Theme: The Problem of Evil
Evil remains an enigma. One may wonder how did evil originate in this world created by God in which the book of Genesis tells us that, “it was good, and indeed very good”, (Gen 1:1-27). Why should an entire family be wiped out in a natural disaster or accident? Why should a rising star be nipped in the bud by death? Why do some children die before their parents? Why do people suffer from chronic diseases? Why should a spouse betray the other? Why do people suffer from endemic hunger and malnutrition? Why do people live in abject poverty?
An extremely poor family has just witnessed their son graduate from university, they are full of optimism that things will turn around for the family as he gains employment; however he becomes a drug addict. Some families have experienced tragedy upon tragedy. At times, one may ask why me? The list is unending. The problem of evil was one of the major themes grappled with in the book of Job from which the first reading, (Job 7:1-4. 6-7), was taken.
Job was presented as a rich nomad from Uz, a non-Jewish town. He was happily married with children, but suddenly he lost all his herds to raiders and all his children died when their eldest brother’s house, where they were partying, collapsed. As if this tragedy was not bad enough for Job and his wife, Job took ill with a chronic psoriasis that left his entire body covered with sores. His wife lost her cool and asked him to curse God. Three of Job’s friends also tried to proffer their ideas on the reasons these calamities had befallen him. One of their ideas was that Job was suffering because of his sins.
While the book of Job insisted that Job’s faith remained strong in God despite his ordeals, however, the first Reading presented us with some of Job’s lamentations. Tragedy is real, and it is legitimate to grieve and mourn in moments of tragedy. One should not pretend that everything is alright while one is hurting inside. Our tears and murmurings during moments of sorrow are known as prayers of lamentations. Job expressed his anguish and disappointment when he said, “Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle my days have passed, and vanished, leaving no hope behind. Remember that my life is but a breath, and that my eyes will never again see joy.” Jesus himself cried on the cross, “my God, my God why have you abandoned me?” However, like Job and Jesus, one must never lose hope. Hence, Jesus also said, “into your hands Lord I commit my spirit”, (Lk 23:46).
Evil is real, and some people are possessed by the evil one or the devil. St Paul warns us that, “… it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world, the spirits of evil in the heavens.” We must not gloss over the fact that some people indulge in Satanic worship.
In today’s Gospel, (Mk 1:29-39), Jesus healed the sick including those who have been held in shackles by evil spirits. Jesus has the power to rescue us from negative forces, for in his name, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth, (Phil 2:10).
In Catholic tradition, sin is the origin of evil. Sin includes the action of the fallen angels who were created good by God, but who revolted against God. Lucifer, (the angel of light), was their ringleader. Lucifer is called Satan. “The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries – of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature – to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “’we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 385-401).
Humanity sinned when our first parents disobeyed God’s command. This is known as original sin. Each individual too, at times, wilfully or unwilfully makes choices that contravene the commandments of God. The wilful acts are called personal sins and the unwilful acts are called human error. Though sin or human error has consequences, however, we cannot equate every calamity that befalls us to a particular sin or human error. A consequence of a particular sin or human error may befall those who may be innocent. For instance, if a contractor does a sub-standard job in building a house, the occupants of the house will suffer the consequence of the building collapsing.
Evil does exist and people suffer the consequences of evil, however, we must approach the problem of evil by “fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror,” (CCC 385). That conqueror of sin and evil is no other person than our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To all who are heavy hearted, who feel that they have had more than a fair share of tragedy in their lives, I pray that the gentle touch from Jesus may console you in your ordeals.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp