Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Politics cannot relieve our suffering, nor can science; only praise from the midst of suffering can make us like Jesus and the saints.

Septuagesima Sunday

8 February 2009

The Problem of Evil

“The pain of death surrounded me, and the sorrows of the netherworld encompassed me, and in my affliction I called upon the Lord, and from his holy temple he heard my voice.” The words of the ancient Introit antiphon tell us one of the secrets of the universe, a secret that Jesus shares by his preaching-in-action in today’s Gospel. Today I want to share some thoughts with you about the existence of evil and our vocation to overcome it.

Job sat on his dunghill and reflected that he was not alone in his pain. Everyone awakes to the same reality–hard work or hard study and every day’s the same thing, and nothing you do ever seems to make a difference. The line is Bill Murray’s from Groundhog Day, but, especially in a tough economy, it seems appropriate to the whole history of the world. “Life is hard, and then you die,” says Qoheleth. Are our lives nothing but a breath? Will our eyes never see the good?

Some take hope in political action–and I don’t say that this is a bad use of time–but we have seen over and over again that politicians promise change we can believe in, and then get to Washington and appoint the same old, corrupt political hacks to high office, and institute policies that–all in the name of making things better–trample on the rights of those who have no political clout, especially voteless human beings in their first nine months of life. The Scripture warns us not to put our trust in leaders, in princes, so we would be wise to realize that political parties cannot save us. The only thing that can give real change to this weary world is repentance and turning to the Law of Christ, the Law of love of God and neighbor.

Others put their trust in science–and doing real science is good, too–but forget that we are weak and often ignore the law of God in order to get the results we want. I was pleasantly surprised at the birth of octuplets recently, until I learned how it happened–in vitro fertilization, the creation of babies outside the marital embrace, an unnatural act of human arrogance. This science has given us a generation of children conceived in Petri dishes, many of whom have no idea who their father is because of the anonymity of the sperm bank. They go through life ignorant of half of their genetic heritage, and fear falling in love with their own sibling through ignorance. This so-called science never asks the most important moral question, “should we invent this technique, or perform this experiment.” It only asks “can we invent this technique, or perform this experiment.” It causes us to wonder every time we walk into a physician’s office, or use a new drug, whether we are not directly or indirectly supporting the murder of the innocent, building our own health on the death of a tiny fellow human.

Aristotle taught us that every human action is aimed at some good. That is true, but original sin has weakened our ability to discern what is good, and we often aim at some lesser good and totally miss our ultimate Good. We want to find the money to give our family a nice vacation, but cheat on our taxes to get it. We want to have a fairy-tale marriage, but judge children an inconvenience and contracept against them. We want a happy ending, but so often write a sordid tale to get there, and find that both means and ends have rotted before our very eyes.

A few years ago my moral theology class was discussing the problem of evil, and one of my smarter students said, “God should have made us unable to choose evil.” I asked, “you mean He should have made us without free will?” He responded, “yes, that’s why the world is a mess.” And, in one sense, he was right. Free will has made the world a mess. Free will gave us 50 million murdered babies in 36 years. Free will gave us the Madoff Ponzi scheme, the collapse of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Free will gave us foolish politicians who worship choice as their god, but tell us they don’t trust parents to choose the best school for their child.

Why did God screw up so badly, in words made famous by our President? He didn’t screw up. He loved us into existence. He made us in His own image and likeness, and we are most in His image and likeness through our intellect and will. If we are not free to sin, we cannot be free to love. If we are unable to do moral evil, we are also unable to do moral good. If nights are long, and we toss and turn until the dawn, the reason is that there will be a dawn some day that will never fade into darkness, a sunrise in which the Lamb will be the everlasting light of the world.

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