I think often about the “problem of evil.” Probably everyone does. Usually my thoughts are not very clear and I always give up, holding out hope for some future in-depth conversation with a wise friend about it all. In my fantasy, we’ll have the Bible in one hand and the Summa Theologicae in the other, then after tears and sweat and hours of cross referencing, prayer, fasting, arguing and synthesizing, we’ve got it! Doesn’t work that way? Are you sure? But wouldn’t it be worth it to have that conversation? Well, maybe, since I’m feeling less inhibited than usual, with your permission, we can engage in a tiny bit of that life long debate here.
Really ugly evil tends to challenge the saintly mindset which receives all of life and all the things in life as a gift. About 9 years ago, I read “The Story of a Soul” in which St. Therese relates her experiences of joining and living in a convent. (That’s probably the worst summary ever written of this wonderful book but it serves my purpose.) St. Therese was slow at things and she received a harsh reprimand by one of her superiors. Directing her writing toward the superior, she goes on and on about how glad she was to receive that wonderful “salad” of a reprimand. When others had spoken so sweetly of her and life was saccharin and easy, she was glad that God provided her with something more acidic to taste via this critical lady. Likewise, she used to seek out washing the dishes near a clumsy nun because the inadvertent splashes of dirty dish water were like drops of Jesus’ love. When Therese had to escort an old cantankerous sister down the hallway, she felt like she was dancing with our Lord. During the two days it took me to consumed her book, my world turned upside down. EVERYTHING I experienced, I received as God’s love for me. I went to my kids’ violin class which happened that week to be a seminar by a jazz musician and I stealthfully cried a few tears because of the eagerness with which Jesus played the fiddle for me in this talented young man. My kids cried in the middle of the night and I heard baby Jesus. I stubbed my toe and the pain was a perfect reminder to be alert and watch where I was going. My mom hugged me and it was the arms of God. My husband and I got in a tiff and something within me (sad and angry as I was) made me say, “thank you, Lord.”
Does this sound sadistic? I’m very sorry if it does. There is nothing cool, nor Catholic, about taking pleasure in pain. What I’m getting at here is being filled with joy at the presence of God and His engagement with me right here and now in my life. It is receiving everything as if from the Lord. Though I slip often from this mode, it is this realization which has brought me tremendous peace, zeal for life and intimacy with Christ. This has actually been HUGE.
But I am leery of telling others about this spiritual treasure. Is everything really the will of God? If I were raped, for example, should I receive that as coming from the hand of the Lord? No. God does not desire harm or evil for you or me. He desires only goodness for us. So how can I tell a friend who’s child is very sick to receive everything as from the hand of the Lord? I don’t think I can or should. But then, what about St. Therese’ attitude or St. Ignatius of Loyola’s or St. Paul’s or hundreds of other saints for that matter? How does the problem of evil mesh with God’s will?
I have so much more to say and wonder about this – (our free will, God’s sovereignty, permissive will, revealed will, desire, divine intervention) and I’m sure you do too. But my kitchen is a mess and I need to respond to a few e-mails so I must stop for now. Please, please, tell me a few of your thoughts about it if you are at all ready to discus it.