What is the Answer to the Problem of Evil? Is there one? Could any answer ever satisfy the soul of a sane and ethical person?
For Christians, God is pure Grace. God is in all things. Therefore, there is Grace to be found in all things.
The same logic applies to Love and Beauty and Mercy and Goodness and Meaning.
So, for the Christian:
There is Grace in all things.
There is Love in all things.
There is Beauty in all things.
There is Mercy in all things.
There is Meaning in all things.
On its face, these statements are extremely counter-intuitive.
When a psychopath is torturing someone, where is the Grace and Mercy?
When an earthquake kills thousands, where is the Love and Meaning?
When Hiroshima went off, where was the Beauty?
Philosophers call this the “problem of evil.” Any attempt to answer the problem of evil and defend the goodness of God in the face of evil is called “theodicy.”
But like much philosophy, the intellectual framework we use to approach the issue does little justice to the reality of the phenomenon.
In my opinion, the real “problem” is not evil per se. Rather, the problem is “theodicy” itself. It is the attempt to intellectualize God and make some kind of rational sense out of evil that I have a problem with.
This is because the “problem of evil” is not some intellectual puzzle that you “solve” once and for all with cute logic or clever arguments.
Indeed, it is not so much a “problem” to overcome as much as an experience to be felt.
Accordingly, the solution is not theoretical but deeply experiential.
In my opinion, no sane or ethical person can feel truly satisfied with any stock “answer” to the problem like, “Without evil, we wouldn’t appreciate the good” or “God works in mysterious ways” or “Evil is necessary for there to be free will.”
It is true that the bad helps us appreciate the good.
It is true that God works in mysterious ways.
But are these “answers” to the problem?
Can my heart rest easy knowing these things to be true?
No amount of philosophizing or theorization provides solace.
No amount of effusive descriptions about how Good God Is gives my Soul peace.
No amount of philosophy can convince me that an Earthquake crushing the life out of innocent children is due to the “free will” of the human species.
But why should I have peace about evil? Why should I ever feel content having “explained” the existence of evil?
That seems like a shirking of moral responsibility. It seems like an attempt to “explain away” rather than truly sit with the phenomenology of evil..
Even the cliche “God works in mysterious ways” is irresponsible precisely because it is cliche.
The Mystery of God is not something that can be printed on a bumper sticker.
It is something we can only fully confront in the deepest throes of consciousness when the scales fall from our eyes and we encounter the truly Otherness of the Other.
But in those moments of deep experience, faced with the violence of our own consciousness thrashing about trying to make sense of Reality, we also get a glimpse of an actual answer to the Problem of Evil.
For just as the gravity of the Problem must be experienced so too must the Answer be experienced.
But it is not an experience the Ego has. It is not an answer that satisfies the Intellect. It is an experience of the entire Soul.
It is a reconciliation of Flesh with Spirit. It is a recognition the Flesh is not ultimately separate from Spirit. It is a recognition that Flesh is imbued with Spirit, with sacredness.
The Holocaust survivor and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl was, more than most, a powerful witness to the reality of Evil.
How did he survive such a horrifying experience?
By his own account, it was through Logos.
He said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Moreover, Frankl said,
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This is the same wisdom of the Ancient Stoic philosophers, encapsulated in the famous “Serenity Prayer”:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
From where does this serenity come from? For Frankl, it comes from a “why.”
For the Christian, it is God who is the source of the Why. Indeed, for Christians, the Ultimate Why is The Logos, or, The Word. The most famous statement of. this Logos is in John 1:1:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
And, then, crucially, John goes further and states unequivocally: The Word Became Flesh.
Most Christians assume this physical incarnation of the Logos happened in just the body of Jesus of Nazareth.
But as Richard Rohr states beautifully in his book Universal Christ, such an idea would limit the universal scope of Christ-as-Logos to a single human man living in the Middle East 2000 years ago.
But the true message of John Chapter 1 is that the incarnation of Christ is universal. It is not just limited to our little solar system but is equally applicable to the entire Cosmos.
Paul intuitively understands the universal implications of Christ as Incarnated Logos with his statement in Colossians 3:11 that “Christ is all and in all.”
This philosophy states that within the material world, it was not just this one Jewish teacher from Nazareth 2,000 years ago who embodied the sacred divinity of God. The lesson of Christ is the Cosmos itself is the body of God, incarnated with the Logos, with meaning.
This interconnected cosmos of meaning is what Jung called the Unus Mundus, The One World. It is the Source from which it is possible for there to be synchronicities, the life-changing and deeply felt experience of profound, meaningful coincidence that, seemingly, have no direct causal-mechanical explanation.
These are the miracles of life that strike us with the conviction that everything is connected.
The most famous example of synchronicity is Jung’s account of the Golden Scarab, which took place with one of his psychoanalytic patients:
A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which, contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since.
For Jung, the “explanation” of synchronicity is not based on causal-mechanical frameworks because, by definition, the coincidences are meaningful because they cannot be explained in such terms. At best one can see they are just pure randomness.
But the randomness sometimes becomes deeply meaningful. Jung’s “explanation” is not really an explanation at all but rather a kind of recollection, a remembering of the ancient hermetic principle that everything is connected because everything is ultimately one substance, one world, one Monad: the Unus Mundus.
The hermetic philosophy encapsulates this wisdom with the phrase: as above, so below.
Just as there is meaning at the level of the Cosmic Logos, so too is there meaning at the level of the material world.
Christ is All and in All.
That “all” includes the earthquakes, the bombs, the torture, the pain, and the suffering.
The Cosmic Logos does not give us a means of becoming intellectually satisfied with this answer. Nor does it resolve the experiential suffering embedded into the recognition of pure evil in this Cosmos. Nature can be cruel for no apparent “ultimate” reason. The Cosmic Logos is not an “answer” so much as a source of meaning, a source of “whys, ” a source of callings.
But the solace available in this Logos ultimately comes from an experientially felt sense of sacredness in the natural world. It is the ability to see the Mother Earth, with all her cruelty, and nevertheless declare “it is Good.”
Mother Earth is the home of so much misery. It is She who gives us the Earthquakes and forest fires that bring so much death and destruction. But it is this same Mother who sometimes blesses us with a vista of unspeakable beauty in a sunrise. It is She who blessed us with the sacrifice of plants and animals for the sake of providing sustenance in the pleasure and joy of food.
And Mother Cosmos, with her infinitude of stars, offers us the wonder of all wonders in the mystery of the Starry Sky.
In the urban centers, with all our light pollution, we have lost our connection to the majesty and mystery of the Cosmos.
Imagine you were a hunter-gatherer 30,000 years ago and were standing, looking up at a night sky such as that.
As above, so below.
Mystery and wonder above, mystery and wonder below. It is a natural lesson that is felt within one’s bones. Within one’s entire Soul.
As a hunter-gather, did you know pain and suffering and cruelty and evil? No doubt. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was no walk in the park.
But there was almost certainly a sense that the Cosmos itself contained a deeper logic that gives us a why. Perhaps we can only feel this in our hearts, and not our intellects, but it is there nevertheless, radiating throughout our body, into our Soul, and then spiraling ever outside of ourselves, interpenetrating the entire Cosmos which is our home.
In my opinion, this deeper, cosmic logic offers us a path away from pure despair in the face of the unspeakable horrors of human existence.
Does it mean we can intellectually understand this and give our logical minds an answer to the problem of evil?
Does it mean we can provide an intellectually respectable “theodicy” to beef up our theoretical knowledge of God?
Not at all.
But in Frankl’s terms, the universal scope of the Christ-Symbol gives our Soul a why. And it is with the full depth of our Soul that we come to know our “why.”
It is not an intellectual “why.” It is not a “why” that makes sense to the limitations of the ego. The ego can only catch an occasional glimmer of truth.
But to fully feel the why of Christ we must feel it in our heart, which is a metaphor for the deep wisdom and understanding of our unconscious mind, which itself sips from the infinite ocean of the collective unconscious, which is universal and indeed even cosmic in scope.
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