Guest contributor: Ed Trego
The presence of evil in the world has been a source of question and thought throughout history. Man has tried to understand how evil can exist in the good creation of God. St. Augustine, during his journey to Catholicism, battled with the concept of evil in God’s world. In The Confessions of Saint Augustine he wrote, “But being good, he has created good things. Behold how he encircles and fills all things! Where then is evil, and whence and by what means has it crept in here?” Still today, this question troubles Christians. If all of God’s creation is good, how did evil get here?
God did not create or intend evil. Created in the image of God, man is the only creature with the ability to choose good or evil. The free will of God will always choose the good. Man, however, is tempted by Satan, fails to withstand the temptation, and therefore chooses evil in many cases. This contradiction of the good of free will and the misuse of free will to bring evil into the world is not limited to man however. It is also present in the angels, whom God also granted free will. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”
God could have created a world without evil. However, in doing so, He would have eliminated the gift of free will that He had bestowed on man. All gifts of God are good, including the free will through which so much evil has been done. While a world without evil may seem desirable, if there were no other choice, of what value would good be? St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “If evil were completely eliminated from things, they would not be governed by Divine Providence in accord with their nature; and this would have been a greater defect that the particular defect eliminated.”
While God did not create or intend evil, He can and does turn the evil done by man to the service of God. The story of Joseph, detailed in Genesis, chapters 37 through 45, demonstrates God’s ability to take an evil act and use it for good. Joseph’s brothers, out of jealousy, sold him into slavery in Egypt. God protected Joseph and, through His intervention, Joseph so won the favors of Pharaoh that he placed him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. As a result, Joseph was able to save his family from a devastating famine, ensuring the continuation of the seed of Abraham.
From the greatest evil ever committed God brought the greatest gift ever given. He permitted the murder of his only Son in order to raise Jesus from the dead and overcome death. Through the horrible evil of the crucifixion God brought salvation to man.
God does not promote nor desire evil, but he does use the evil in the world as a means of emphasizing the good he has created. For instance, the evil of slavery prompted men of good will and Christian value to strive for the elimination of slavery and the evil associated with it.
God alone brings good from evil; evil can never become a good and no good can ever be produced by man from evil actions. Man’s ability to overcome evil and to produce good depends upon his cooperation in God’s plan. He must make the free choice to accept the will of God.
Man’s opportunity to bring good rather than evil relies upon his acceptance of God’s grace. Grace is God’s favor, the free and undeserved help that adopts man into the family of God, making him heirs of heaven and enabling him to live as children of the Father. Grace allows man to reject evil and achieve the good which God desires. This grace, and the salvation it brings, comes only from God, through Jesus. In 1 John 2:2 we read “He is the expiation for our sins and not only for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” Only through acceptance of God’s grace is man allowed to participate in his plan of salvation.
In spite of the evil man commits, God desires the salvation of all mankind. His Divine Providence ensures that good will ultimately win out. Divine Providence is God’s plan for the universe He created. God is all good and his Providence encompasses all aspects of creation. As God is infallible and unchangeable, his plan for creation is also infallible and unchangeable. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us in his Shorter Summa that, “Since God alone is good by his very essence and all other things received their compliment of goodness by some sort of participation, all beings must be brought to their compliment of goodness by God. This, again, involves rule and government; for things are governed and ruled by God.”
In His infinite love and mercy, God offers man eternal life and salvation. Mankind must freely choose to accept the grace of God and respond to it in a positive manner if he is to bring good into the world. It is up to man to use God’s gift of free will as it was intended; to reject the evil and seek the good. Only through the free acceptance of God’s will and the positive response to His will is man capable of producing good and reducing evil in God’s good creation. God always has and always will desire the salvation of all mankind. It is up to man to seek the good, to reject the evil, and to accept the salvation offered by God.