This is a perennial question. Mercifully, I have saved the last answer I posted, just to save time. Had to hunt a bit in archives, but here it is, along with this special emendation.
In the first post I dwelt at length on God's respecting human free will, which alas, is often the source of the evils we see. I also spoke, but I don't think clearly enough, of the fact that God's will is for Eden, perfection, no death or pain at all. What I neglected to add is that, with the original sin and the entry of evil into world, all sorts of natural disasters, like tsunamis, also became deadly. Had humans always followed God's will, such things would never have harmed them, even if they had happened in the normal course of geological events. There was no suffering and death in God's plan. None, nada, zilch. Actually, one might even ask if such geological evolution would have been necessary, had Eden remained perfect, a very valid question.
But Eden did NOT remain perfect. Along with evil, suffering and death, came the horror of a Pandora's box that once opened could not be closed. Yes, innocents suffer and die, they have and will till the end of time. But the suffering comes because of the power of evil that was unleashed like a broken power line in a windy storm, striking at random and without care. The power line was bequeathed us by an original human choice, by sin being asked in. It was not, is not and never will be the will of God for us, but it is an inescapable reality of His allowing us free will and choices that have terrible consequences, of His scrupulously hands-off policy in respecting our free will.
Had the will of God (which is, as St. Paul tells us, that all be saved, which is principally why His will is best!) been left alone by humans, believe me, if a tsunami came we could all surf it and later remark what a wonderful time we'd had... Honest. Rotten stuff did NOT come from God. It came from human messing around with His perfection in Eden.
Now here's the original post.
One of our readers wrote to me Thursday morning:
"My heart sank as your prayer requests went out for "Tim and Ilya Smith, whose
house burned down on Ash Wednesday, killing their daughter, Felicia." and then
shocked when you wrote: "God's will is best." Because of the proximity of the
two sentences, I believe I understand you to say that it was God's will that
Felicia suffered and died. IF that is what you meant, please, please explain to
me your understanding. It is contrary to everything I know about our Lord. It
is my belief that Jesus wept over such an event, even though it did not catch
him by surprise. It is my belief that the mystery of her death can only be
partially understood in the context of living in a broken, fallen world, where
God, making us in his likeness gave us free wills; and that it is our fallen
nature, which causes us to suffer these kinds of things, not God's intention or
We're on the same page here without realizing it. I fully agree, God has never
willed human death or suffering, never even willed corruptibility. All of those
things came on the scene SOLELY because of fallen humanity, because of our free
will. I fully agree that God weeps with the broken hearts of Tim, Ilya, Felicia
and all who suffer. I fully believe that God recoiled in pain at Felicia's end.
Were this not the case, I would have no relationship with God other than fear,
and I'd hope to have enough personal integrity to not even have that. I tend to
be not really fond of mean....
Ah, but come quite inevitably suffering and death did, and with us they shall
irrevocably remain for all time. No one, no one at all is exempt from their
terrible whimsy. Not innocent children, not even dumb animals nor inanimate
elements are spared this all-encompassing decay and pain and loss. Not even
Jesus and His Mother, the two most wonderful humans to ever live, were spared.
Not for an instant. That should tell us something very awesome about God's firm
resolve to respect our free will utterly. He left us with all those earthly
consequences, even though, in His changeless Love and Mercy, He gave us His own
Son as a sure way to getting eternally out of them in heaven.
None of this was the way God planned things. None of it. Check out Eden, check
out Paradise, that's what God willed and that's all He willed: perfect joy and
bliss and union with Him. And God never changes. He does not will one thing
today and change His mind tomorrow. That optimal best of a love so exquisite
that we shall be eternally overwhelmed by its wonder is His will for each of us,
once and for all. Nothing at all can thwart that love and will except free will,
and the garbage of millions of years of human insistence has left us with a
tangled cobweb of past bad choices than none can escape in this life.
Jesus died. Mary died. Felicia died. So will you, so will I. It would be nice if
our yet to come ends were in our own bed, with the priest beside us and the oils
of anointing fresh on our foreheads, but they could just as well be otherwise.
Surely most those who crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on
Sept. 11 had often hoped for a peaceful and easy end, but it was not theirs.
Evil, death, suffering, illness, corruptibility, transience, all of these wag
dangerously in our fallen world like broken power lines in a hurricane. Like
those inanimate power lines, they neither think, plan, nor care whom they
strike. Alas, that is the human condition.
We speak almost casually of the brokenness of the world without realizing that
the brokenness extends to hearts, to even our deepest and holiest loves. Surely
the love that God-fearing people like Tim and Ilya had for Felicia wished so
much more, only the best for their promising daughter in college. That their
love and their hearts were broken and crushed did not necessarily have anything
to do at all with the purity and holiness of either. It happened, perhaps, in
spite of such purity.
Only in heaven shall we regain the ability to love purely
and have things guaranteed to work as we'd wish. Here, even our dearest love is
at risk and we are powerless to remove that risk entirely, just as God Himself
was powerless to spare His own Son as soon as He became human. We all reap the
bitter fruits of a one-time human insistence on OUR plan. Miserably, our plan
lacked the wisdom of God, as is all too readily apparent.
Humans were not the only ones to rebel, nor the first. Angels did, too. Now
there's a problem: the fallen angels have greater intelligence and powers than
ourselves and they meddle against the will of God endlessly. We are not
powerless, as Christians, against Satan and his followers, but they can
certainly get in the way of things temporarily! Our Christian faith, baptism and
grace can and do protect us from them in a real sense, but they can still annoy
Why mention Satan? Because, even when we agree to cling to the will of God with
all our hearts, there are other entities, human and otherwise, busily
cooperating with evil, whether knowingly or otherwise. This can create a LOT of
short-term problems, although, if we only trust and love God's will, the
long-term victory is assured us. In the meantime, all these counter forces
shuffling pieces of the puzzle to their own designs can really slow things down,
even temporarily divert the trains altogether. But ONLY temporarily.
God and God alone can turn evil to good. God and God alone can turn loss into
triumph. When we accept His will, rather than undergo it, we plug into that
inestimable ability of God that only God has. God permits evil, permits
suffering and death. They are part and parcel of the idea of His giving us free
will, and God cannot go back on His word. So yeah, all those painful things that
are the result of original sin still happen, but also yeah, God can and does use
them for our highest and unimaginable good. We have only to allow Him!!
Believing His will is best for us is how we allow Him, so is trust, so is love.
Trust me when I tell you that I know from experience that human life can be
crushingly awful. It can. As I look back on some of the worst times, I am SO
glad I didn't get my way- it could have been so much worse, and so much good
would have been missed. Had God asked my 47 year old Dad and me whether or not
we wanted him to die, both of us would have doubtless said no. My Dad would have
cringed at what might have happened without him. I was only ten. I thought my
world had ended. Still, I would in no way be the person I am today had he not
gone to God. Not possible. Wouldn't have happened. Probably wouldn't be a monk
and probably wouldn't be writing this. Thanks Dad, thanks God. I owe you both!!!
Much of who I am came to be precisely BECAUSE the things that my Dad would have
wished to prevent befell me. God is not thwarted ultimately, not ever!
Houses burned, daughters and fathers dead, loves lost and lives apparently
ruined are terrible consequences of a will OTHER than divine, our own free will
and that of others. However there is great hope, even in this. None of the
things, not one, that happen in this life cannot be turned to good, to eternity
of bliss, to God. That is His power to overcome ALL evil ultimately, of whatever
sort. In fact, He already HAS overcome the world. it's just that our finite eyes
cannot see that yet, but it IS a reality. ALl temporal loss is apparent. Tough,
no doubt, but not lasting. Only God lasts.
The Lord told St. Faustina that ALL creatures do His will, whether they want to
or not, whether they know it or not. That means that the will of God for our
best good is already out there as a whole reality, a done deal. We can plug into
it or join the on-going resistance. The choice is ours. He will always, always,
always lead us to the best. For our part, we need only trust and follow!
Love and prayers,
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