Ask a Franciscan

Did An All-good God Create Evil?

Q: Although I have fallen away from the Catholic Church, I sincerely believe that someone raised in the Catholic Church can never really leave it. I had a wonderful Catholic upbringing by my parents, grandparents and other relatives. I find it very disturbing to feel so far from God now and would like to reconcile myself with God and the Catholic Church.

The biggest obstacle preventing that is the issue of evil: How did it begin? What is its root cause? Is the devil absolute? If so, how could absolute evil come from God, who is absolute good? How could something created by God choose against God? How can an absolute good create an absolute polar opposite?

Many people say the answers to these questions involve free will. Free will seems to mean living without God; that would make it a bad thing. Why would God permit Satan to have such a strong power of temptation when God knows that we are a weak lot?

A: Children raised in a loving family, as you were, have a fairly easy time believing in God — until they come face-to-face with frequent and horrendous evil. At that point, they may update their assumptions about God, or they may conclude that God is a nice story that most people outgrow just as they outgrow their childhood toys, shoes and clothes.

Only God is absolute. Everything else, including the devil, is relative. The devil is not a defect in God’s creation but rather a spiritual being using God-given freedom in a way that God never intended. That freedom is the reason why we say that people have been made in the image and likeness of God.

The same is true of angels. That’s why Christianity has always seen the devil not as God’s equal but as God’s creature, who uses God-given freedom very selfishly. In John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost, Lucifer says, “I will not serve.”

I think that the “many people” whom you cite are correct overall. God created us freely and wanted to share divine life with us; that requires real freedom on God’s part and on ours.

If God had not given us freedom, we could neither sin nor love. Have you or I seen more human evil than Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata? Probably not. Have you and I used our freedom as wisely and as generously as she used hers? Again, probably not. But we are still on our journey as disciples. Your letter shows that.

God did not create evil in the same sense that God created galaxies, stars, soil, water, animals, plants, people and everything else. Evil is a void that results from rejecting God’s ways and trying to impose our own.

Satan’s power is strong but limited. Although denying free will may seem to solve the problem of evil, in fact, that would dishonor God. Left to ourselves, we are indeed a weak lot. Sharing the graced life that God intends for us, we can unmask Satan’s temptations for the lies that they always are.

Your parents developed an adult faith in God, probably in difficult circumstances. Pray that they may help you do the same.

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