By Paul Kokoski
Where does evil come from? If God is all-powerful and created a universe that is very good why does evil exist?
While the possibility of evil was created by God, the initial cause of the actuality of evil is the angelic and the human will. Though He could have created a perfect world with no evil in it, God, in His infinite wisdom and goodness freely willed to create a world in a state of journeying. The Catechism tells us that angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed they did go astray and both moral and physical evil entered the world. The first to go astray was the angel Satan whose own fall or original sin of pride preceded that of our first parents.
What is evil? St. Augustine tells us that while evil exists, it is not an essence but rather the absence of an essence. Evil is where good should be but isn't. Hence, within God's created universe which is very good there exists this possibility of evil.
How did this possibility become an actuality? God created man in His image and likeness with a free will and an intellect and established him in his friendship. Man has the capacity to know right from wrong and to choose his own course in a particular situation, as well as to discover the truth, beauty, and goodness in the world. As such God wills man to freely choose Him as his highest good. When man chooses a created good or himself as his highest good he is, in fact trying to supplant God. By choosing evil man abuses his free will. It is then that man becomes dehumanized. His will becomes deficient, lacking in the goodness with which God endowed it. Every abuse of the will is rooted in the sin of pride.
God created our first parents Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. They were created in the state of original justice. They had no desire to choose what was not good for them and they did all the good they saw. While allowing them to eat of the fruit of all the trees, however, God explicitly prohibited them from eating of the tree in the middle of the garden i.e. the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom. It is significant for man that the forbidden tree lies in the middle of the garden. Being created in God's image places the temptation to want to take God's place - to try to decide for himself what is good and evil - in constant reach.
Shortly after God introduced Adam to Eve, Eve focused, not on Adam but on the tree of knowledge of good and evil and conversing with the serpent. The serpent then led Eve to doubt the truth of God''s prohibition. and she began to entertain the idea that eating the forbidden fruit would make her like God - like God, but without God, before God, and not in accordance with God. Eventually Eve fell victim to her own pride and in her cunning enticed Adam to share her illusion and fall. Immediately, Adam and Eve lost the grace of original holiness. They became afraid of the God of whom they had conceived a distorted image - that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.
The possibility of moral evil thus became an actuality. From the disobedient choice of our first parents (original sin) the disorder of concupiscence was introduced in the human passions. In fact, man inherits original sin and its effects at the very moment of his conception.
As a result of original sin human nature became fundamentally flawed. The original design of total mutual self-giving and of the nuptial meaning of man and women's embodied persons or personed bodies became spoiled by patterns of dominance and inferiority. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and women and the harmony between the first couple and all of creation became strained and tense. The relationship between God and man was distorted.
The abuse of free will is, therefore, the cause of the actuality of moral evil, and, ultimately, of physical evil including and especially sickness and death. After that first sin the world became virtually inundated by sin. However, God who is all-powerful and who created a universe that is very good, is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously knows how to derive good from it.
The God who created the heavens and the earth is an omnipotent and Provident God, both in relation to the entire universe and in relation to each one of us as human persons. He continues to govern and care for both his creation as a whole and each and every individual creature. Even in our freedom not one of us is alone.
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