Category Archives: Theodicy

Why do we suffer?

-by Matt Nelson

Since 1670, when they were first published, Blaise Pascal’s Pensées (Thoughts) have proven to be extraordinarily influential upon the minds of Christians and non-Christians alike. Avery Dulles noted, “Few if any apologetical works have brought so many unbelievers on the way to faith.”

One might even argue that these scribbled thoughts of a French philosopher and mathematician have grown in importance over time. Peter Kreeft says they are “for today”—that, whereas most modern works of Christian apologetics are written as though we were still living in a Christian culture, the Pensées speak “to modern pagans, not to medieval Christians.” And Pope Francis praised Pascal’s “brilliant and inquisitive mind” just this past year.

What is the greatest good for man? What is every human being really looking for? Most people will readily agree with Aristotle that it is happiness. Pascal agrees: “All men seek happiness. There are no exceptions.”

The trouble is that we tend not to get what we want in this life—at least not entirely. Here enters the universal reality of human suffering. We are left unfulfilled in this life, and therefore we suffer.

The loss and deprivation of happiness are normative experiences for all human beings. “We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death,” writes Pascal. This is where his approach is so strong. It begins with the most obvious spiritual fact about humanity that not even skeptics can deny, what Chesterton called the only part of Christian theology that can really be proven: the damaged soul of man.

Every man knows through his own interior experience that he is “wretched,” Pascal continues, “but he is truly great because he knows it.” Man knows he is wretched because he possesses an intellect; therefore, he is also able to do something intelligent about it. Man’s greatness resides in his power to change his situation.

Because Pascal understood the fundamental human condition of suffering, he had wise insight into the psychological barriers involved with conversion. One of those barriers, he says, is fear: “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true.” The eminent atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel gives credence to this observation:

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

What could be so scary about Christianity? One plausible answer might be the obligations, religious and moral, that logically follow if Jesus is God. Perhaps non-believers recognize that they would need to change, radically, if Christianity turned out to be true. And change tends to involve suffering in direct proportion.

When a potential Christian fixates on the cost of discipleship—on the cross to be borne—conversion to Christianity seems utterly painful and undesirable. It is only once he sees clearly what is to be won (everything, according to Pascal) that the suffering of change and giving up short-term desires appear worthwhile. Even those who are not altogether convinced of Christianity may come to see that the eternal attainment of the greatest Good is perhaps worth the wager.

One of the reasons my fellow countryman Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto psychologist, has influenced such a wide swath of people—Catholics and Protestants, believers and non-believers, men and women—is that he speaks hard truths about human nature with genuine conviction. Like Pascal, he doesn’t sugarcoat the indiscriminate reality of man’s wretchedness.

Like Pascal, Peterson only begins with suffering. Then he moves to commonsense solutions—not for eliminating suffering, but for living a meaningful life despite it. Peterson’s solutions are essentially practical in nature. Pascal, though, moves beyond the merely practical. His ultimate remedy for sin and suffering is not a mere strategy or archetypal interpretation of reality, but a real, personal Savior who is the incarnation of the all-loving God:

Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God or of ourselves.

Teachers like Peterson offer hope for this life, and that is good and necessary, but we desire an end to our sin and suffering, indeed victory over death itself—not mere coping skills. Christ alone offers the ultimate, all-sufficient solution.

The overall form of Pascal’s approach is nothing new. It is the same general plan of evangelization used by the apostles 2,000 years ago, when they set the world ablaze. It is essentially the program laid out in St. Paul’s epistles: all men are sinners (Rom 3:23); if Christ has not been raised, then we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17); but Christ has been raised (1 Cor. 15:20)! Therefore, whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life (John 3:16).

Pascal knew that faith working in love was the only way to the truest experience of happiness in this life; that a person can have all the coping strategies in the world, but if he has not uncompromising love for God and man, he has nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3, Gal. 5:6). Life is suffering, yes. But in the life to come there awaits eternal bliss that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived of (1 Cor. 2:9). For that reason, the Christian life is not marred by misery. It shines with joyful expectation.”

Love & His Joy, only He can give,

Suicide – Jn 11:25

-by Casey Chalk

“A new federal suicide prevention hotline has witnessed a significant increase in calls and texts, with 154,585 more calls, texts, and chat messages in November 2022 compared to the old national lifeline in November 2021, according to the Associated Press. This comes at a time when depression ratesoverdose deaths, and suicide rates have all exploded.

When people think about Catholicism and suicide, it is often through lenses informed less by magisterial teaching and more by popular portrayals of how the Church has responded to those who take their own lives. I remember, for example, once seeing a cinematic portrayal of Vlad the Impaler (later mythologized into Dracula) that showed his first wife killing herself. Vlad’s realization that the woman cannot be buried in consecrated ground and that eternal damnation is her punishment drives him into darkness and evil. Alternatively, today, priests have been disciplined for even suggesting that hell might be the result of death by suicide, and many presume that all those who commit it must be mentally ill and those incapable of mortal sin.

Catholics (and all Americans) need a more coherent understanding of suicide—one that not only addresses the above misconceptions, but also takes full account of the human person and better protects those who are most vulnerable to being persuaded that death is the only or the best option for themselves. Thankfully, Catholic teaching offers quite a bit of clarity on the topic of suicide, prioritizing our dignity as persons, as well as our inescapable indebtedness to the divine—the “God factor,” as it were.

To properly contextualize this conversation, we need to start with God. For it is to God, not ourselves, that we owe our lives. Human life—pace atheists or transhumanists—is not solely our own, nor some sort of material product, to do with as we see fit. Yes, we possess freedom via our will. But our lives originate in the divine—indeed, even our wills are in certain senses circumscribed, because we are free to choose not anything, but only those things that our corporeal, intellectual, physical, economic, historical, and geographic circumstances allow.

It is God Who created us and sustains us, at every moment of our lives, in His omnipotence and omnipresence. We are entirely His, whether we believe it and act like it or not. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of (2280).

That idea runs counter to our increasingly post-Christian culture, which elevates autonomy as the greatest of all virtues. It’s also in tension with our culture’s acceptance of in vitro fertilization and surrogacy, which treat children not as gifts, but products. Parents can “produce” babies with preferred genetic traits and even declare fetuses faulty if they have some debilitating genetic defect. In that sense, our dystopian future is already upon us.

Yet if we can accept that our lives are first God’s, rather than our own, then the danger of suicide becomes more easily apparent. By taking our own life, we are destroying something that is not ours to destroy. Only God, in his infinite (if often obscure) wisdom and justice, has the right to take human life, or confer on his creatures that right (e.g., self-defense or just war).

There is more than this to the evil of suicide. Suicide, as St. John Paul II would say, encourages a “culture of death” that affects everyone. The Catechism explains:

Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God (2281).

It’s not just that suicide undermines love of God. It also undermines love of neighbor, the second greatest commandment. As Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper argued, each of us has obligations to one another, or pietas. We have obligations to parents, siblings, children, friends, neighbors, and fellow parishioners and citizens. We are obliged to love and serve them, and even communicate the love of Christ to them. In killing ourselves, we repudiate those duties.

To anticipate one likely objection, we should remember that this duty is reciprocal. In other words, our parents, siblings, children, friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and fellow citizens all have obligations to us, too. In destroying ourselves, we deny them the opportunity to love and serve us, especially when we are most in need of it. When we are depressed or diseased, or have some terrible, perhaps even terminal condition, that is precisely when those around us are most expected to exemplify both virtues on our behalf. If we are a burden, it is for their good.

It’s true that the Catholic Church has acknowledged that “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (§2282). Yet we should not allow that reality to persuade us into an indifference toward the dangerous threat posed by a culture that permits and even encourages suicide. The Catechism also teaches, “If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law” (2282). It is horrible indeed when some prominent figure or celebrity kills himself, inspiring their acolytes to consider the same fate.

Given the increasing frequency of suicide in our nation, readers may know someone, even a loved one, who has committed suicide. I know a few, including a close relative I never got to meet. It is a real possibility that such troubled persons are in hell, and that is a harrowing thought, indeed. But we cannot know the thoughts of the deceased, who may have repented even as they died, or may have lacked full knowledge of what they were doing. The Catechism itself gives us hope:

We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives (2283).

As serious (and evil) a thing as suicide may be, there remains reason to hope in a merciful God. Like so many other complicated areas of life, Catholic teaching navigates a middle path between unreserved contempt for those who kill themselves and, alternatively, eliding the real culpability we have for our decisions, even when there are mitigating circumstances.

Whether we have contemplated it ourselves or know someone who has, we must reject the lie that tells us our lives are solely our own, to keep or kill as we wish. It is a blessing, not a curse, that we are God’s from birth to death.”

Love, Jesus save me,

Evil is the absence of Good

“As a corruption of the will, sin is, strictly speaking, a type of nonbeing…liberty is the capacity to choose among a variety of options without any extrinsic compulsion. It is sovereign choice and self-determination. But on a more classical and biblical reading, liberty is not so much free choice—though it involves this—as it is the disciplining of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless. Thus, we speak of a person coming to play the piano freely or to speak a language freely. Such liberty has not a thing to do with radical self-determination, but rather is a function of internalizing the rules of the relevant discipline to such a degree that they become second nature. As John Paul II said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” So God, the Supreme Good, nonviolently draws His rational creatures to His own purposes by proposing modes of the good to them, and prompting those creatures to internalize them. In this process, He makes them more—not less—free. To grasp this principle of God’s non-coercive providence is to understand the heart of Christian moral theology and spirituality.

Perhaps the most vexing theological issue of all—indeed what some consider the neuralgic point from which all of theology develops—is the question of evil, of why wickedness and suffering exist in a universe that the infinitely good God has made and that he continually directs. In one of the objections to the claim that God exists, articulated in the famous second question of the Summa theologiae, Aquinas writes, “If one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word ‘God’ means that he is infinite goodness. If therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.” In its very laconicism and concision, it is a very powerful argument indeed, and it gives precise expression to what many, many people today feel but cannot quite articulate.

In providing a response to this objection, the great tradition has made a few indispensable moves. The first—which constituted a major discovery for the young Augustine—is that evil is not a positive force opposing the good, but rather a sheer negativity, a privation of being, the lack of a good that ought to be present. It is crucial to grasp that one can think of good apart from evil, but not vice versa, for to consider evil is, necessarily, to consider the good which it corrupts or compromises…And this implies that God never “creates” or “produces” evil; it cannot be ascribed to Him as to a cause and it, in no sense, stands against God as an ontological rival. Since evil is always parasitic upon the good, all forms of Manichaeism and other metaphysical dualisms that posit coequal forces of good and evil are ruled out. We therefore should speak not of God causing evil but of God’s permission of evil within the confines of His creation.

But still the question remains, why would God do such a thing? Why would God permit the evil that assuredly plagues the world on a massive scale? The standard answer is that God does so in order to bring about some greater good, which could not have been accomplished otherwise. Even a superficial examination of our own experience reveals that there is something to this way of thinking. Without the painful and invasive surgery, the health of a person’s body would never have been restored; without failing in one area of life, [the motivation towards] success in another might never have occurred; without the excoriating speech from another one cares about, one might never have realized his/her full potential; etc.

Still, many people, though they might accept this explanation in principle, have a difficult time seeing its application in every case on the ground. How could we ever “justify” the horrific suffering of the innocent through appeal to some ultimate end? Anyone with a modicum of human feeling senses the brutal power of this great counter-argument to the existence of God. David Hume offered a somewhat more elaborated version of the pithy syllogism of Aquinas. The eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher said that, if evil exists, God cannot be, simultaneously, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. For if he knew about evil, could do something to stop it, and would want to stop it, it would not exist. Anyone who, in the face of terrible suffering, has looked imploringly to God and wondered why He is not acting is feeling the press of this demonstration.

For this line of thought to be successful, one would have to assume a godlike grasp of practically all of space and all of time. The major premise of the proof is that there are types of evil and suffering that can never in principle be justified through appeal to a good that might come as a result. But in order definitively to say that a given state of affairs has no possible justification, one would have to see every conceivable implication and consequence and circumstance, stretching out indefinitely into the future. But no finite subject could ever claim such all-embracing consciousness. Demonstrating this was, of course, the principal burden of the book of Job. That God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind signals that the divine purposes are always, for the most part, obscure to us. How could it be otherwise? When speaking of the divine cause, we are referencing the unconditioned reality, Whose mind is without limit and whose providential scope is unrestricted. Claiming that we can prove a negative in regard to the ultimate meaningfulness of a conditioned state of affairs is as ludicrous as a child of four confidently asserting that his parents’ decisions are baseless or a neophyte in mathematics declaring that a page of trigonometric calculations is nothing but gibberish. Hence, God reduces Job to silence by reminding him of how much he cannot even in principle understand of the world that God has made and over which God presides.

Job Chapter 38

1 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.
He said:
2 “Who is this that obscures My plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer Me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell Me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.

16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.

19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?

31 “Can you bind the chains[b] of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom[f]
or gives the rooster understanding?[g]
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard
and the clods of earth stick together?

39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?

Job Chapter 39

1 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
2 Do you count the months till they bear?
Do you know the time they give birth?
3 They crouch down and bring forth their young;
their labor pains are ended.
4 Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
they leave and do not return.

5 “Who let the wild donkey go free?
Who untied its ropes?
6 I gave it the wasteland as its home,
the salt flats as its habitat.
7 It laughs at the commotion in the town;
it does not hear a driver’s shout.
8 It ranges the hills for its pasture
and searches for any green thing.

9 “Will the wild ox consent to serve you?
Will it stay by your manger at night?
10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness?
Will it till the valleys behind you?
11 Will you rely on it for its great strength?
Will you leave your heavy work to it?
12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain
and bring it to your threshing floor?

13 “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
though they cannot compare
with the wings and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider.

19 “Do you give the horse its strength
or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
20 Do you make it leap like a locust,
striking terror with its proud snorting?
21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,
and charges into the fray.
22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;
it does not shy away from the sword.
23 The quiver rattles against its side,
along with the flashing spear and lance.
24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground;
it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’
It catches the scent of battle from afar,
the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
and spread its wings toward the south?
27 Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
a rocky crag is its stronghold.
29 From there it looks for food;
its eyes detect it from afar.
30 Its young ones feast on blood,
and where the slain are, there it is.”

Job Chapter 40

1 The Lord said to Job:

2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?
Let him who accuses God answer Him!”

3 Then Job answered the Lord:

4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to You?
I put my hand over my mouth.
5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”

6 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:

7 “Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer Me.

8 “Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
9 Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like His?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
12 look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
13 Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
14 Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you.

15 “Look at Behemoth,
which I made along with you
and which feeds on grass like an ox.
16 What strength it has in its loins,
what power in the muscles of its belly!
17 Its tail sways like a cedar;
the sinews of its thighs are close-knit.
18 Its bones are tubes of bronze,
its limbs like rods of iron.
19 It ranks first among the works of God,
yet its Maker can approach it with his sword.
20 The hills bring it their produce,
and all the wild animals play nearby.
21 Under the lotus plants it lies,
hidden among the reeds in the marsh.
22 The lotuses conceal it in their shadow;
the poplars by the stream surround it.
23 A raging river does not alarm it;
it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth.
24 Can anyone capture it by the eyes,
or trap it and pierce its nose?

Job Chapter 41

1 “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?
2 Can you put a cord through its nose
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
3 Will it keep begging you for mercy?
Will it speak to you with gentle words?
4 Will it make an agreement with you
for you to take it as your slave for life?
5 Can you make a pet of it like a bird
or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?
6 Will traders barter for it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?
7 Can you fill its hide with harpoons
or its head with fishing spears?
8 If you lay a hand on it,
you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
9 Any hope of subduing it is false;
the mere sight of it is overpowering.
10 No one is fierce enough to rouse it.
Who then is able to stand against me?
11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.

12 “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs,
its strength and its graceful form.
13 Who can strip off its outer coat?
Who can penetrate its double coat of armor[b]?
14 Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
ringed about with fearsome teeth?
15 Its back has[c] rows of shields
tightly sealed together;
16 each is so close to the next
that no air can pass between.
17 They are joined fast to one another;
they cling together and cannot be parted.
18 Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
its eyes are like the rays of dawn.
19 Flames stream from its mouth;
sparks of fire shoot out.
20 Smoke pours from its nostrils
as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.
21 Its breath sets coals ablaze,
and flames dart from its mouth.
22 Strength resides in its neck;
dismay goes before it.
23 The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
they are firm and immovable.
24 Its chest is hard as rock,
hard as a lower millstone.
25 When it rises up, the mighty are terrified;
they retreat before its thrashing.
26 The sword that reaches it has no effect,
nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
27 Iron it treats like straw
and bronze like rotten wood.
28 Arrows do not make it flee;
slingstones are like chaff to it.
29 A club seems to it but a piece of straw;
it laughs at the rattling of the lance.
30 Its undersides are jagged potsherds,
leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.
31 It makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron
and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.
32 It leaves a glistening wake behind it;
one would think the deep had white hair.
33 Nothing on earth is its equal—
a creature without fear.
34 It looks down on all that are haughty;
it is king over all that are proud.”

At the close of God’s speech in the book of Job, by far the longest oration of God in the Bible, the Lord invokes two of His greatest and most hidden of creatures: Behemoth and Leviathan. Hebrew experts tell us that the meaning of the underlying terms are ambiguous, but they probably refer to a hippopotamus or rhinoceros in the first case and a whale in the second, or perhaps some mythic combination of these. But despite their wonderful ferocity, they are utterly under God’s control, for one is on a leash and the other has a ring through its nose. The point is this: everything in God’s creation, even those powerful creatures that are largely hidden to us, operate according to God’s providence; and furthermore, the Lord loves these bizarre and frightening creatures just as He loves us human beings: “Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you.”

So why does God permit evil? We can answer the question correctly and adequately only at the most abstract level. “To bring about a greater good” is a legitimate response, but as to the details of that relationship, how precisely this particular evil conduces to a particular good or set of goods, we cannot possibly say. However, our incapacity to respond to that more exacting question should not tell against the divine providence; it should awaken in us a certain humility before the purposes of God.”

-Barron, Robert . Light from Light (p. 34-38). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.

Love & blessings,

Evil proves God’s existence

-by Pat Flynn

“Maybe you’ve heard about the problem of evil (theodicy). It’s an argument atheists like to use to refute the existence of God. Why, they ask, would a good God allow such horrible things to happen so often to innocent people? And there’s no shortage of tragedy they can cite to back up their claim.

But what if evil is evidence for rather than against the existence of God?

This is not to say evil is untroublesome. Evil impacts all of us, likely far more than we can even imagine. But philosophy is about getting to the truth of things, and the truth—at least as I have come to see it—is that evil raises the likelihood of God.

To start, imagine the following scenario, which I borrow from philosopher Tim McGrew. (I am also borrowing ideas from other philosophers in this article, including Joshua Rasmussen and Edward Feser.) You are walking in the woods and stumble upon what appears to be an abandoned cabin. The outside looks decrepit: there is moss, the front door is barely hanging on, and whatever else. But then you peer inside and notice that there’s is a cup of tea steeping. Immediately, you revise your hypothesis from the cabin being abandoned to the cabin being occupied. Why? Because a steeping cup of tea is better predicted and explained by—that is, far more probable on—the hypothesis that the cabin is occupied, notwithstanding the cabin’s condition.

Here is an important feature of this line of reasoning. It does not matter if you cannot assign a specific probability to the likelihood that any given occupied cabin will have a cup of tea steeping in it. It also does not matter if you think the probability of such an occurrence is low or even exceptionally low. What matters is what you believe the probability to be of finding a cup of steeping tea in an occupied cabin versus an abandoned one—for even if you believe that the probability of finding steeping tea is low in any given occupied cabin, surely the probability is far lower in any given abandoned cabin, whatever those specific probabilities are.

So the discovery of steeping tea in any cabin gives great evidence for that cabin being occupied rather than abandoned—in fact, such great evidence that it causes you to be virtually certain that the cabin is occupied. The steeping tea didn’t come about from a fortuitous set of non-intelligent circumstances, like wind blowing plus an earthquake and a lightning strike.

What is the probability that God, if God exists, would create a world like ours with the amount of evil we encounter, like the threat of nuclear war and babies dying and fawns burning in forest fires? Perhaps we think the probability is low—that, given that God is all good, he would not create a world with as much evil as ours. Let’s grant the assumption for now that the probability is low—maybe even exceptionally low, like one or two percent. If so, then do evil and suffering count against the existence of God?

Well, no. Not necessarily, anyway—that is, not unless we see how much we would expect evil on some alternative hypothesis, like atheism (naturalism).

Here is where the story takes an interesting turn: however low we think the occurrence of evil would be given the existence of God, it is, in fact, far lower (if not impossibly low) given the non-existence of God—so much lower that the occurrence of evil provides evidence for, rather than against, God’s existence, like how the cup of steeping tea gives evidence for the occupied cabin.

First is this. To call something evil—that is, really and truly bad (not just a matter of opinion)—we require a moral standard. With no moral standard, nothing can fail to be or do what it should or could have done, and there’s no basis for calling anything evil. Further, to make moral judgments about whether things can objectively fall short, we need conscious agents living in communities and engaged in reasoning about moral realities. What’s more, for there to be any of what we just described, we need some explanation of why there is anything at all and not nothing instead. So evil itself is contingent—it depends upon there being a moral standard, rational agents, moral communities, a contingent universe, etc. We can now ask: would I be more likely to expect these data points and experiences on theism or atheism (naturalism)?

To the first point, theism locks in a moral standard, since God is the subsistent good itself. And if theism is true, then a moral standard is true—God himself. Atheism seems to lack any such standard, because atheism holds that fundamental reality is just amoral physical stuff. How could such stuff as that ever produce a moral standard? It seems impossible that dust, particles, etc. could configure into an objective moral standard, regardless of time or complexity, but even if it is not impossible, surely, it is fantastically improbable.

Perhaps this is why many atheists—the consistent ones, anyway—are nihilists. Atheistic philosopher Alex Rosenberg, for example, calls out his more “teary-eyed” naturalist colleagues for not following their position through to the nihilistic outcome concomitant with it: “Most of those who fear Darwin’s dangerous idea reject it owing to their recognition that it is a universal acid, eating through every available argument for the values people cherish. We differ from those who fear Darwinism because we believe it is true. But we do not think we can or need hide our countenances from the nihilism it underwrites.”

(As a brief aside, Rosenberg is too quick to assume that Darwinism implies nihilism; rather, it is Darwinism atop an assumed—and I would argue demonstrably false—naturalistic metaphysics that implies nihilism. Darwinism itself is something one can be neutral about, ethically speaking.)

What’s more, God could have reason to create rational conscious agents and put them together in moral communities, just like what we see. Atheism lacks explanatory resources here as well, particularly for how rational conscious agents came about from stuff that is once again fundamentally non-rational, non-conscious, unintentional, disparate, etc. If there’s no God to form Adam out of dust, then dust seems to be the wrong sort of material from which minds, and especially rationality, would coincidentally arise. Perhaps it is possible—just as finding a cup of tea in an abandoned cabin is possible (broadly logically speaking) without positing the involvement of people—but it seems far less probable that rational agents living in moral communities would emerge on atheism than theism.

Here is the short of it. The problem of evil points toward the existence of God—the God hypothesis, as it were—because if atheism were true, I would not expect there to be any evil at all, just as I would not expect steeping tea in an abandoned cabin, precisely because I would not expect there to be a contingent universe (frankly, I would expect nothing), a moral standard, moral obligations upon conscious rational agents, and so on. But because there is evil and because theism better predicts or explains those things needed to make sense of evil, then evil provides great evidence for the existence of God.

There is more to be explored on this issue, including why God would create a world with the amount and types of evil we see, but what has been said so far should encourage us to explore such questions as theists. That is all that is needed to diffuse the problem of evil—or if it remains a problem, then it is a problem only for atheism.

His love,

John Calvin’s total depravity. Why does evil exist?

-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, he presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts such as Genesis 6:5—“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”—and Romans 3:10ff—“None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one ”—to prove that man is utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve.

Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 26).

What say we?

The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrates the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . . Noah was a righteous [“just”] man, blameless in his generation” (Gen. 6:8-9). While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God, nevertheless Noah was truly just, according to the text.

As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we become truly just:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).


For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death . . . in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:2,4).

Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is made truly just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!

Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.

Moreover, if we examine the verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are:

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

The Psalmist clearly refers to both evildoers and the righteous.

These and other passages from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions and, indeed, they themselves are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr., ho poion tein dikaiousunein/ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην—“the one doing justice”) is righteous (Gr., dikaios estin/δίκαιός ἐστιν—“is just”) as He is righteous (Gr., kathos ekeinos dikaios estin/καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν—“as He is just”). -1 Jn 3:7

Scripture couldn’t be clearer that the faithful are made truly just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.

The problem magnified

More grave problems arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate, Calvin is wrong about total depravity, because Scripture tells us even those outside of the law can “do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).

Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for those who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words, this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved, because man can clearly act justly on a natural level and by nature.

But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just.

“Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, bk. III, ch. 9, para. 9). What a far cry this is from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist, who uses similar words as found in Genesis with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). In the Psalms we read: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation” (Ps. 106:30-31).

Clearly, Phineas was justified by his works and not only by faith. In other words, Phineas’s works are truly “just as he is just,” to use the words of I John 3:7.

There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but here are only three:

“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”? (Matt. 12:37).

“By works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).

These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!

We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4) by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works are truly just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.

Understanding the strange

When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (cf. Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct: We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving, because there is meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.

With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free will has no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; He operates them.

In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity: Man is essentially God’s puppet, a notion that led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.

And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:

Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that He directs their malice to whatever end He pleases” (Institutes, bk. I, ch. XVIII, para. 1).

Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (ibid., para. 4)!

Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 are used to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (ibid., para. 2).

God is the author of all those things that, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (ibid., para. 3).

As Catholics we understand, as St. Paul teaches, “[S]ince they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom. 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.”

But according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good.

God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:8, Numbers 23:19); “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that He can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, He cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to His nature.

The bottom line

When Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which was morally upright and justified.

We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that He chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God permits evil only in view of His promise to bring good out of that evil, as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world: the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good: the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ.

But by virtue of His Omnipotence, He brings good out of the evil acts committed.”

-by Fr. David Meconi, SJ

“There is a certain convenience in the Calvinistic tendency to consider oneself “totally depraved.” If this were truly one’s condition, one would never need to ask forgiveness for any particular sin. There is no specific sin to name and no specific sin to avoid next time. There is no need to grow in self-knowledge, no rush to ask for the grace to overcome any one vice, no circumstance or moment to talk about and pray over the next day. If everything is a grave sin, then somehow nothing is a grave sin. As a result, even the sincerest followers of Jesus need never admit (or confess) anything particular. Moreover, our Savior’s own words—“Therefore, he who delivered me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11b)—would prove false. Even Christ’s warning that Sodom’s sin was more tolerable than the rejection he encountered at Capernaum (Matt. 11:22-24) would ring untrue.

But this way of looking at sin is not in Sacred Scripture nor is it the way any of Christ’s ancient Church approached sinful humanity’s need for grace. The apostles and Gospel authors understood well that some sins are clearly graver than others. For instance, John gives us an insight into how to navigate our way when looking at our own brokenness:

If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal (1 John 5:16-17).

The Latin here for a mortal sin is mortalis, and the great Christian Tradition has named the contrary to that scriptural warrant venialis, a common word meaning “not deadly” or even “pardonable,” that which is much lighter than mortalis. As such, the distinction between mortal and venial sin is not some medieval invention but a 2,000-year-old apostolic warrant by which Christ inspires us to take note of our sins and find the appropriate response in Him.”


Job 30:20-22

“Why does God give light to one who is in misery,
and life to those whose soul is bitter,
to those who wait for death that does not come,
and search for it
more than for hidden treasures,
who rejoice even to jubilation,
and are exultant when they find the grave?
-Job 30:20-22

“It’s often difficult for those who have never experienced depression to imagine a feeling of utter emptiness, the collapse of the will to live, the devastating loss of self-worth that fills the heart of the person who seeks to live with the heavy burden of depression or mental illness. I remember the early days of illness that transformed my once happy and ambitious dreams into clouds that faded on the horizon, leaving behind the dull grey ache of loneliness and isolation. We are fragile things. God knows how much we need his strength, particularly in times when sadness and grief rob us of the joy of life and the will to live. God is the one, I discovered, who heals the brokenhearted, who wipes away our tears, who binds up our wounds, who helps us fly again. There was simply no way through my pain but to hold my beloved Father’s hand.

The darkness engulfed and suffocated everything…I still prayed even though it seemed useless. But one day Jesus’ message shouted through the weltering gloom that He too had experienced the same darkness on the cross. Those last moments were actually the depth of darkness for Him, feeling even His Father disowned Him. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find life in this inspiration. I couldn’t believe that his situation could touch mine.

Depression was a swirling black hole that sucked me in until I was in well over my head and drowning. The energy needed to fight against it was immense and at times I just let it take over. I was so tired…I don’t know how to feel happy anymore.

I can relate when I hear them. Though my experience of depression has been different, and though each person’s symptoms of depression and struggle to survive are unique, it is not difficult if we’ve suffered with depression to resonate with the story of inner sorrow when someone shares it with us.

What Is Depression?

Depression has been called the “common cold” of mental disorders. Everyone experiences situations or events in their life that make them sad for a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months. A death, a move, a change of job, graduating from college, or a loss of a pet can be painful and sad, but the feelings are relatively short lived and not permanent. Even positive experiences for some can be followed by a feeling of letdown. Depression, on the other hand, interferes with daily life and causes great distress for you and those around you for an extended period of time. Though depression is a common illness, it is a serious one and should be treated with the same care with which you would handle any other medical condition. Depression affects more than your feelings. It affects your body, mood, thoughts, and the way you feel about yourself. It affects the way you eat and sleep. It influences your perspective on life, on yourself, and regarding others. Sadness is only a small part of depression. In fact, some people with depression do not feel sadness at all. A person with depression may also experience many physical symptoms, such as aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems. Someone with depression may also have trouble with sleeping, [Ed. I have anxiety, too, so I have nightmares that awaken me violently, and so take a PTSD drug] waking up in the morning, and feeling tired.

-Hermes, Kathryn. Surviving Depression, 3rd Edition: A Catholic Approach . Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition.

I believe, Lord, but let me believe more firmly.
I hope, Lord, but let me hope more surely.
I love, Lord, but let me love more warmly.
I repent, Lord, but let me repent more deeply.
St. Anthony Mary Claret

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice
and my supplications. Because He inclined His ear to me,
therefore I will call on Him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”
-Ps 116: 1-4

I remember taking communion from a lay minister who came on Sunday to a place where I could be helped, and rather than “Amen”, I said, “Jesus, save me.” The lay minister seemed to approve of that, and from that day on I promised myself in my heart I would always save “Jesus, save me” when taking communion. I still do. Jesus, save me.

I think to truly understand, as it should be understood and appreciated and celebrated, praised, Resurrection/Redemption, we have to die many times in our lives. Resurrection must pass from intellect to the gut, and it is this necessarily repeated process, and grace, which allows it, to be saved. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…on repeat. Even if you don’t believe, or having a tough time doing so, at least have a crucifix, gaze upon Him from time to time in life. Hold it, tightly. I do. Like the fragrance of flowers, grace and faith will come.

If you’ve ever walked into a space where flowers were in abundance, that fragrance can be overpowering, practically knocking you from your feet.

Love & hope,

The evil of human suffering

Even in Eastertide…

-by Peter Kreeft, PhD

“Suffering is not like technology or fashions in clothing or architecture. Suffering is like childbirth or sunlight. It is one of the unchanging features of the human condition.

It’s easy to rediscover God in a moment of crisis and lose him again as life regains normalcy. But any piety that depends on circumstances is a house built on sand. Circumstances change, and at death all will change at once by disappearing, leaving each of us with the only two realities we can never escape, to all eternity: ourselves and God. These are the two essential foci of our lives; everything else is circumstance circling around them, like planets orbiting a double star or like the albumen surrounding a double yolk.

Though truth is our mind’s natural food, sin has made it “natural” (or rather, normal) for us to be so unnatural as to lose our appetite for it. And so we forget or ignore God until a large and sudden crisis looms and then forget him again when it passes.

This habit is the opposite of the good habit, or virtue, of piety. Piety moves us to give—first of all to God, then to our parents, ancestors, country, and all in authority over us—the reverence and respect that is due to them. It is a part of justice, and like every virtue, it is an application to a specific area of virtue’s most general rule, the rule of the three R’s: right response to reality.

Our habitual forgetfulness of piety is probably one of the reasons we suffer. It prevents a God who is not only infinitely more good but also infinitely more loving, and not only infinitely more loving but also infinitely more kind and compassionate than we can conceive, from letting us have the settled contentment we crave. We need crises, for we have spiritual sleeping sickness and need frequent alarms. God, therefore, stoops to conquer—stoops to use crude measures like national crises to remind us of our permanent needs and our constant situation.

In fact, suffering and even crisis is our normal situation. The bubble of pain-free and ordered living that we modern Americans think of as our normal state is highly abnormal judged by historical standards. In most cultures throughout human history, people could expect to experience monthly about the same amount of physical pain most of us encounter in a lifetime. Remember, for instance, that anesthetics and pills were invented only about a century ago.

This is probably one of the reasons why people in scientifically advanced cultures tend to be more secular and people in scientifically primitive cultures tend to be more religious: not because religion is based on scientific ignorance or because any scientific discovery has ever disproved a single doctrine of the Christian faith; but because science’s child, technology, has conquered or mitigated so many of life’s pains and limitations that it has put us into this soundproofed bubble that God has to burst just to get our attention. As C.S. Lewis put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain).

Of course, God no more enjoys using this megaphone than a good human parent does. The fact that he does use it means one of two things: either we need all the pain we get, and it is for our own good and allowed only out of perfect (and perfectly wise) divine love; or else we do not need it and yet Omnipotence allows it—in which case Omnipotence is not Love.

To quote Lewis again, “Is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t” (A Grief Observed).

We might want to add two minor amendments to this argument. First, we might change Lewis’s necessary to good. The tortures of the saintly martyrs were not all strictly necessary for their salvation, but they must have been good for them in the long run, hollowing out hidden places in their souls that in heaven could “contain” more of the light and joy of the beatific vision.

Second, we might interpret Lewis’s use of the word we collectively rather than individually. Not all of my sufferings may be for my good; some may be for others’ good. And when I love those others as myself or more than myself (which I shall surely do in heaven, at least), then I shall rejoice as much or more in this vicarious use of my sufferings as I shall rejoice in whatever personal profits they yield to me. Vicarious atonement, the innocent suffering for the guilty, “my life for yours”: This great mystery lies at the very heart, at the very crux, of Christianity—and of reality, if Christianity is true.

It is a mystery, of course, not a proof. Apologetics can show that it is possible and show us clues in nature and in history that invite us to enter the mystery by a leap of faith. But it is a leap in the light, not a leap in the dark.

The clues abound. All of nature operates by the principle of “my life for yours”—you never ate a hamburger or conceived a baby without it. And all of history and fiction is full of heroic Christ-figures who pluck a string deep in our heart when we hear of them. Who but a fool would call Sidney Carton a fool at the end of A Tale of Two Cities? “It is a far, far better thing I do than ever I have done; it is a far, far better place I go than I have ever been.”

What Can We Know of God’s Character?

The problem of suffering raises two major problems for apologetics: the existence of God and the nature, or character, of God. In Scripture, the first problem never arises. Only “the fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). It is the second problem the Bible claims to shed light on—light not obvious, perhaps not even available, to human reason. It is obvious from nature that God is real and intelligent and powerful; it is not obvious to everyone that he is good.

Human history manifests three basic concepts of God’s nature, and the problem of evil—which includes the problem of suffering—is a touchstone that sharply distinguishes them.

On the one hand, there is paganism, with its many gods and goddesses, none of which is all-wise and all-powerful. None of these gods controls all of nature or all of human life because none of them created it. The idea of the creation of the entire universe out of nothing by a single omnipotent God is an idea that has never occurred to any known religion throughout history except that of the Jews (who claim it was revealed by God) and those who learned from the Jews, mainly Christians and Muslims.

Paganism (as I am using the term)—the notion that God is not (or the gods are not) omnipotent—is far from dead. One form of it is “process theology,” which claims that God is in process, in change, is still growing, still evolving, and is not yet powerful enough to conquer all evil.

Another form of paganism is pop psychology (which, judging by the shelves of bookstores, is America’s favorite religion). Paul Vitz says that modern America is the most polytheistic culture in history: It worships not thousands of gods but 260 million.

A religion with a God or gods who are not able to conquer evil can still have some God or gods who want to, who is or are all-good. This allows us to love God, rather like a big brother, but not wholly to trust him to conquer evil. (Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People is an example of this solution to the problem of suffering.)

A second religious option, more Eastern than Western in origin, is pantheism. The god of pantheism, unlike the god or gods of paganism, does not confront any forces outside himself (or itself) simply because there is nothing outside god. Pan-theism means that everything is god and god is everything. God never created a universe. Pantheism is not only false, it is 15 billion years behind the times: it has not heard the good news of the Big Bang.

Pantheism solves the problem of evil simply and radically: it declares that God is equally present in both good and evil. He has a dark side, like the Force in Star Wars. Vishnu the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer are equal manifestations of Brahman, “the One without a second” in Hinduism. Transposed into biblical terms, this means that Satan is not God’s enemy but part of God himself.

The other form of pantheism says that God is equally absent from both good and evil—that the distinction between good and evil is created by unenlightened human consciousness. In both forms, god is not the God of the Bible, where “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). The god of pantheism, like the gods of paganism, is very American. He is nonjudgmental. He does not discriminate between good and evil.

This notion of God allows us to love God only if we are either pop psychologists who have sunk below moral discrimination or mystics who (claim to) have risen above it.

The third notion of God is that of Judeo-Christian-Muslim theism: God is both all-powerful, unlike the gods of paganism, and all-good, unlike the God of pantheism. This notion of God raises the problem of why the righteous suffer to new heights of difficulty. It seems that God either must lack the will to right all wrongs or the power to do so. For if he wants to conquer and eliminate all evil, and if he can do whatever he wants, it seems to follow that there should be no evil.

The evil of sin can be explained by human free will. But what of the evil of suffering, especially unjust, undeserved suffering? If there is God, why is there Job?

There are only two possibilities: either God is wrong or we are. Either these sufferings are not good or they are. Either we do not need them and yet God allows them, in which case he is either wicked or weak or stupid; or we do need them, in which case “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, KJV). All things, even the most horrendous and inexplicable tragedies.

We live by faith, not by sight. If we live by sight, we will probably conclude when tragedy strikes, “So that’s what God is like. Deceive yourself no longer.” If we live by faith, by trust, by “the fear of the Lord [that] is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), we will conclude that God is the one who knows what is good for us and that we are the ones who don’t, rather than vice versa. (Is that an unreasonable conclusion?)

In Arabic, the word for this attitude of trusting submission of our will to God’s, the word for this thing that is the beginning of wisdom and the essence of piety and the heart of all true religion, is islam.

The history of religions if full of ironies. In the name of the religion that is named after this solution to the problem of unjust suffering, some who call themselves Muslims created a vast new explosion of the problem of unjust suffering. Islam also means “the peace that results from submission.” (It is etymologically akin to the Hebrew shalom. ) It is the peace that comes only from submission to God’s will. This is the “peace the world cannot give.”

T.S. Eliot says that Dante’s line “in his will, our peace” is the single most profound line in all literature. What is ironic now is that in the name of the religion whose very name connotes peace, young Palestinians commit suicide to murder Jews in order to derail the peace process.

God and Evil: Either/Or?

The other apologetic question raise by suffering, the existence of God, is more familiar, and deservedly so because if there is no God then both apologetics and theology are not just changed but eliminated.

Suffering, and evil in general, is the only argument atheists ever point to that seems to refute the existence of God. Other arguments seek to put God in question (e.g., the very concept of God is not meaningful); or claim that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, like the Abominable Snowman; or point out the foibles of theists (e.g., people who believe in God supposedly commit more murders, proportionately, than atheists); or point out the practical disadvantages of theism (e.g., interference with one’s sex life); or show that belief can be explained without God (e.g., Freudian psychology). But there is no other logically persuasive argument that concludes God does not exist from any other premise than the existence of evil.

When Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa, he found at least three serious objections to every one of the thousands of theses he argued for except the most important, foundational one of all—that God exists. Though he could find dozens of arguments for God’s existence (from which he selected five), he found only two against. One was the problem of evil. The other was the apparent adequacy of the natural and human science to account for all that we experience without God—which does not conclude “therefore there is no God” but only “therefore it is not necessary to suppose that there is a God.”

Aquinas’s formulation of the problem is: “If one of two contraries be infinite, the other is totally destroyed. But ‘God’ means infinite goodness. Therefore if God exists, no evil should be discoverable in the world. But there is evil. Therefore God does not exist.”

The question is answerable: “As Augustine says, God would not allow any evil to exist unless out of it he could draw a greater good. This is part of the wisdom and goodness of God.”

Not only is the argument against God that appeals to the data of evil answerable, but this very same data (evil) that seems to count against God can be used as the premise of an argument for God in at least two ways.

One way is by reflecting on not evil itself but our knowledge of evil. How is it that we can judge a thing to be evil? Unless such judgments are all meaningless or false—unless the terrorist massacre of over three thousand innocent civilians isn’t really evil, and we are merely “judgmental” when we claim that it is—we must have some true knowledge of what is really evil. But this means that we must also have some true knowledge of what is really good. Without knowledge of the standard we cannot judge by that standard.

But the relative goods we know are measured by the standard of the absolute good. Just as eleven is two integers closer to infinity than nine, a saint is closer to ontological perfection than a worm. But nothing in the created world is absolute goodness. Therefore, unless we discount, subjectivize, or relativize all our judgments of good and evil—which is exactly the move the secularist makes to avoid this checkmate—there must be a God.

Another way of using evil to prove God is by noting that we protest evil. We hate evil, even when our pseudo-Christian ideologies tell us to hate nothing. Innately and inescapably, we desire good—all good—and fear evil—all evil. To fear evil is to desire good. But every innate, natural desire corresponds to a real object. We may desire unreal objects, like seeing the Land of Oz or being Superman or witnessing the Red Sox win game seven of a World Series, but we do not desire them innately and thus universally.

We do desire food, drink, sleep, sex, knowledge, beauty, and companionship innately and universally, and all these things exist. We also desire goodness—all kinds of goodness—innately and universally. But we desire goodness without limit. We are not wholly satisfied with finite goodness. We have a lover’s quarrel with the world, no matter how good or beautiful we find the world. In fact, this dissatisfaction with the world arises in us most poignantly when we experience the most, not the least, goodness in this world.

From these two premises that come from our own experience—that every innate desire corresponds to a real object and that we have an innate desire for unlimited good—we logically conclude that infinite goodness exists. But infinite goodness is another term for God. Only God is infinitely good. Therefore God exists.

There is one more argument from evil to God. It is quite eccentric, but it may be a valid argument. (I am not sure.) Let us assume there is no God. If there is no God, there is no Creator. If there is no Creator, there is no act of creation. If there is no act of creation, then the universe, or the sum total of all matter and energy, was not created. If the universe was not created, it was always here. There was no first moment. However many cycles of change, or catastrophic changes, or relatively big bangs there may have been, there was never any Big Bang, no absolutely first event. So there has already been infinite time. If we could take a time machine and journey into the past—which we probably cannot, even in principle, ever do physically, but which we can certainly do mentally—we would never come to an end (i.e., an absolute beginning).

So far, the argument seems logical. But we now add a premise that, while it may be unnecessary, is nevertheless a premise most atheists admit: namely, cosmic evolution. By this I mean not just the evolution of species of plants and animals on this planet by “natural selection” but evolution in the broader sense of progress in order throughout the cosmos.

From relatively undifferentiated matter (“star stuff”) emerge galaxies, solar systems, and life-supporting planets, and on these planets emerge increasingly complex and increasingly conscious forms of life until self-conscious, rational entities appear. Then, within the history of these entities, which we know firsthand on this planet as ourselves, there is further progress from barbarism, ignorance, and animal-like violence to enlightenment and peace.

Most atheists accept both these premises. But if both are true, why have we not yet reached perfection? The history of time is a history of progress, and there has been an infinite amount of time already; so why has progress reached only a finite level? Another way of posing this is: Why is there still evil? According to the atheistic premises, there should be no more evil already. But there is. Therefore one or both of these premises must be false.

Of course the atheist, faced with this argument, will probably modify his second premise, the one about progress, in order to save the first premise, the one about infinite time and no act of creation. So it is not an argument that refutes atheism as such, only “progressive atheism”—that is, atheism plus the idea of progress.

Another move made by the apologist—or rather by God himself in revealing this move, which found its way into the scriptures of all three Abrahamic religions—is to trace suffering back to sin. The story in Genesis 3, however literally or nonliterally it is interpreted, necessarily involves the distinction between these two kinds of evil, physical (suffering) and moral (sin) and connects them causally: We suffer because we sinned.

This we is not individual but collective. It is the human race, it is human nature itself, that must suffer and die, as a necessary, just punishment and inevitable consequence of sin.

The connection between sin and suffering is like the connection between jumping off a cliff and breaking your bones, or like the connection between overeating and obesity. It is not like the connection between not studying and getting an F or like the connection between stealing cookies and getting a spanking. It is a natural, intrinsic, necessary, and inevitable connection, not one set up by an outside authority and therefore revocable.

The reason for the connection between moral evil (sin) and physical evil (suffering) is the connection between the soul (psyche) and the body (soma), the psychosomatic unity. Once the soul declares its independence from God, the body declares its independence.

The soul’s authority over the body is a dependent authority. Its Creator and Designer delegates it. It is like the authority of a knight over his squire: If the knight rebels against the king, his squire is no longer bound to serve the knight.

(Thus the centurion who asks Jesus by the mere word of his command to heal his servant understands the chain of authority and who holds it when he says, “For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one ‘Go,’ and he goes” [Luke 7:8]. His soldiers know that the centurion is transmitting the authority of Caesar, lord of the world. The centurion has authority over his soldiers because he stands under, and submits to, the authority of Caesar. Similarly, Christ has authority over life and death because he transmits, stands under, and submits to the authority of his Father ]John 5:30]. Authority is always exercised through submission, for it is delegated, it is hierarchical.)

The unsolvable mystery of suffering is not why we must suffer, but why I must. The distribution of suffering is the mystery, not the existence of it. There is a general causal connection between sin and suffering, but not a particular one. This was not yet wholly clear in Jesus’ time, for his disciples asked him this question about the man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). They were surprised when Jesus answered, “Neither.”

Job’s three friends were also convinced that each individual received the sufferings his sins deserved; that is why they were convinced that Job, the greatest of sufferers, was the greatest of sinners. They were astounded when God said he was angry at them for not speaking rightly of him (Job 42:7).

But if God is all-just and all-powerful and all-knowing, it seems he must give each individual what he deserves.

But no. The best man who ever lived was the “Man of Sorrows.” Many Jews simply could not believe Jesus was the Messiah because he was covered with suffering and disgrace. This is a key to Job: As a Christ-figure he suffers not for his own sins but for the sins of others. Job atones for his three “friends” by sacrifice (Job 42:8), as does Christ for us.

In fact, the “righteousness of God,” or “justice of God” that Paul announces as the main theme of Romans (Rom. 1:17), the world’s first systematic Christian theology, is the atonement via the crucifixion. The only man who deserved no pain suffered the most—and this Paul calls God’s “justice.” Sin and suffering are connected, but not individually. Both original sin and vicarious atonement are mysteries of solidarity. For both are mysteries of heredity—the first physical, the second spiritual heredity (via the “new birth”).

Our being as humans is not only social but also familial. We are by essence not only environmental but also hereditary creatures. And heredity cannot be confined to biology and the body; it is spiritual as well, because we are not ghosts in machines or angels in disguise but rational animals with psychosomatic unity. Everything in the fathers is visited upon the children: physical and spiritual, cranial capacity and original sin, or original selfishness, which is observable in any infant.

Our incorporation into Christ is as psychosomatic as our incorporation into Adam. It is not faith alone, but faith and baptism, that makes us his, according to his own words: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). His blood shed for our sins came from Mary, the second Eve. Redemption, like sin, is psychosomatic, spiritual and physical at once. Unless Christ rose physically, he cannot save us spiritually (1 Cor. 15:17).

Such mysteries of solidarity as original sin and baptism are not the neat little nuggets of popular wisdom we expect. Like the history of science, the history of theology is littered with human expectations that reality has rejected and built largely of surprises that reality has revealed and our minds have boggled at.

Christian Wisdom about Suffering

Let us attempt to summarize, in a few propositions, the surprising Christian wisdom about suffering that we find in divine revelation and will not find in the New York Times, in self-help books, on Oprah, or in a consensus of “leading experts.”

1. Suffering is not a biological necessity. We were not created in a state of suffering. We suffer because we sinned, and we die because we sinned. God did not design us for death but for life, and he did not design us for suffering but for joy: the joy of sanctity, the bliss of self-forgetful love.

2. God has intervened miraculously in our history, and even in our very human nature, our essence. In Christ God added human life to himself so that in Christ man might add divine life to himself. This transforms our sufferings, and especially our death, which is the consummation of all our sufferings and losses. It transforms them into a means of salvation and sanctification and glorification. We may now say of suffering what the old hymn “Open Our Eyes” says of death: “Thou hast made death glorious and triumphant, for through its portals we enter into the presence of the living God.”

3. Because Christ entered into our sufferings, suffering is now a way of entering more deeply into Christ. We are never closer to Christ than when we share his cross.

4. This intimacy through suffering, when freely chosen, can bring about something exceedingly strange and wonderful: a deep, strong, and unmistakably authentic joy. To experience even little sprinkles of the joy of the saints is to praise the depth of the divine mercy in allowing us to share this unique and incomparable intimacy with Christ.

The difference between the Creator and the creature is incomparably greater than the difference between suffering and joy. That is why his sufferings are incomparably better than all the world’s joys—not because they are sufferings but because they are his. It is an utterly profitable bargain to accept his cross, because he is on it.

5. Suffering has become redemptive not only for the one who suffers but also for the ones for whom he suffers. Vicarious atonement is a mystery, but not an exception: We can share in it. If we are “in Christ” (that primary mystery of solidarity, of incorporation), we, like him, can offer up our sufferings to the Father—and he uses them. They become seeds, or rainwater, and something beautiful springs up that we seldom see in this life.

If you offer up your sufferings today, in faith, to the Master of the universe, then someone else, perhaps a hundred years and a thousand miles away, will have the strength to live and love and hope—and if not, not. There is no power in the universe greater than suffering love. Love without suffering is like water; suffering without love is like potassium; put them together and you get an explosion. That explosion shattered the chains of hell and opened the gates of heaven two thousand years ago. And it continues.

How does it work? In his movie Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen plays an atheist son of a Jewish family who in an argument asks, “If there is a God, why are there Nazis?” His father replies, “How should I know? I don’t even know how the can opener works.” The wisdom of Job: we don’t know. To quote C. S. Lewis again, ” When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer’…Like ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand’” (A Grief Observed).

We don’t have to understand; we have to trust and obey. To use Lewis again, “Now that I come to think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at all. I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them. . . . What’s left is not a problem about anything I could do. It’s all about weights of feelings and motives and that sort of thing. It’s a problem I’m setting myself. I don’t believe God set it to me at all” (ibid.).

God is less concerned with almost everything else than we are. Our feelings are our tyrants. All the saints tell us our feelings are less important than we think, and warn us not to rest our faith, our hope, our love, or our deeds on them. Surely God is far more compassionate than we are; but he has compassion on us, not on our feelings; on our sufferings, not on our feelings about them.

Our sufferings are, or can be, holy. Our feelings are not. Our choices to love and our deeds of love are holy. Our feelings of love are not. Feelings are indifferent to holiness (which is our end, our destiny, our fulfillment). But suffering is not indifferent to holiness. Suffering is essential to holiness.

In the two thousand years since he entered “the wild weather of his outlying provinces” (as George Macdonald put it) to show us the meaning of suffering, to enact the meaning suffering and of love, nothing essential has changed. Nothing has been added or subtracted from our essential human condition: not the Fall of Rome, not technology, not anesthetics—and not the fall of two tall buildings on 9-11-01.

But one essential change has happened. Christ’s coming and dying and rising has changed everything—or rather the meaning of everything. Especially the meaning of suffering.”


Eternal and temporal divine punishment – the Cross & efficacy of the suffering of the baptized

-“Christ on the Cross with Saints Vincent Ferrer, John the Baptist, Mark and Antoninus”, by Master of the Fiesole Epiphany (Italy, Florence, active circa 1450-1500), painting, tempera and oil (?) on panel, 72 3/4 x 79 3/4 in. (184.79 x 202.57 cm); framed: 120.0787 x 114.17 x 18.90 in. (305 x 290 x 48 cm); sight: 79 1/4 in. (201.295 cm), Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Please click on the image for greater clarity.

There is evidence in Scripture for the doctrine of temporal punishment to repair damage even after the sin is forgiven. Thus even though his sin of doubting God’s word had been forgiven, Moses was still not allowed to enter the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 32:51–52) David was forgiven his adultery with Bathsheba, but still he had to endure the pain of seeing the child die. (2 Samuel 12:1-23)

The punishments of sin

“CCC 1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life [Ed. mortal sin kills the life of grace within us], the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of (unthinking) vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. [Ed. the fulfillment of justice due to transgressions against God.  The state does not seek vengeance, but rather to fulfill justice, to the extent possible, and how one society understands, justice.] A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.84

CCC 1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin [Ed. through the superabundant sacrifice of Christ on the Cross], but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.” cf Eph 4:22, 24.”

Sin has TWO consequences since it offends God. As a bad analogy, if you throw something like a brick at a head of state, rather than someone on the lowest social rung, apologies to the inherent dignity of man, the offense is considered greater. If you offend God, since God is infinite, your offense is infinite, and cannot be redeemed…except by God.

Even when Christ had died and risen and redeemed us from our eternal punishment due to offending God, there is still the temporal justice. The car/money must be restituted to its rightful owner, the damage must be repaired/paid for, the prosecution/sentence of imprisonment must be served. This should make complete sense to us, this temporal punishment in this life. It is nothing other than what we try to achieve for victims each and every day. And, yet, we know justice is not allows perfect in this life nor proportionate it would seem. Where is the righteousness in that reality? As in all things, it lies with God. “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” -Lk 12:7. “Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” -Mt 5:26. God, by His promises, will bring ultimate justice to pass. Justice is a real mercy to the offended. Thomas Aquinas tells us one of the joys of the saved will be watching the punishment of the damned: ST., SUPPL., Q. 94.

-by Karlo Broussard

“….But simply waiting to arrive at the threshold of that door (of salvation) while I’m going through tremendous suffering here and now doesn’t seem to be much of a hopeful message.”

I agree. But God reveals that the path to the threshold is not one of waiting but an active participation in God’s providence of leading our own souls, and the souls of others, to salvation.

Consider how suffering can contribute to our obtaining eternal life. St. Paul teaches us that we can make our sufferings a sacrificial offering to God: “I urge you, brothers and sisters . . . to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1).

Christianity makes it possible for suffering to be used for good rather than wasted. When done through Jesus it can actually be transformed into an act of worship, and thus an act of love for God, which in turn will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven.

So we can love God through our suffering.

Moreover, when animated by love for God, suffering has the potential to conform us to Christ and make us more like him. As St. Peter says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.” (1 Pet. 2:21).

By uniting our suffering to Christ and offering it to God in self-sacrificial love we become like Christ, Who offered His suffering in self-sacrificial love so that we might receive the reward of eternal life.

In this ultimate gift, we see that suffering not only can play a role in our own salvation but also in helping others obtain salvation.

Consider, for example, what St. Paul says in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.”

The Church has never understood this to mean Christ’s death was insufficient on an objective level. As the Catechism says, Christ “makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience of Adam” (CCC 411; emphasis added; cf. Summa Theologiae III:48:2). Rather, Christ intends for us to actively participate in that part of his redemptive work in which we are able to share, namely making satisfaction for the debt of temporal punishment due to the sin.

Satisfaction is an act whereby a sinner, out of love, willfully embraces some form of suffering, whether imposed by God (e.g., illness, natural disaster) or self-imposed (e.g., fasting, abstinence from physical pleasures), in order to remit the debt of punishment due for sin.

But because we’re finite, and thus unable to make satisfaction for the eternal debt of sin, we can only make satisfaction for the temporal debt of sin. And it’s that aspect of satisfaction that Christ wills for us to actively participate in, not only for ourselves but also for others.

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that given the bond of charity among members of Christ’s Mystical Body, making us “all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28), “the work that is done for another becomes his for whom it is done: and in like manner the work done by a man who is one with me is somewhat mine” (ST Suppl. 71:1). St. Paul hints at this principle in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

The rewards for such works can’t pertain to the state of another person’s soul, such as putting him in a right relationship with God here on earth and beatitude in eternal life. But the rewards for these works done for another can pertain to remission of the debt of temporal punishment.

By virtue of the bond of charity, the satisfactory value of one Christian’s penitential works can be applied to another Christian for the remission of his or her debt of temporal punishment. Again, Aquinas explains,

“Since those who differ as to the debt of punishment, may be one in will by the union of love, it happens that one who has not sinned, bears willingly the punishment for another: thus even in human affairs we see [people] take the debts of another upon themselves” (ST I-II:87:7; emphasis added).”  [Ed. the Treasury of Merit]

Like Christ, we can suffer in the place of fellow members of Christ’s Mystical Body, enduring the pain merited by our brothers’ sins, and thus become “secondary and subordinate redeemers.”

This is what St. Paul meant in Colossians 1:24. For Paul, Christ wills to associate us with his redeeming work on the cross in applying the merits of his passion and death to others, at least with regard to the remission of temporal debt. And inasmuch as the debt of temporal punishment serves as an obstacle to one’s relationship with God, our efforts to help remove such debt for others contributes to their salvation.

So, the suffering wrought by Covid-19 might be a discordant note in God’s original score. But he’s revealed that with that discordant note he wills to write a whole new symphony. And we’re all called to be active participants in it.

We can trust that in the end the symphony will be a beauty to behold. And we’ll be able to say with Paul, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

Love, & Holy Thursday,

Offer it up – Is 55:8-9

-by Br Bertrand Hebert, OP

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. (-Isa 55:8)

Saint Thomas draws from various medieval authors (especially Saint Boethius) to explain why it is hard for man to comprehend God’s lofty perspective. To illustrate this difference in perspective, St. Thomas uses a simple analogy. Man is likened to someone traveling on a road that is along the side of a hill. He is only able to see what is a little behind him and before him—that is, some of the past and the present. This perspective differs drastically from someone who is standing on top of the hill. In a single glance, he is able to see all of these different perspectives of the traveler. Unlike the traveler, the one on the hill doesn’t have to wait for something down the road to come into his view; everything is already before him as if all of it were the present (ST Ia q. 14 a. 13 ad. 3). In a similar way, God sees all our past, present, and future in a single, all-encompassing glance.

Saint Thomas’s insight transforms the idea that we just have to “deal with” God’s providence into something more consoling: “God sees and is planning something beyond all of this.” However, every analogy limps; even so, this particular hobble ends up being helpful. God is not living on top of a hill with a far-removed and indifferent perspective on what is happening in the world of man. His higher and eternal perspective doesn’t prevent Him from having perfect knowledge of temporal things as well as Fatherly concern for the things we experience (Ps 8:5). After all, God, Himself, came into the world through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). Saint Paul reminds us here that God is intimately involved in our lives, even from His elevated state. In this relationship, He both governs the events that unfold on these winding roads, while also walking with us.

This last point clarifies Isaiah’s words above, and it further defends them from a disheartening interpretation. Although God is active in our lives, we can still say that He acts differently than us because, in a way far beyond our capacity, He governs with an attentive and loving concern for our greatest good. This good is ultimately found in God, Himself. He is concerned about matters from our perspective, but He also looks beyond them because he calls us to join Him in His own lofty heights.

This loftiness is what makes His ways different from ours. Even though His ways are different, we shouldn’t think they are worse. They are infinitely greater and better than our ways because they are the roads that ultimately lead us to Himself.”

Love & comfort, healing, grace,

Evil never delivers…

-Lady MacBeth, 2016

Except if it’s UberEats!!! 🙂

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” -Is 1:18

-by Br Cyril Stola, OP

“In a famous scene of a famous play, a semi-conscious Lady Macbeth wanders around the stage and feverishly rubs her hands together in an attempt to clean blood from them, blood which only she can see. Out of pride and lust for power, she had ascended to the throne by plotting the King of Scotland’s murder. Despite the success of her plan, the weight of sin and guilt drew her into madness. Thus, we see her struggling with the blood: “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,” “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” And yet the spot of blood remains. Nothing she does can clean them.

Her husband, Macbeth, once remarked to her, “For mine own good, all causes shall give way, I am in blood stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” He thought that killing a few more people would consolidate his power, but more bloodshed brought no peace. Such is the way of evil. Evil makes seemingly simple promises, but in return it always demands more and more. It never delivers.

Evil brought Lady Macbeth to despair. She is trapped by her deeds, and she has no hope. The blood that she had expected to give her a glorious crown gave her ruin, and she knows no redemption. Her hands are stained, seemingly forever.

Little does she know that there is, in fact, a blood capable of cleansing her hands. The saints, we are told, “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). They themselves sinned, but “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3:24-25).

God is a father who welcomes his prodigal children with fanfare and open arms. He is willing to forgive because He desires the children He created to be restored to their proper place: with Him. God does not accept irredeemable situations. He wants to forgive, and God’s forgiveness can be scandalous to us because He desires to forgive even the worst sins, sins for which no one else can make satisfaction. He only asks contrition of the heart, confession to one of his priests, and penance.

No one can reverse all of the consequences of their sins (Ed. in Catholic theology there is the guilt due to sin, which is remitted in the confession and absolution of sins in the confessional, and the recompense due to justice (penalty) occasioned by the sin, as well.  Like when the accused is forgiven by the victim in court, but must still satisfy the penalty determined by the justice system.  Confession is NOT a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it is a don’t-be-damned-to-Hell card.  It is hoped, not guaranteed, the penance prescribed in the confessional will satisfy the righteous justice of the Almighty, but if not completely, additional works of piety, mercy, etc., or even adding to the Treasury of Merit, or, if still not satisfied after life, Purgatory), and, in cases of crime, they need to accept the penalties that justice demands. Nevertheless, we owe it to God to recognize and to accept His mercy. Thanks to God’s mercy, we should never despair. Heaven is possible, and we can be redeemed. With the sacrament of penance, even the worst sinner can turn back to God, trusting that when he prays, “Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Ps 51:9), God hears his prayer and will clean even scarlet hands.”