The Shadow: A Serious Problem

In JRR Tolkien’s Return of the King, as Sam and Frodo were traveling through Mordor, they have a conversation about the Orcs, who are the enemy. Sam asked Frodo how the Orcs have and keep life. Frodo replies,
“The Shadow that bred can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them.”
This “Shadow” is evil. Evil is a serious problem in the world, and this paper will discuss what evil is, where evil comes from, and what God’s answer to suffering (a consequence of evil) is. Evil is also one of the biggest and most often referred to objections to the existence of God. All of this will be done from the perspective of philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft.
What?
First of all, evil is not a thing. It is the privation of a something that should be present in a thing. It piggybacks on good, almost like a parasite. According to Dr. Peter Kreeft, we generally tend to view evil as a thing. We have a picture of what evil looks like in our heads. No one can escape evil while living in this world. “We naturally tend to picture evil as a thing—a black cloud, or a dangerous storm, or a grimacing face, or dirt. But these pictures mislead us.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that
God is infinitely good and all his works are good. Yet no one can escape the experience of suffering or the evils in nature which seem to be linked to the limitations proper to creatures: and above all to the question of moral evil.”
“Evil is not a thing, an entity, a being. All beings are either the Creator or creatures created by the Creator.” God did not create evil because He is all-good. Kreeft writes:
If God is the Creator of all things and evil is a thing, then God is the Creator of evil, and he is to blame for its existence. No, evil is not a thing but a wrong choice, or the damage done by a wrong choice.
Although God is infinitely good, and evil is the absence of that good, evil is not infinite. It is a finite reality. Evil is a negative thing. Evil is “no more a positive thing than blindness is. But it is just as real.”
Where Does It Come From and What Causes It?
If God did not create evil, then what did? Well, the origin of evil is not the creator, but the created’s decision to freely choose sin and selfishness. If we were to take away all the sin and selfishness from the world, we would be living in near paradise. Even the physical evils on earth would not hurt us. “Where does evil come from? “I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution”, said St. Augustine.” Well, since evil is the lack of a good, we can start there. Evil is caused by good being absent from a thing.
What Kinds of Evil Are There?
The two main types of evil are physical and moral evils. “Furthermore, the cause of physical evil is spiritual evil.” A physical evil is an evil that happens in the physical world. An example of a physical evil would be a child losing a parent, or the pain of falling and scraping a knee or an elbow. A spiritual evil is something different. It is not temporal. A spiritual evil is also known as sin.
After Genesis tells the story of the good God creating a good world, it next answers the obvious question “Where did evil come from then?” by the story of the fall of mankind. How are we to understand this? How can spiritual evil (sin) cause physical evil (suffering and death)?”
Kreeft explains that the fall of mankind brought about sin, a spiritual evil, into the physical world,
“If the origin of evil is free will, and God is the origin of free will, isn’t God then the origin of evil? Only as parents are the origin of the misdeeds their children commit by being the origin of their children.”
The spiritual evil affects much more than the physical body. It affects the soul, adversely. When the soul rebels against God, both soul and body share in the unavoidable punishment that the soul receives. A internal punishment can be something like breaking a bone or getting sick after eating something rotten. An external punishment can be something like getting a bad grade in a course, or getting a slap on the hand for stealing a cookie. Whether this consequence of sin was a physical change in the world or only a spiritual change in human consciousness—whether the “thorns and thistles” grew in the garden only after the fall or whether they were always there but were only felt as painful by the newly fallen consciousness—is another question.
“Evil Proves There Is No God”
Some would argue that since there is evil, there must not be a God. “Who would allow bad things to happen to good people?” they ask. “Why would someone so good and loving do something like that?” According to Peter Kreeft, “The unbeliever who asks that question is usually feeling resentment toward and rebellion against God, not just lacking evidence for his existence.” Because of this resentment, Kreeft says that “C. S. Lewis recalls that as an atheist he “did not believe God existed. I was also very angry with him for not existing. I was also angry with him for having created the world.”
Well, even Aquinas, when writing the Summa Theologica,
Could find only two objections to the existence of God, even though he tried to list at least three objections to every one of the thousands of theses he tried to prove in that great work. One of the two objections is the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God; and the other is the problem of evil.
Many people have abandoned their faith because of the problem of evil than any other reason. Evil is most definitely one of the biggest tests to faith, “and it’s not just an intellectual objection. We feel it. We live it.” How should we address these people? We must address them gently, almost like talking to a divorcée than to a skeptical scientist. The reason for unbelief is an unfaithful lover, not an inadequate hypothesis. The unbeliever’s problem is not just a soft head but a hard heart.
God’s Answer To Suffering
Often, in desperation, we ask God why he does something, because we want a human explanation for our pain that we experience. Most often, this “Why?” comes when someone is experiencing the loss of a loved one.
The answer must be someone, not just something. For the problem (suffering) is about someone (God—why does he… why doesn’t he …?) rather than just something. To question God’s goodness is not just an intellectual experiment. It is rebellion or tears. It is a little child with tears in its eyes looking up at Daddy and weeping, “Why?”
Believe it or not, God actually does have an answer and solution to the suffering in the world. The answer to suffering is in the fact that He came.
But even if you think the solution in thought is obscure and uncertain, the solution in practice is as strong and clear as the sun: it is the Son. God’s solution to the problem of evil is his Son Jesus Christ. The Father’s love sent his Son to die for us to defeat the power of evil in human nature: that’s the heart of the Christian story. The Cross is the solution to suffering and evil in the world. Spiritual evil no longer reigns free in our lives, although we feel the pain of things, still. “The answer is not just a word but the Word; not an idea but a person. Clues are abstract, persons are concrete. Clues are signs; they signify something beyond themselves, something real.”
He Came
Let’s go back to God’s answer for a while. The answer is so simple. Two words: He came. This is one of the greatest stories ever told. God sent his only Son to Earth to die for our sins, so death was not something that we feel.
He came. He entered space and time and suffering. He came, like a lover. Love seeks above all intimacy, presence, togetherness. Not happiness. “Better unhappy with her than happy without her”—that is the word of a lover. He came. That is the salient fact, the towering truth, that alone keeps us from putting a bullet through our heads. He came.
This is the answer that satisfies Job. Job is satisfied even though God gave him absolutely no answers at all to his thousand tortured questions. Why?
He did the most important thing and he gave the most important gift: himself. It is a l over’s gift. Out of our tears, our waiting, our darkness, our agonized aloneness, out of our weeping and wondering, out of our cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” he came, all the way, right into that cry.
God gave us himself. In giving us himself, he became sin but knew no sin. He “came also into our suffering. He sits beside us in the stalled car in the snowbank. Sometimes he starts the car for us, but even when he doesn’t, he is there. That is the only thing that matters.”
God is broken with us. He suffers alongside us, Kreeft says. Through his Son, God experienced all the pain that we experience.
Are we broken? He is broken with us. Are we rejected? Do people despise us not for our evil but for our good, or attempted good? He was “despised and rejected of men.” Do we weep? Is grief our familiar spirit, our horrifyingly familiar ghost? Do we ever say, “Oh, no, not again! I can’t take any more!”? He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Do people misunderstand us, turn away from us? They hid their faces from him as from an outcast, a leper. Is our love betrayed? Are our tenderest relationships broken? He too loved and was betrayed by the ones he loved.
Summing It All Up
Evil is something that is unavoidable in the world. We know that God did not create evil, and we know that Evil is not an infinite reality, because God is all good. But God has an answer to evil and suffering, a consequence of evil. He came. He gave us Himself.
Sources:
Catechism of the Catholic Church 385
Dr. Peter Kreeft, God’s Answer to Suffering
Dr. Peter Kreeft, The Problem of Evil
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