Today we welcome back as lead commentator the ever-cheerful person of Emmy Silvius. And she puts before us some tough theological questions surrounding the difficult questions of why sin and suffering exist in our world. This is thought-provoking territory and especially so when viewed through the perspective Emmy brings. This dame always brings interesting and unexpected thoughts to her essays.
Making Sense of Sin and Suffering...
It can hardly be denied that humans experience the brokenness of life. Evil has a knack of getting in the way of the best of intentions. Genesis 3 attempts to explain this reality that lurks ominously despite our desire to act justly. Here the serpent is the source of all evil. Perhaps the notion of creation that is most accepting for the presence of sin in the world is dualism.
This position posits two distinct but opposed creative forces: one good, God; the other evil, usually depicted as Satan or the devil. The beauty of this approach is that it provides a direct and simple theoretical solution to the problem of evil. The fact of evil is traced back not to the creative act of God but to the malevolent act of the anti-God figure of Satan.
In other words, spiritual and material matters are seen as separate identities – one belonging to God, the other to Satan. This, in my view, is primarily the cause of much suffering, as it promotes, amongst other things, discrimination. When speaking of evil, we need to be reminded that there is no such thing as pure evil – there is some goodness in everything that exists. As is clear from Scripture (e.g. Rom 12:9) God does not enjoy evil; above all, we cannot know if, when, or how God interacts with evil. Plus we must remember that we have been given the Spirit to help us resist the evil forces of the world. In his Encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II points out that no amount of sin can remove God from a person's heart. I believe this to be true as even if we steadfastly reject God, God simply cannot reject us. Why? Because we would, in fact be rejecting ourselves – for the simple reason that our innate desire to discover such matters as the meaning of life clearly sprouts from the inner most core of our being – which is none other than God!
Despite there being a link between suffering and evil, these are two distinct entities. Evil often leads to suffering, but this is certainly not always the case. Euthanasia, for example, is seen as evil by the church hierarchy; however, here life is taken to alleviate suffering. Also, some people voluntarily choose to suffer, as is the case with athletes who push themselves to the limit in order to achieve success. Thus, suffering in itself is not the problem, the problem is when one suffers without any apparent meaning or that it is caused by malicious intent. The tendency is to get caught up too much in the reasons for suffering; that it perhaps needs to be linked with guilt or punishment. It is these types of insinuations that often cause us to fear death. The Franciscan view of sin moves away from the harshness of words such as "evil" and "Satan". Bonaventure sees sin as the refusal to be poor, as a turning away from God and towards others. We have been given the option to freely choose to love God. In the centre of our very being we know that we are loved by God and how simple it is to return that love, yet we so easily turn away and lose our direction. A helpful tool would be for the Church to take on a theology of evolution. A theology that makes sense of evolution and, as such, adjusts our concept of sin, assuring us that a world filled with excessive natural evil does not exclude the presence of an all-loving God.
Certain biblical texts raise the issue of the relationship of creation to redemption and salvation (see for example Isaiah 43:1-2; 45:11; 54:5, 14). The redemptive work of God takes place within our world and within individual lives that have been brought into being and sustained by God's creative activity. God's work as Creator not only precedesGod's work as Redeemer but continues on beyond God's redemptive work. This supports the view that redemption is a new form of creation.
The doctrine of salvation follows on from the doctrine of sin. If we assume that God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ is at the heart of our knowledge of God, ourselves and the world, then we must also assume that this same knowledge is at the heart of how we are to reach our ultimate fulfilment – union with our God. Could it be that our inclination towards sin is to some extent rooted in our biological nature? If so, how can we speak of God's salvation in ways which address this notion as well as other dimensions of our sin? Also, if evolution is in some sense the means by which God created us does the discovery that there are evolutionary causes of some aspects of human sin mean that God plays a part in these aspects of sin?
The mystery of the origin of sin...
It is probably wise to acknowledge that the origins of human sin are inevitably to some extent a mystery; that sin is a brute fact for which, in a sense, no reason can be given. Perhaps it is more practical to discern in the cross of Christ the revelation of God's solidarity with, and costly love for, the creation, and the ultimate sign of hope that creation's suffering will be redeemed. Christ's death and resurrection has just as much meaning for God as it does for us, despite the fact that we must realise that Christ's death by no means was part of God's plan when realising the Incarnation. The purpose of the self-giving of God is for the world and humanity to be themselves in a continuous movement to fullness. God's self-gift not only origin-ates that which is separate but is the cause for unity.
In order to combat evil we need to become acquainted with the Spirit within; allowing us to follow Christ's footsteps in the way we live, love, and act. By constantly discerning the path of goodness we gradually mature in our role of being responsible stewards for our earth and treating our fellow humans as equals. We embody this moral value by acknowledging that every human should be treated with respect and dignity in which their needs are taken into account and judged impartially. The Truth within is the Truth that will set us free; allowing us to be all we are meant to be.
The manner in which we commit ourselves determines the kind of person we become and this in turn affects the way we look upon and respond to the world in which we live. True morality is much more than correct behaviour; it is about having the right attitude, disposition, motivation and intention. Our desire to know and our achievement of knowledge is not an end point. There is more. Our knowing is oriented towards action: we desire to know because we desire to act, and act intelligently. Our experiencing, understanding, and judging are directed not just to what is, but to what is to be done, not just to knowing reality, but to creating reality, and creating ourselves in the process. Thus we become co-creators within God's awesome creation and learn to accept our brokenness in the process not as a failure but as a gift – a leverage point on the way to fullness.
Emmy Silvius submitted to Catholica 03 April 2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?