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Reflections on the Daily Readings
from the Perspective of Creighton Students

October 6th, 2013
Matthew Cossack
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Today’s reading from Wisdom touches on a fundamental question in Christian apologetics: Why do bad things happen? “Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?”

Theodicy, or the question of suffering, is well explored in the Bible, notably in the book of Job. Today’s readings, however, brought to mind The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Ivan Karamazov, the philosophical foil to his pious brother, Alyosha, recounts many horrific events that have taken place (Relevant chapter found here). He is mostly concerned with the tremendous suffering of innocent children. He laments to his brother Alyosha, “Listen: if everyone must suffer, in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what have children got to do with it? It’s quite incomprehensible why they should have to suffer, and why they should buy harmony with their suffering."

Ivan goes on to proclaim that he wants nothing to do with a world where such suffering exists, even if the suffering is somehow needed for mankind to have free will. He proclaims, “Besides, too high a price is asked ...  And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.”

The same sympathy for the suffering of innocent children that causes Ivan to rebel against the world God has created is also a temptation to us. The key lies in how we respond to the evil in the world. Out of arrogance do we tell God that we disagree with his creation and do not wish to be a part of it? Or, do we seek the truth and investigate why God had such a “vision”? The first reading states, if we don’t understand the vision, “wait for it; it will surely come.”

In order to seek this understanding of God’s vision, we must first recall, as St. Augustine reminds us, that evil enters the world per accends or accidently through our free will and the conditions necessary to give it significance. Man-made violence is easier to understand here. On the other hand, natural disasters and disease are byproducts of the conditions necessary for our freedom to have any meaning (i.e. predictable and dependable laws of nature which allow us to foresee the result of actions we undertake). The decision to pull the trigger of a gun while it is pointed at someone would have much less significance in a world with unpredictable physics where God frequently altered the laws of the universe to prevent evils like volcanic eruptions. How could you know the bullet would not gently float to the ground and transform into a flower? With such uncertainty what significance would your actions have? None. Thus the same inalterable laws of nature that create disease are those which are necessary for your free will to have meaning.

Evil and suffering are then the cost of having free will. Since freedom comes at such a high cost, God must highly value it and have great purpose for it.

American society comprehends only part of the value. We successfully value freedom-from; we understand that people must be free from limitations on speech, beliefs, actions, etc. Christian theodicy, however, prompts us to search for the deeper meaning of what the freedom is for.

Pope John Paul II emphasized this freedom-for. God wants us to freely love him so much so that he permits evil. We have freedom-for loving God. While God cannot make this decision for us, He does provide us with gifts and His grace. In the second reading and the Gospel we are reminded that we were given gifts from God. The Gospel reminds us that God’s graciousness is not something that we earn; discipleship is an expected duty not a method of earning salvation.

So how do Ivan and Alyosha respond? Both abhor the evils of the world and wish to return their ticket to God. Ivan undertakes a ‘don’t blame me, I wouldn’t have done it this way’ attitude which rebels against God. It is Alyosha who sees God’s vision and recognizes that his “ticket” is his freedom. He seeks to return his ticket by returning his free will to God and becoming obedient to God.

Perhaps this is the whole point of evil and suffering. Man is to learn that obedience is to be cherished over freedom, so he can freely choose to be obedient to God. This accords well with the first line of the Catechism: “We are created to know, love, and serve God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1). If man is created to serve God, then he must relinquish his freedom - the venue through which all evil enters the world.

Those who seek further reflection on this topic can pray the Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

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