The problem of evil in the world continues to raise its ugly head wherever and whenever we raise the subject of Faith. It’s important that we put this one to rest early, so here goes.
Popular “wisdom” has it that there’s a fierce battle going on out there between good and evil. From that perspective, we wonder what the results will be and who (or what) will win out in the end. It also causes people to question a god who could create such evil and allow it to exist. As is so often the case, if you ask the wrong questions (from erroneous perspectives), you’ll get weird answers.
This little stroll through the valley of good and evil will greatly depend on one of my previous posts: What the Meaning of ‘Is’ Is. If you haven’t already read it, be sure to do so before you continue here, because otherwise it may not make any sense.
Remember that all our God-language is analogical because speaking of being outside of the space-time continuum has no meaning for us. Yet, both faith and reason demand that God’s ‘is-ing’ be logically prior to space-time. Regardless of whether the Big Bang was the instant of creation, or whether the Big Bang was part of a larger metamorphosis within a Multiverse, space-time had a logical (if not temporal) beginning. In other words, regardless how space-time came to be, God’s existence (God’s ‘is-ing’) had to have been prior. There is no space-time in God’s ‘is-ing’, yet space-time exists. Space-time’s ‘is-ing’ is entirely different from God’s. Space-time is not-god. In some way, God, the ineffable, had to allow not-god to exist. What we so lightly refer to as “creation” is nothing less than an immense “NOT” (negativity) that God allowed to infect the perfect unity and unchangeability in God’s ‘is-ing’.
“Creation” — however it happened — allowed Being to be infected with “not”: not now, not here, not, not that. The “whatness”, “whereness” and “whenness” that of space-time all come from the introduction of a slicing and dicing of unlimited Being into beings of every kind, but only because each kind is not any other different kind and every individual thing is not identical to any other thing. Once we understand that the entire universe as we know it is riddled with a negativity that forms its very diversity, we can begin to realize that negativity (existential evil) is not a thing at all, but is a constitutive dimension of all existence in space-time.
I just used the phrase “existential evil.” What does that mean? To begin with, we need to start in the other direction: what do we mean by “existential good”? There’s a very old saying in philosophy that will help to clarify this, I think: “ens et bonum convertuntur — ‘being and goodness are interchangeable.’ As we consider the levels of ‘is-ing’ that we’ve already pointed out, beings at various levels do their ‘is-ing’ more and more fully. The more fully realized something’s being is, the better situated it is along the quantum scale. We instinctively recognize that we would rather be a chimp than a chair; we would rather be a human than a chimp; and we would much rather be have the benefits of superintelligence rather than be left behind by a thinking machine. If we can recognize that limitless being (Being without the “not”) would be the greatest Good, then we can appreciate how beings in a lesser state of existence have a more limited goodness. ‘Existential evil’ is our human way of expressing our understanding that some things are more limited in their ‘is-ing’ than others. It’s our way of comparing one thing to another within the realm of our spatio-temporal reality.
‘Existential’ good or evil is not the same as moral good or evil. Morality has to do with human choice. We choose ‘good’ when we choose growth and development in line with our optimal levels of ‘is-ing’ — for ourselves and out fellows. We choose evil when we deliberately put unnecessary limitations on ourselves or others by our thoughts, words, or actions, when we put barriers in the way of their growth and development, or when we neglect to do what we can to foster that growth and development. For moral good and evil, we are responsible. But that does not hold true for existential evil.
“Why does God allow evil?” you may well ask. Oddly, it’s because the fullness of Being is also the fullness of love. In order for space-time to exist, limitation (the ‘not’) must also exist. Limitations can’t somehow be removed from reality without reality collapsing back into the Limitless. Death and destruction (unless deliberately caused by human action) may be existentially evil, but they are not morally evil. They are simply the price we have to pay to exist in space-time.
Likewise, humans have free will. We make choices (for which we are responsible). Without those choices, we would be incapable of either experiencing or giving genuine love. Since God evidently respects creation — and therefore humanity — there is no reason for God to intervene. In spite of our cultural and psychological determinisms, we retain just enough individual freedom to be able to do wrong (or to do right).
And, what about predestination? Doesn’t God know what we’re going to do before we do it, and therefore doesn’t God determine everything we do? Here’s where we have to be careful. In no way can we assume a God’s-eye view. The niceties of how space-time can coexist with changelessness will be forever hidden from us. We can only say, once again, that God (for whatever reason) respects creation. And, for us, living in space-time is nothing if not one big, long lesson — a lesson in how to love (and how not to)!
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.1