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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Resolving Evil in Eternity

Resolving Evil in Eternity
By Jim J. McCrea
Someone against the doctrine of divine providence states:
"God is not purifying a child who was burned, a soldier who was dismembered, a woman who was raped. God is with them all as God was with Jesus on the cross but we are human and we get sick or get injured."

God is omnipotent. He can do all things. If God is all powerful, He can prevent any or all of these things from happening. Since they do in fact happen, we must conclude that God permits them. As St. Augustine said, "Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil."(Enchiridion xi). Many evils which are possible, God in fact prevents. He strictly sets the bounds of evil in this world (and in an individual person's life) as the shore sets the bounds of the sea. If God did not have absolute control of what evils occur, St. Paul's passage could not be realized. "He will not let you be tested beyond your strength. Along with the test he will give you a way out of it so that you may be able to endure it." (1 Cor. 10:13) and "We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His decree." (Rom. 8:28) 
Someone objects:
"God does not torture us [or allow it to be done] for some greater good. If God did, God is no God at all."
That assumes that God is on the same level as us, as simply a creature who flows through time as we do, perceiving good and evil as we do. God, however, is in eternity - that is, He is outside of time, seeing all time at once. His entire life is in an immobile *now,* without past or future. All is present to Him. That gives Him a radically different and higher perspective that we have little notion of now.
It is within this perspective of eternity that evil is resolved. In eternity, evil is transcended and transfigured, so the evil He allows in time, becomes part of the good within eternity.
An analogy my help to explain this. Life on earth is good and evil. It is a mixture of light and shadow. On earth, as we travel through time in this life, we experience good and evil in succession. We experience joy and pain in succession. We experience light and darkness in succession. But in the eternal perspective in heaven, we will experience this all at once. This is how God sees our lives, and how we will see them in heaven. It is like a Rembrandt painting which is beautiful because it has striking contrasts of light and dark. But we must see the whole painting at once to appreciate that. An individual region of darkness is a pure absence. It is a pure negation. And if some being who was traveling across the painting (analogous to our journey through life) happened to be situated over a region of darkness, it would probably experience suffering due to the negative nature of that region. It is only after that creature had "died" and could see the whole painting at once, will those regions of darkness which caused pain previously, be a source of joy.
We can provide some practical examples. An ancient and venerable artifact may be weathered and worn by time. That state of being weathered and worn is an ontological evil because it takes away from the integrity of its being. But given the context of its antiquity and its "enduring" through time, that state of being weathered and worn actually adds to its beauty and charm. That beauty and charm is only there because we, in some way, understand the entire temporal duration of the artifact.
When a person grows older, certain distortions occur on the face because the body due to age, can no longer maintain its proper form. This is an ontological evil because it is the absence of ideal form. However, it contributes to the good on another level because it may denote wisdom that the person has acquired by living a long life. So this ontological evil contributes to the good, actually adding charm and beauty on the spiritual level. This is possible by only taking into account the person's life "all at once," with the necessary phases of youth, middle age, and old age.
Consider the example of St. Therese. The tuberculosis she suffered near the end of her life which ended her life was an evil in itself. But considering her life as a whole, her sainthood would have been less beautiful without it.
Finally, Christ's passion was evil in itself, but God's plan overall has much more goodness and beauty with it included.
Only in eternity will evil be resolved in this way, and what caused the greatest pain on earth, will be the occasion for the greatest joy in heaven. In a sense, we will bring our wounds to heaven, but they will be glorious and not painful.