The gospel text for the Eucharist (chapter 13 of St Matthew’s Gospel) on Sunday was a very challenging one, especially for those of us who struggle with our ideas of perfection or anything close to it in life. I believe that every one of us has degrees of perfectionism, and the more it is a main feature in our lives, the more ‘imperfect’ we really are. Calling anyone a perfectionist has become something negative rather than positive, though some may think otherwise. When this title or label is given, it often silently also says that the person is controlling, ego-conscious and has an intolerance for the shortcomings of others.
The parable of the wheat and the darnel is indeed a great teaching lesson. Jesus is revealing something about the kingdom of God, and that it has a very disturbing inclusive character about it. Jesus doesn’t say that God sowed the darnel or weed in the field. In fact, he does attribute the presence of the darnel to the enemy. That God does not stop this insidious act gives us a lot of evidence that supports the explanation of evil in the world. In fact, if we go back as far as the creation story in Genesis, we see the same strange existence of good together with evil where right in the middle of the garden there stands the tree of knowledge of good and evil! God has the ability to allow evil to co-exist with good, troubling though it may seem.
The constant argument that atheists have with the existence of God is that they see too much evil in the world. For many of them, their belief (which seems to be an oxymoron in itself if you come to think of it) is that God has to be good, and if he is all-good, then there cannot and should not be the existence of evil in the world. But the fact that there is evil shows then that God does not exist. This of course is a problematic argument based on the wrong or stilted idea that God also has to be a completely controlling deity who cannot tolerate anything that is contrary to his goodness and his perfect plan. Having said this, the notion of freedom is also not taken into account, which is another bone of contention for many atheists.
Why would God allow good to co-exist with evil? For the same reason that he allows the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. When love is the reason for existence, and it is insofar as our belief in God is concerned, it becomes the highest common factor in all actions, even surpassing righteousness and justice. This is the underlying preaching and teaching of the Church, which often is overshadowed by our individual intolerance of others who do not think the way we do.
If we really think about it long enough and hard enough, it is often also the presence of evil or suffering that has strangely brought about certain ‘good’ in the world. There would be no martyrs if not for the despots and totalitarian regimes that bully and kill so thoughtlessly. There would be no saints who are noted for courage and strength in times of persecution and trials of all sorts if they had not lived in times of such hardships and religious intolerance. Or as Fr Robert Barron so daringly put it, there would be no St Edith Stein or St Maximillian Kolbe if there were no Hitler. Of course, this is not to say that God made Hitler into what he was, and to condone the heinous crimes that he was responsible for, as history has revealed. But there is a certain ‘wisdom’ in allowing such evil to co-exist with the good, without banishing them the instant they show up in our lives. Good does seem to develop in the presence of evil, with the grace of God. Illness, especially one that is prolonged and labored, can often also mellow and change a person for the better, allowing an internal conversion of the mind and heart that can be something which is somewhat more difficult for the fit and healthy. I have come to see this in a very real way myself.
When the need for control is identified in oneself, it can become a stepping-stone towards holiness if one is willing to face one’s own shortcomings that is tempered with a willingness to be merciful to oneself too. That we can see sinful actions around us happening, but not be too quick to condemn them but to bravely step into the shoes of the other and walk a few miles in them, becomes a gateway to becoming less critical and a little more charitable in our thoughts and actions. This, I strongly believe, is an aspect of Divine Mercy which many of us lack in our need to get things right and others to see things our way. But when we are too concerned with our position and stance in life, we will be seen wanting to pull up the weeds before their time, thinking of course that we have all the right answers.
Sometimes, it is not the answers that are important as the experience that the lessons are teaching us in life. This has to be something that the Kingdom of God imparts, often in silent, imperceptible ways. Perhaps this is where the Kingdom of God differs so greatly as compared to the kingdom of man.
The former has a character of challenging ‘willingness’ tempered with mercy and charity whilst the latter is far more concerned with control and being right.