Monday, February 9, 2015

Our ongoing struggle with theodicy

There is a branch of systematic theology that specifically deals with the mystery of how evil and sin can co-exist with a God who is all loving and present to his creation.  This mystery is not something that is solely for the intellectual pursuits of theologoumenon, but it is something that almost all of us ponder over ever so often, especially when we encounter episodes where evil and sin are present and seem to be waxing in the face of our faith and what we know about God being all loving.

Apart from the fact that God gives us all the amazing gift of our free wills which when used for selfish reason often give rise to the prolongation of sin and evil in the world, it is also tremendously helpful when we find strength and gain courage from the word of God in sacred scripture to aid us in the living out of our faith.  When we come up against the quagmire of evil versus good, or sin versus holiness in life, or when page after page of the daily paper has nothing but stories of human preponderance of injustice and inhuman behavior towards our fellow man and woman, when natural catastrophes occur or when airplanes carrying hundreds of passengers fall out of the sky and crash.  We deal with these calamities when they are contrasted against the hope and goodness that our faith and religion reveal to us that God is good and that he has a great salvific plan for us.  At times like these, it does us well to go to a place in scripture that emboldens our belief that when evil seems to prevail, that God is not absent.  I often go to Rom 8:28 not only for solace, but also strength, confidence and hope.

What Romans 8:28 tells us very clearly is this – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”.  There is an abbreviated form of this in Latin, which is ‘omnia in bonum’, and it was a dictum, which St Josemaria Escriva believed and lived by.

We struggle with the phrase ‘all things’ in many ways, don’t we?  What we often want is ‘good things’.  We delight in the ways in which things turn out well for us in life, and find very little problem with praising God when things go our way.   I am quite certain that many of the people who have come up to me for a blessing, be it a blessing of themselves, or their house or apartments, their cars, and their many sacramentals like medals, holy cards and statues, have generally one idea in their minds – that a blessing should impart goodness and wellness on all levels.  But is that all that a blessing bestows?  As a priest and a theologian at heart, I have a far greater appreciation of what a blessing is, and hope that the theologian in every person of faith expands their understanding of a blessing.

The phrase ‘all things’ was not written by St Paul as something that was unintentional or casual.  If we truly believe that the Word of God is something alive and active (Heb 4:12), then nothing that is in scripture is frivolous, vain or vapid.  Indeed, St Paul was fully aware of how God had been powerful and present in his life in both good times as well as times when he faced great persecution, was whipped, imprisoned, been shipwrecked and endured hunger and thirst.  Despite these, he never faltered in his belief and love of God who loved him beyond all telling.  How is it that these trying situations that St Paul found himself in didn’t cause him to flinch from his faith?  How is it that when we go through similar or even less trials in life easily doubt if God is even ‘there’?  (Wherever you think this ‘there’ is).  Perhaps it shows that we are far more ‘fair-weather’ Christians than we think we are, and it shows that our faith is far more conditional that we claim it is.

A blessing is not, for sure, an incantation that imparts good fortune and excellent health.  Of course, being prosperous in life and experiencing good health are in themselves great blessings, but what a blessing does and is has to encompass far more than this.  It strengthens our faith to continue to be steadfast in our belief in a God who loves us despite our not experiencing these.  Isn’t this what St Paul referring to when he wrote that ‘all things’ work together for good?  ‘All things’ have to mean good things as well as bad things. 

If in marriage we vow to love one another in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, should we not extend this to all areas of life as well?  How is it that we compartmentalize life and have a strange notion that that kind of inclusiveness should not extend to all areas of our lives?  What St Paul emphasizes also is that both the seemingly good and bad things work together for good. 

We don’t want the ‘together’ bit, and we certainly are uncomfortable with ‘all things’, aren’t we?  We much prefer ‘good’ things, and only the good things.  What a blessing imparts is a broadening of our vision of God and his plan, so that we can like Mary truly say ‘let it be done to me according to your will’ when faced with challenges and events that show little of God’s mercy, presence and bestowal of peace. 

Of course, we can only live this way if the third and most important part of the statement is apparent and real – and that is the love of God.  Not God’s love for us, but our love for him.  Rom 8:28 emphasizes ‘for those who love him’.  Perhaps the real problem for many is that there is a lack of love of God in their hearts and in their lives.  When the love of God is conditional and fear-based, so too will our ability to see him in ‘all things’. 

We will always be facing this issue of theodicy when thorny and difficult issues confront our lives, but given the right spiritual tools to broach them, the thorns will not be that much of a bother when we realise that like life, the rose bush that produces the beautiful bloom somehow also necessarily exists with the thorns in its existence.


  1. Morning Fr Luke, thanks for directing us to Romans 8:28, a verse that helps us to confront the questions that often bug and nag us when not everything appears that good as we expect or pray for. St Paul puts things in the right order and perspective and in repeating this verse, I become much more assured, all things will eventually come together for a purpose, so continue to keep faith in God and love him all the way. Do drop in, join us for a moment of fun at the Marriage Day flash mob. Ignatius & Florence

  2. .Rom 8:28 emphasizes ‘for those who love him’..................

    In life, many of us would have experienced that all things do work together for good. Sometimes it would be our disappointments that turned out to be our greater blessings and sometimes even things that seemingly looked like disasters, ultimately, worked out to our good...........but only to them that love God!

    I feel that this ‘loving God’ on our part is important because it will dictate the way we respond to joy and sorrow. If we love someone, there is an element of trust and we would be more receptive to that person. If we love God and believe that he is perfect Love, then we also accept that he would give us what he deems as - best for us. Our attitude would then be, how to receive this gift willingly – joy or suffering - and work with him for our benefit. We may suffer but we are at peace and feel the satisfaction of love being acted out. This could be the beginning of a real love relationship – prayer.

    However, if one doesn’t love God, one cannot trust him and there will be perpetual resentment deepening with each trial in life, leaving one angry, hate-filled and embittered.
    Perhaps that’s why we are told that suffering can make one either better or bitter.

    God bless u, Fr.