One of the greatest causes of unbelief in God is evil; whether it is through personal experience, something traumatic happening to a friend or loved one, or a tragedy such as tens of children being ruthlessly slaughtered by a mentally unstable man with a high-powered rifle. Events such as these cause an emotional knee-jerk reaction. Something in us is deeply disturbed.
It is good that these things trouble us; it means that we are still in touch with our humanity to some degree.
Essence vs. Energies
I’m going to start this off in a seemingly strange way. A teaching has been passed down through the generations in the Eastern Orthodox Church that helps us to understand a little bit more about God and how we interact with him. It teaches that there is an Essence to God that is purely God. It is the Essence that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all share. It is a part of God that we will never know.
God’s Energies, however, stream and course through our world. They are uncreated and have always been a part of God. They include love, grace, majesty, beauty, peace, creativity, patience, thoughtfulness, gentleness, mercy, kindness, humility, etc. God invites us to not only share in these Energies, but to become one with him through these parts of him that we can contact. The Orthodox call this invitation to oneness with God’s Energies Theosis.
What is evil?
With that established, we can better understand evil.
Evil is not a created force or entity. It is essentially nothing because it is the absence of or the twisting of God’s Energies. The easiest way to think of evil is to liken it to darkness, which has no properties and cannot be measured or even created. You can remove light from a room, but you can’t add darkness to a room. Darkness is not a thing, it is the word we have created to describe the absence of another thing (light).
So, evil is not a thing, it has no “thingness” about it, it has no measurable properties. It is the word that we humans have created to try to describe the absence of God’s Energies when we can feel they are missing.
The Philokalia quotes St. Diadochus of Photiki:
Evil does not exist by nature, nor is any man naturally evil, for God made nothing that was not good. When in the desire of his heart someone conceives and gives form to what in reality has no existence, then what he desires begins to exist. We should therefore turn our attention away from the inclination to evil and concentrate it on the remembrance of God; for good, which exists by nature, is more powerful than our inclination to evil. The one has existence while the other does not, except when we give it existence through our actions.
So why does a loving God allow evil?
If evil is simply the absence or twisting of God’s Energies, why does he allow them to be twisted?
As Archbishop Kallistos Ware said in the Orthodox Way, “Evil is the twisting of what is in itself good. Evil resides not in the thing itself, but in our attitude toward the thing – that is to say, in our will.”
One example is authority. I believe that authority is a good thing from God. However, it is often abused and twisted. A leader is meant to serve. But we see how twisted it can become when people rule out of fear or a desire to control. Another example is having resources to acquire enough to fulfill one’s needs. However, hording and greed are evil.
So, in short, the answer to the above question is that God created us with free will, which in turn allows us to twist and distort what was meant for good. That of course begs another question:
Why did God create us with free will, or why isn’t it more restrictive?
By definition, free-will is not restrictive, or else it is not free will. So, it is either something we have or we do not have. There isn’t an in between.
The reason God gave us free will is because of love. We could never give or receive genuine love if we had no free will. Love is inherently risky. It reminds me of the movie Bruce Almighty.
The above video shows Bruce speaking to “God” regarding his frustration over his girlfriend leaving him. He has all of this power, but he cannot force the woman he wants to fall in love with him. And if he could, then it wouldn’t be love anyway.
We are all given free will, and with it we have committed the most horrible atrocities that have surely made the heavens weep, and we have completed the most beautiful acts of love and sacrifice that have made mankind and the heavens rejoice. Love is risky.
Was it worth it though?
For some, it may seem that it wasn’t worth the risk. There’s too much pain, too much heart-ache, too much evil. I can understand that sentiment. Yet, because I have experienced deep love from God and others in this life, I can begin to grasp why the Creator of life made us with free will.
I’m not sure any great or clever argument will help someone see differently who feels free will isn’t worth it. It is something we must come to know with our heart, and the only way to do so is to open ourselves to the Energies of God, namely love and trust.
Love is something we must experience. It is not a rational argument. So, I can only invite you to join me in the quest of finding love and connecting with the Divine Energies. When you catch a glimpse of that connection, I can assure you, that you will still see all of the evil in the world. In fact, it will probably grieve you even more. But you will begin to experience and witness love in a way that not only enables you to bare the pain of the world, but heals you and makes you whole. In turn, you may be given the grace to begin healing the world around you.
See my follow up post here: How to cleanse the world of evil