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Did God Create Evil/Satan and Disease/Suffering

Nov 25, 2015


I just had a few questions about religion “Did God Create Evil/Satan and Disease/Suffering”

Asked at 10:03 pm on November 25th 2015

Hi Noah, for the first part of your question I think we have to separate ‘evil’ from ‘Satan.’ Since God created everything that exists, he certainly created the pure spirits we call angels. And since we know from revelation that some angels used their freedom to freely reject God, with Satan being one of these, God created Satan. It’s interesting that in the last chapters of the Book of Job, what really gets Job to accept all the bad things that have happened to him is the realization that even the mythical beasts Leviathan and Behemoth – standing for chaos and evil, including you could say figures like Satan – are creatures of God, they’re not themselves gods, even their evildoing is limited by God’s goodness.

What about evil? I’ll have to use St Thomas Aquinas here. He’s very clear that anything God wills, must happen, and that anything God wills not to happen, can’t happen. So what about evil? For Aquinas, developing St Augustine’s thought on this, evil is a failure in created wills to will the good they should will. It’s a kind of not-being, a moral gap in existence. For Aquinas, that moral gap we call evil is neither willed nor not willed by God. Rather, it’s forbidden by him, but he permits that failure of choice because of the greater good of creating beings with free will. A simple example would be how parents, when their children have hit a certain age, permit them a certain freedom of action even if that means that the children may misuse that freedom, since to tie them down so they can do nothing wrong would mean they’d never develop their own sense of responsibility.

What about disease and suffering? I think that God respects the laws of the universe he’s created – for example, lots of accidents are caused by gravity, but if we didn’t have the laws of gravity, our universe would simply collapse. In the case of our planet that means tectonic plates, which move around from time to time and cause earthquakes and tsunamis. I think the same can be said of diseases which all living things are subject to – plants get canker, animals and humans suffer from cancers, which are forms of growth processes that go awry.

But humans use their reason to work out ways of coping with these various illnesses – last Sunday I was sharing the experience of Erin, a 5 1/2 year old London girl who had a brain tumour, and how she coped with it by seeing her suffering as a chance to love more. One evening, just before sleeping, Erin tells her mum she could hear a voice in her heart and it was Jesus. When asked what He said, she replied: ‘Keep loving!’ Another day, Erin asks if an x ray would show Jesus in her heart! A year later, she wrote this little reflection: “Sky shines bright In my heart. It’s always safe. Love is the thing. It’s importanter than anything. If you love, Jesus is there. And I’ve learnt now: To love all the time. When things are hard, Put up with it. Love all the time.”

That doesn’t answer the question about the mystery of human suffering – in the end of the day, maybe all we can say is that if there’s a problem both of evil and of suffering in our world, it’s only a problem if there’s a good God too. And if there is a good God, then he’ll have found a way to help us overcome it. For us, this is through his Son, who chose to suffer and die for us and with us in order, together with all of us, to definitely open the way to an eternal life we prepare for here, in and through those sufferings, failures, and repentances.

Very best, Fr Brendan Purcell

Replied at 11:51 pm on November 30th 2015