Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi


October 8,2001

Perhaps the most vexing faith-question of all-time is the problem of God's silence and his seeming indifference: Why does God allow evil? Why do bad things happen to good people? If there is an all-powerful and all-loving God, how do you explain that millions of innocent people can suffer and die under Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, in massacres in Rwanda, Algeria and the recent terrorist killings in the U.S.? Where is God in all of this?

And the presence of evil in the world poses a deeper question: Why is God (seemingly) hidden? If God is so massively real, why do so many people not recognize, acknowledge, or care about his existence? Why do believers have to live, almost always it seems, on the edges of doubt? Why doesn't God make his existence clear, a fact beyond doubt? Why doesn't God silence his critics?

There's no satisfying answer to that question, not theoretically, and there never will be. No definitive faith textbook can ever be written that will soothe every doubt and answer every critical objection.

Why not? Because making peace with this mystery, the mystery of God's hiddenness, is a question of a relationship in love and trust and not simply a question of right theory. Faith, like love, matures through relationship not just theory. Understanding God's hiddenness, God's way, is like a child coming to understand his or her parents. You have to relate long enough, live in patience long enough, and develop enough maturity so that, at a point, understanding arises out of a certain co-empathy. Love is the eye, Hugo of St. Victor used to say. When we are loving enough we begin to understand.

However, theory is still important. An old philosophical axiom suggests that the heart follows the head, that love itself must be guided by intellectual vision. Thus some theological theory on the question of evil and God's hiddenness can be helpful. What has classical, Christian theology taught on this?

Essentially this: Evil exists because God respects freedom, both in nature and in human beings. When we are confronted with the problem of evil in the world the conclusion we might draw is not that God doesn't exist or doesn't care, but rather that God respects and values freedom in a way that we don't. What does this mean?

God doesn't make things easier because God can't make things easier, at least not without making us and the world into something far less than we are. When God made us he gave us as much freedom, creativity and spunk as was possible. He didn't play it safe, but gave us as much godliness as he could without making us into gods ourselves.

Simply put, in making us, God went so far as to give us a freedom that even he won't tamper with. A risky business, but, it seems, as a parent, God would rather risk than control, allow creativity outside of his influence than limit ingenuity, and tolerate the misuse of freedom than relate to robots.

God is perceived as silent because he allows human freedom and ingenuity to be precisely what they are meant to be, non-coerced, even by God. God is not a frightened parent who needs to control, nor a threatened Creator who kept what was best back for himself. God allows evil because God respects the freedom and ingenuity of creation. And as we know from elsewhere in our faith, God can ultimately redeem whatever goes wrong.

This helps explain not only the question of evil, but also why life can be so distressingly complex and why we can sometimes boil over into a quasi-divine rage. We have been made, as Scripture assures us, "as little less than God."

If God could have given us divinity, I believe, he would have. But the one thing God can't do is to create another God. So, in creating us, God took us as close to divinity as possible. Given the incredible array of qualities that God put in us, it shouldn't then be surprising that we are pathologically complex, that human grandiosity has a perpetual itch to set itself against God, and that, when frustrated, we are capable of becoming killers who can take life itself as if we were God.

We should never be surprised at how messy life can get or how deranged we can be. What is surprising rather is that sometimes – in the pre-sophistication of a child or the post-sophistication of a saint – we do see simple happiness, simple meaning, and simple faith.

Things could only be simpler if God had made us Swiss clocks – wonderfully tuned to pre-set rhythms, with no mess, no sin, no evil and the beauty of perfect crystal. But then there wouldn't be any love, freedom, creativity or meaning. No. God built us on a razor's edge, so full of godly fire that we are capable of both martyrdom and murder.