I have started an exchange with a former classmate (Martin) from my philosophy days that has been sparked by my postings re: Haiti, evil and the existence of the devil. I spent some time between appointments typing out the following response to his most recent questions, only to discover that it was too long to be posted as in the comment threads. So, I post it here in the hopes that he will find it and respond - as I hope others will as well. I do not claim that what I am developing is entirely orthodox (I hope it is, but I'm open to being corrected) but I have found that it provides a solid foundation from with to deal with such questions.
I look forward to your comments, pro or con.
Ok Martin...here goes.
1. I introduced the concept of free will into the discussion because I believe it to be the key to rationally understanding the question of the existence of evil and ultimately for the existence of Satan as the penultimate example of such.
First off, you know that it is my contention that God (a spiritual being) exists and that he is directly responsible for our existence.
Next, I believe that what scripture refers to as humans being created in his image and likeness, refers to our capacity to exercise free will in the moral decisions of life. If you will, it is the incomplete fruit of the tree of knowledge by which we judge "good" and "evil". (Lots more to say about this, but for now this will suffice)
Since God granted to us this capacity to act freely in either choosing to follow him or not, he cannot compromise this gift without being unfaithful to himself - something that he cannot do. Nor can God do so without fundamentally changing the human equation, changing our nature into less than what it is now. In effect, changing us from free souls into marionettes that he directs. I think you would agree that this would make a farce of all of history - if none of the advancements, sufferings and insights of human history mattered since he could just change us at will to erase them all.
If God granted us the gift, and cannot compromise it without injury to us or to himself, then we must permit the consequences of our action to exist as well, irrespective of whether they further or retard our progress towards our ultimate goal (to be with God).
It then follows that freedom of will by its very existence necessitates the existence of both good/grace and evil/sin. To hold to a counter position would necessitate invalidating the initial gift from God (if we can't choose evil, are we really free?)
Next, it is also part of our nature that we are social animals. We share collectively in the blessings and failings of the totality of human experience. Therefore we share in the advancements won by right ordered reason and acts, and we suffer individually and collectively from those acts that are ordered to a different priority ("anti-God" if you will).
Thus evil exists as an essential corollary of the existence of free will. (darkness exists because of light - for its very definition is a negation - the absence of light which cannot exist on its own, at least not yet.)
2. Starting from the premise that it is possible for a spiritual being to exist who is capable of creation and endowing us with free will, so too it is also logical that he could create other beings (in this case non-corporeal or spiritual) to whom he would endow with at least the same gifts as he would give us ie: free will. Just as it is possible for us to choose to follow God or not, so too would these creatures, for what the lesser being can do is surely possible for the greater (I use lesser/greater to mean that we can influence only one sphere of existence - the physical, whereas these spiritual beings seem to be able to have influence in both the physical and spiritual realm). The Church has taught consistently that Satan is one such being: an angel who rejected God (light/grace/goodness) and chose to follow another path (darkness/sin/evil).
If we can hold to the belief that such non-corporeal beings could exist, and if they too are permitted the same freedom of choice as we do, they would similarly share in an existence that it deformed or polluted by the accumulation of their anti-God choices. In their case, the corruption would be all the greater for they KNOW of the existence of God (they see him "face to face" in the spiritual realm) thus the effects of their turning away from God would result for them in the ultimate of darkness. Therefore they embody evil in a much more pure form than can we.
In summary then, we as humans both assist in the progression of grace in this world and impede the same by sin. We suffer the consequences of sin just as we benefit from the effects of grace (grace being at all times at least "sufficient" to achieve its end, provided our cooperation with it).
Therefore if God exists and created us; if he granted us the ultimate power to decide whether to follow his path or not; then evil must also exist or else we do not truly possess the freedom of choice.
It's late for supper and mass and appointments await me so I ask your pardon and understanding if I have not perfectly expressed myself. I have done the best I can on short notice to explain my position that the key to understanding the existence of good and evil is to understand and appreciate the gift of free will.
Thoughts? Improvements? Questions? Comments?
About Fr. Tim
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