The Providence of God
and The Mystery of Evil
by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
We know from our Faith that God is an
All-Powerful Father, an Infinitely Concerned Provider for the Needs of His
Children. We know, too, that everything that He Created is
Good (Genesis 1:31). How, then, do we Reconcile these Statements with the Existence of so much
Evil in the World?
The Response of Non Believers
If God is Infinitely Good, why does
He Allow so much Evil and
Suffering in the World? For Example: the Evils of
War, of Famine, of
Pestilence, of Sickness; and the Natural Disasters of
Earthquakes, Floods, Tornadoes - all of which can be
Devastating to Thousands of Persons. If
God is All-Powerful and Concerned about His Children, why does
He allow Shipwrecks,
Airplane Crashes, and other such Calamities that bring
so much Sorrow and Suffering in their Wake?
Why does He allow Children to be Born who are
Deformed, Mentally Deficient, or
Handicapped in other ways, Afflictions they must Live-with Throughout
Unable to Fathom such Questions, there have been some who have Cited the Existence of these
Evils as their Reason for not Believing in God
et Spes, 19). Others who Believe in God have been so
Pained by the Sorrows and Tragedies
they Suffer or Observe that they Complain Against
God, and use the Pain they Experience as a
Pretext for not Fulfilling His Commandments.
Does God Cause Evil?
As the New Catholic Encyclopedia explains, "God is not and cannot be in any way the
Cause of Evil, because He is Infinite Goodness, Desiring only to do Good. Though the Physical Order as such involves Pains and Difficulties,
these are nevertheless Naturally Ordained to the Good and to the Happiness of Man (St. Aug. Lib. Arb.). Taken in this Sense, they do not
Merit to be called Evil, since they are not Privations, but rather Accidental Negations" Ordained to the
Spiritual Good of Man.
Although God does not 'Cause' Evil,
He does 'Allow' Evil to be done by Creatures who
Possess a Free Will. He Created Man in
His Own Image, Free to Choose between
Obedience to His Commandments, or
Disobedience. And since God will not 'Take-away' that Freedom,
He will not 'Prevent' Man from Sinning,
even though Sin is the Root Source of the Ills of
this World. So, as we will see, it was Man who has Brought-upon himself the Multitude of Evils
that Abound throughout the World. In short, then, while God does not
Will or 'Cause' Evil in itself,
He does 'Allow' it, because in His Infinite Wisdom and
Mercy He can Cause a Greater Good to come from it. And for this same Reason
He does Justly 'Inflict'
Kinds of Evil
Before we consider the 'Kinds' of Evil, it will be well to see what we mean by the Term
"Evil". Theology relies on Philosophy for the Traditional Understanding of
Evil. Philosophically, Evil is a Negation of
Good, a Privation of a Good that is due.
Evil does not 'Exist' except in Relation to some Good. There is no such a
thing as something that is Evil in 'Essence', Wholly Evil.
Even the Devil is not Wholly Evil, for
he has an Angelic Nature which is
Good. The Evil that
he does, comes from the 'Privation' of the Grace which
he and his followers 'Forfeited' by
their Free Choice.
In general we can speak of Two (2) Kinds of Evil,
Physical and Moral:
Physical Evil is the Privation of something in the
thing itself that it Ought to have, e.g. Blindness,
Deafness, Lameness, Sickness -
in the Body. Each of these is the Privation of something the
Body Ought to have and Normally Possesses, namely: Eyesight,
Hearing, Sound Limbs, and Bodily
Health. Many of the Natural Disorders,
Accidents and Calamities which Happen Independently of Man's
Free Will, and which Cause much Pain and
Sorrow, are not Strictly Speaking called
Evil, for God Can and Does use such Incidents as Part of the Order of
Divine Providence, not Precisely as Evil,
but for the General Good of Man, e.g., by way of Testing his
Virtue, or of being Instrumental in his Conversion, or by way of Punishment.
Speaking of this, Father Walter Farrell, O.P. explains:
"As regards Physical Evil, . . . Sickness, Ill Health, Bodily Injuries loom as Major Catastrophes. They are
Absolutely Fatal to one who cannot see beyond the Material World . . . . They Seriously Interfere with Pleasure, with Work, with Family Life.
But they do not Impede the Central Activity of Human Life the Meriting of Heaven; indeed, they often aid it. Why did Christ Command Men to
Take up a Cross if Suffering is a Major Evil ....
"Unquestionably God does Cause Physical Evil, at least through the Operation of the Natural Laws of which
He is the Author . . . . We can see now and then, how Priceless was the Suffering which brought a Man to his Senses, Toppling him from
the Insecure Throne of Self-sufficiency and Setting him Humbly about the Business of Making his Way Home".
(Comp. to Summa, I, p.129)
Moral Evil (Sin)
is the Privation of Due Order in an 'Act' of the Will, a
Wrong-doing against the Law of God, or the
Omission of a Good Act Commanded by the Law
of God. The New Catholic Catechism speaks of this:
"Angels and Men, as Intelligent and Free Creatures, have to Journey towards their Ultimate Destinies by their
Free Choice and Preferential Love. They can, therefore, go Astray. Indeed, they have Sinned. Thus has Moral Evil, Immeasurably more
Harmful than Physical Evil, entered the World. God is in no way, Directly or Indirectly, the Cause of Moral Evil. He Permits it, however,
because He Respects the Freedom of His Creatures and, Mysteriously, knows how to Derive Good from it"
"God, in His Almighty Providence, can Bring Good from the Consequences of an Evil, even a Moral Evil, Caused
by His Creatures. 'It was not you', said Joseph to his brothers, 'who sent me here, but God . . . . You meant Evil against me; but God
meant it for Good, to bring it about that many People should be Kept Alive' (Genesis 50:20).
From the Greatest Moral Evil ever Committed - the Rejection and Murder of Gods only Son, Caused by the
Sins of Men - God brought the Greatest of Goods: the Glorification of Christ and our Redemption"
And how often do we know from our Own Experience how a Renewal of Fervor in our Spiritual Life has been
Occasioned (under God's Grace) by the Humbling
Experience of our own Moral Failures. Every
Sacramental Confession, Rightly Made, bears this out.
Just as there is a Physical Order governing the Mutual Interaction of the Forces of Nature, so there is a Moral
Order Established by the Creator Governing the Conduct of Beings, endowed with
Intellect and Will.
The Moral Order establishes Norms-of-Behavior which, if Observed, will Insure
Truthfulness, Obedience, Fraternal
Charity, etc., all of which Result in Peace. Whereas, if those Norms are
not Observed, the Result is Selfishness, Injustice,
Strife, Hatred, Greed,
etc. We see, then, the Source of the World's Evils. We see, too, that the Healing required for
True Peace will come more from Spiritual Means than from
Political or Military Means. That is why the Blessed Mother at Fatima asked
Six (6) Times for the Daily Rosary for World Peace.
The Source of Evil
What is the 'Source' of this Misuse of Man's Freedom, giving Rise to so much
Misery and Suffering in the World? There have
been Various Answers to that Question over the Centuries. One that was Widespread in the
Early Centuries of Christianity is
Manicheism. The Proponents of this Belief held that there are
Two (2) Supreme Beings, Two (2) Uncreated Principles,
One (1) of Light and Goodness (
God), and One (1) of Darkness and Evil
(the Devil). These Two (2) Supreme Beings are
ever at War, and every Human Being is the Battle Ground. Man's
Spirit is from the Source of Light and Goodness, while his
Body is from the Source of Darkness and Evil. Therefore, there is
a Constant Struggle within Man between the Forces of Good and the
Forces of Evil. If the Soul Masters the
Body, Good Triumphs over Evil; if the
Body Masters the Soul, Evil Triumphs over
Good. In Practice, Manicheism denies Human Responsibility
for the Evil one does, according to the Belief that it is not due to One's own
Free Will, but the Dominance of the Evil One
in One's Life. This Heresy was Condemned by
the Council of Braga, Spain in 561 AD.
Catholic Theology sees as the 'Source' of Man's Misuse of
his Freedom, and Indirectly as the 'Origin' of Evil in the World, the
Fall of our First Parents. God Created
Adam and Eve, Endowed with the Divine Life of Grace, and Free of any
kind of Suffering and Death. In them the Whole Human
Race was on Trial. God imposed on them the Duty of Abstaining from
Eating of the Fruit of the 'Tree-of-Knowledge' of Good and
Evil. But, Tricked by the Devil into Believing
that by Eating of that Fruit, they would become like God, and be able to determine for themselves,
what was Good and what was Evil, they ate the
As a Consequence of their Disobedience,
God Condemned them and their Descendants to
Suffering and Death, Depriving them not only
of Sanctifying Grace, but of a Harmony within their Whole Being, namely, the Control of
their Lower/Inferior Nature (Body and
Its Inclinations) by their
Higher/Superior Nature (Intellect and Will).
As a Consequence of their Fall the
Intellect was Obscured, the Will
Weakened, and they were left with an Inclination to Evil.
"Because you have Eaten of the Tree of which I Commanded you not to eat, Cursed be the Ground because of you. Only by
Hard Work will you Draw from the Earth the Sustenance for all the Days of your Life. In the Sweat of your Brow shall you Eat your Bread, till you
Return to the Ground . . . for Dust you Are and unto Dust you shall Return" (Genesis 3:17-19).
(For a detailed explanation of Original Sin)
(A Unity (1) of Body and
Intellect and Will reside in the
Soul of a Person.
Satan can Directly Attack the Faculties of the Body
already Weakened by Original Sin. However, Satan can
only Indirectly Affect the Intellect and
Will through Natural, Physical, and Psychological causes.
Strength is Manifested in our Control of the Will of
Pray! Pray! Pray! Unite
your Will to God's Will.
Thus Saint Paul says that it was Through Man that
Sin came into the World (Romans 5:12), and that the Sin of
Adam was the Origin of Evil. While the
Sin of the Devil was prior to that of Adam, it was
Adam's Free Choice that Deprived Human Nature of
Special Original Gifts, and left it Weakened and Inclined to
We have already answered why God does not 'Prevent' Humans from
Sinning, and especially in the Case of our First Parents when the Whole Human Race
was on Trial. The New Catholic Catechism further answers that Question:
"Saint Leo the Great responds: Christs Inexpressible Grace gave us Blessings better than those the
Demons Envy had taken away. And Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, There is nothing to prevent Human Natures being raised up
to something Greater, even after Sin; God Permits Evil in order to draw forth some Greater Good. Thus Saint Paul says, Where Sin
increased, Grace abounded all the More; and the Exultet sings, O Happy Fault . . . which gained for us so Great a Redeemer"
Summa III 1,3,ad 3).
In those Few Words the New Catechism points out that as Great as are the Ills Inflicted
on Human Nature due to the Fall of Adam,
They are Small compared to the Blessings that have come to us from the
Redeeming Mission of Christ. And for this Reason the
Church, in the Liturgy of Holy Week, refers to the
Sin of Adam as a 'Fortunate Mistake', that Occasioned the Coming of
"so Great a Redeemer".
The Mystery of the Cross
Because we are dealing with a Mystery in the Matter of
Evil, Faith alone can give us the Full Answer. As the New Catholic Catechism
explains, the "Mystery of Lawlessness" (2Thessalonians 2:7) is Clarified only in the
Light of the "Mystery of our Religion" (1Timothy 3:16). Saint Paul
makes it clear that as Great as is the Extent of Evil, the Abundance of
Grace is still Greater (Romans 5:20). "We must therefore approach the
Question of the Origin of Evil by fixing the Eyes of our Faith on Him Who alone is its Conqueror"
"Only Christian Faith, as a whole, Constitutes the Answer to this Question; the Goodness of Creation, the
Drama of Sin, the Patient Love of God Who comes to meet Man by His Covenants, the Redemptive Incarnation of His Son, His Gift of the
Holy Spirit, His Gathering of the Church, the Power of the Sacraments, and His Call to a Blessed Life to which Free Creatures are
invited to Consent in Advance, but from which, by a Terrible Mystery, they can also Turn Away in Advance. There is not a Single Aspect
of the Christian Message that is not in part an Answer to the Question of Evil"
The Message of the Cross, coming from Christ's
Passion and Death, is, therefore, the only
Answer to Human Agonizing over Evil.
Our Savior reveals a Loving Father Who sent
His Only-Begotten Son to Pay the Debt that the
Human Race incurred by their Sins. In His Redemptive Mission
, He came Precisely to Suffer and
Die. Suffering and Death are
the Result of Original Sin, and His
Redeeming Sacrifice, not only Nailed
Sin to the Cross (Colossians 2:14)
and Broke the Strangle-hold of Satan on Humanity, but Opened the
Gates of Heaven and took the Sting out of
Suffering and Death.
He took the Sting out of
Suffering by Transforming it into a Means of Expiation. When the Head of the
Mystical Body Freely Accepted the Sufferings
of the Passion to Atone for the Sins of Mankind,
He Won for us the 'Capacity' of Transforming our Suffering
(Physical or Mental) into a Means of Atonement for our Sins and those of the World, when Accepted
Voluntarily in Union with His Sacrifice.
So while the Justice of God demands that
Sin be Punished,
Christ Conquered as well the Evil of
Punishment. He Transforms Punishment
Inflicted because of Sin into a Means of Expiation, when Accepted Voluntarily in
Union with the Mystery of the
Christ took the Sting out of
Death, for with the Resurrection of the
Body, Death shall be Defeated, and Life will
Triumph in all its Glory. In
Heaven there will be no more Death or
Suffering of any kind. That is why Saint Paul exclaims: "O Death, where is your
Victory, where is your Sting?" (1Corinthians 15:55).
Commenting on this Text the Jerome Biblical Commentary states: "Sin has been Vanquished by Christ the Redeemer.
Thus Death, like a Serpent deprived of its Venomous Sting, can no longer Harm those who are in Christ". The
Enemies which made Man their Slave - Sin,
Death and Satan - have been Conquered. Thus by
Dying on the Cross for the
Offenses of Mankind, Christ Conquered
Sin and the Devil, and by His Resurrection
(which Insures our Resurrection) He
While Sin is Punished by
Suffering, it does not follow that those who Suffer more have
Sinned more. On the Contrary, those Closest to Christ are given a
Greater Share in His Cross. Aware of the
Redeeming Value of Suffering, they are able
to say with Saint Paul, "I Rejoice in my Suffering . . . in my Flesh I complete what is Lacking in
Christs Suffering for the Sake of His Body, . . . the Church" (Colossians 1:24). That is why
Christ's Mother, the
Blessed Virgin, became the Queen of Martyrs and
We have a little Better Understanding, then, of the Mystery of
Evil, and why God allows It.
It brings out more clearly the Mercy of
God, Who never Fails to
Forgive the Repentant Sinner.
It occasioned the coming of the Redeemer,
Whose coming brought far more Blessings,
than we were Deprived of by the Deceit and Envy of
Satan. We see why God Permits
Pain and Sorrow, Financial or Family
Problems, Natural Disasters, Sickness and
Death. All of these are for the Sake of Something Better. For the
Christian, all Suffering and
Death is Oriented Towards the Resurrection and
Glory. For as Saint Paul says: "We are Heirs of God, Coheirs with Christ,
Sharing His Sufferings so as to Share His Glory" (Romans 8:17)
Prayer to Divine Providence
O Sweet and Tender Providence of God, into Thy Hands I commend my Spirit, to Thee I
abandon myself, my Hopes, my Fears, my Desires, my Repugnance's, my Temporal and Eternal Prospects. To Thee I commit the Wants of my
Perishable Body, to Thee I commit the far more Precious Interests of my Immortal Soul, for whose interests I have Nothing to Fear while
I withdraw it not from Thy Bosom. Though my Faults are many, my Misery Great, my Spiritual Poverty Extreme, my Hope in Thee surpasses all.
It is Greater than my Difficulties, Stronger than Death. Though Temptations should Assail me, I will Hope in Thee, though I should Sink
beneath my Weakness, I will Hope in Thee still, though I should Break my Resolutions a Thousand Times, I will look to Thee Confidently
for Grace to keep them at last; though Thou shouldst Slay me, even then will I Trust Thee, for Thou art my God, my Father and my Friend.
Thou art my Kind, my Tender, my Indulgent Parent, and I am Thy Loving Child, who cast myself into Thy Arms and beg Thy Blessing, who put
my Trust in Thee, and so Trusting, shall Never be Confounded.
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