehow significant out of possibly countless creations.

However, beyond this natural processes, humanity I believe is called to a higher level of morality, for we have reason and free will. Perhaps the very fact that we perceive the behavior of animals and forces of nature as being fickle and cruel tells us something about ourselves. Perhaps it is for that very reason we have been put in this environment, to make it profoundly clear to us that we are not animals. What may come naturally to them may also be knit into our instincts, and yet it is anathema to us. It is forbidden to us by conscience, and we may speak of right and wrong.

We are borne of some higher reality, and must hold faith to it or lose ourselves. We ought not to rut in a field nor kill our fellow man. We ought not abandon the weak to their weakness nor submit to the strong for their strength. When the very best angels of human nature assert themselves, we are moved to care for the vulnerable and speak truth to power. We are bound to speak with sincerity and give our bodies through an act of love and commitment. We do not seek merely to continue our species through instinctive causation, but to share this love, overflowing from us, to our children, and to teach them that life is worth living for its own sake.

This is why we are also story-tellers. It is because we inherently know the struggle of moral dimensions exists, and we are a part of it. I believe that this is our souls speaking truth to one another, and all our very finest tales tap into an inner “truth” that is real in the utmost sense of our inner world. And conflict is the root of all our storytelling, in an environment of fighting to not just survive as a species but thrive as human beings.

In this sense, only we are the creators of true evil, and are the only ones on earth who can “see” evil present in any form. Earthquakes and volcanoes are not evil, but natural, even if they cause harm to those living creatures in their path. They are still natural. What is not natural is something like murder, when a rational being consciously makes a decision to take the life of another. Likewise, it is not “evil” to be born with a disability; it is evil when a human being abandons the child to die in sun. The reason why this is evil is because our natures knew better than that. They called us to love.

For a Christian, there is another current of this topic which flows out of seeing the world as “cruciform”, indeed a world in which God Himself did not preserve Himself from the jaggedness of this creation of His, but indeed cast Himself into it and all its suffering and degradation, right up to the point of being suffocated and bled out. For me, it is the ultimate consolation that even this seeming horror knit into the world is somehow so worthwhile, even God was wont to experience it, and show it to be redemptive. Its like a gaping wound through which light pours in.

There is so much more I can say upon the Christological aspects of Redemptive Suffering, but I think I’ll save it for another write-up. For the moment, I’ll leave you with two quotes which I think capture some of the sense I have about the paradox of a life knit into a groaning world.

“… a morally neutral chaos has a creative place within God’s dynamic world, with both the potential for good and bad for creatures. This element of disharmony is an integral and essential part of a world that is in the process of ‘becoming.’ Volcanoes are needed to replenish our atmosphere in order to sustain life; this requires a planet with active geology. The Earth has plate tectonics with earthquakes and tsunamis. Our sun-heated atmosphere sustains life, but it also gives hurricanes, tornadoes, and cyclones. These messy, disorderly natural disasters have a role to play in our dynamic world. Order and chaos are inseparable; the violence of physical processes and the birth-death-decay cycle are features of God’s good world. Yet these events also have the capacity to bring suffering to humans and animals—even for righteous people, such as Job. While untamed chaos has a God-ordained place within creation, God nevertheless declares all this as “very good” (Gen. 1:21, 31). – from “God’s Good Chaos.”

“But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world “in a state of journeying” towards its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.” CCC #310

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s