“Ever since the illness of my daughter, I have lost fervor in praying to God.”
So shared a mother of three recently about her diminished piety amid the life-threatening affliction of her eldest. She still goes to Sunday Mass and says grace at meals. But her doubts about God’s love, justice and concern for humanity, already strained by the spectacle of evil and calamity in the world, ebbed even more.
Having never faced anything so painful as the threat of a child dying, one feels unqualified if not presumptuous to counsel those devastated by actual or impending tragedy. Our Lord can give comfort and advice, of course, having undergone far greater agony, cruelty and injustice. Still, the anguished human may yet feel that even the Creator become man, can never know a suffering creature’s utter helplessness and hopelessness.
Nonetheless, this writer tried to talk with the lamenting mother. Better one’s caring if fumbling words than frigid, unfeeling silence, one hoped.
It’s okay to feel abandoned by God
First, affirm the validity of her lament and even the waning of her faith and the waxing of her dismay in the divine. The pain she feels shows her love for her dearest children, her compassion for the sick, and indeed her belief and dependence on the goodness of God. For the weakening of her faith and confidence in Him means she had such strong sentiments to start with.
Moreover, the Lord understands and underwent the hopelessness and abandonment by heaven felt by millions of His fellow human beings. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus cried on the cross, echoing the wails of many a fearful mother of stricken children, not to mention the victims of war, calamity, hunger, disease, oppression, injustice, and a host of earthly enormities seemingly unhelped by heaven.
At the same time, let us not forget the rest of Christ’s Seven Last Words. After that fifth despairing utterance came His declaration of unfailing fidelity to and fulfillment of His Father’s will: “It is accomplished.” And finally, reversing His moment of unconfidence, Jesus threw Himself into the only way forward after the last breath: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”
We too are invited to rise from despair to fidelity to our mission and faith in our Father in heaven. Still, it’s naturally near-impossible to make that leap of faith heavenward from the depths of despondency and tragedy. How we wish we could hear or feel the answer Jesus got.
For many hopeless and helpless souls, they need a clear and consoling answer to their conundrum expressed in the crucified Christ’s question: Why has God abandoned us? Or worse: Why has He allowed this suffering, injustice and evil? Which is another way of asking why, after all this pain and tragedy, should we keep believing God is good, caring and loving?
Can a good God create an evil world?
Why indeed? Okay, take a deep breath and get set for some amateur theology. We’ll take it slow.
Christians believe that God created the universe and everything in it. Now, to create something means to bring forth an entity different from the Creator; otherwise, He would just be replicating Himself. And to be different and distinct from God means to be imperfect, because God is perfect. Clear so far?
So if creatures are imperfect, they would have aspects and actions that don’t partake of God’s absolute love, goodness, truth, beauty, order, wisdom, and other perfect attributes. So creatures can be unloving, untrue, ugly, disorderly, unwise, bad, and otherwise lacking in divine perfection.
That’s why there is evil in the world: the price of being created is to be imperfect and therefore having the potential or tendency to go against what God is or wants.
Even human beings created in God’s image, by Genesis’s account: we killed, enslaved, subjugated, and otherwise oppressed our own kind as well as other living creatures. These evils have continued into the modern era, with today’s global civilization not just possessing enough arms to destroy all life many times over, but also consuming and polluting the planet potentially to the point of making it uninhabitable for man and other forms of life.
He didn’t ask me
Upon hearing this explanation of God and evil, the despondent mother said she wished God had asked her first if she wanted to be brought into this mess of a world. But she quickly realized that being consulted before being created was impossible, since one must be made first before one could be asked.
The good news is that the universe has also brought forth much good, beauty, wisdom, knowledge, kindness, and happiness, as life, society and civilizations have developed. Ills like disease, famine, racism, slavery, destitution and subjugation have been drastically reduced.
Believers ascribe such goodness to God’s design and prodding; non-believers credit natural factors. Bottom line: there is much good in the world, and ample ground to believe and hope in a loving Creator leading imperfect creation toward His perfection.
Like the mother’s daughter now completing treatment and regaining health.
So decry our ills and doubt our Creator, but also know that He isn’t letting evil have its unbridled way. And at our sojourn’s end, we can tell Him to erase our entire sordid existence like it never happened. Or we can walk with Him into His perfect joy. Amen.