Fear No Evil

Doug McManaman
Date: Summer, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

The principal and inevitable mistake of those who are committed to evil is their failure to realize the priority of divine providence. God is eternal. Thus, His knowledge is eternal and entirely unlimited. It follows that their evil is known eternally. And since God is unlimited power as well as unlimited goodness, He will not allow their evil to prevail. Hence, those committed to evil have lost already. From the very start, their schemes are doomed to failure. God is victorious. It is this victory that I'd like to briefly focus on both from a philosophical and a theological point of view.

The Creation of Free-Choices

Firstly, it follows that because God has dominion over being, there are no limits to His power. For He alone creates. In other words, God alone brings things into existence from nothing. Man, on the other hand, produces; he does not create. Man brings things into being from already existing matter. And we understand from within that our power is limited, that we have no dominion over being, but that in the process of production we are required to cooperate with the specific nature of the matter with which we are working (i.e., wood, metal, straw, etc.). We just don't have it within us to impart the act of existing on what previously was absolutely nothing.

Now if we could bring a thing into being from nothing, we'd have an absolute or total dominion; for there is nothing outside of being to limit it (what is outside of being is non-being). Hence, our power would be unlimited. But this power belongs to God alone. Thus, He is limited by nothing.

Now, we've all heard those interesting pseudo-theological puzzles where we've been asked by students and skeptics alike: "If God is all-powerful, can He make a rock so big that even He can't lift?" Or, "If God is all-powerful, can He create a square-circle?"

These, of course, are logical contradictions. God cannot create a square circle, because the very idea contains a contradiction, not because God's power is limited. And God cannot make a rock so big that it exceeds His power to move it, because the very idea is contradictory as well. If He is creating it, He is exercising a complete dominion over it, but if He cannot move that which He is creating, He has no total dominion over it. He would have to simultaneously both have and not have a total dominion over the rock. This, however, is a contradiction.

But God has the power to do whatever does not involve such logical contradiction. One such thing is the creation of free-choices. We do not create our free-choices, because we do not create anything. Rather, we make free-choices. As it is with anything else, however, in order to make them, God must first create them.

Now this sounds as if God determines the choices that we make. But this is not so. What God brings into being in creating a man is precisely an intellectual creature capable of determining himself (making free choices). When making a free choice, I am confronted with a number of alternatives of which I must choose one. I determine the choice that I make. I cannot do this unless I am brought into and sustained in existence throughout the making process. And what is brought into existence is a being whose will is inclined to the good without qualification, a being who knows what he's doing as well as what he ought to do in order to realize his destiny, which is eternal union with God.

Let's consider this more closely. Nothing moves itself from potency to act except by something already in act. All my voluntary actions have their roots ultimately in the original movement of my will towards the good in general. I know from within that my will is not determined to one particular good, but rather is naturally inclined to the good without qualification. But I do not cause the original movement of my will. In order for me to initiate any movement, my will must already be inclined to the good as such. The cause can only be God. For only He, who is unlimited and who is omnipotent, can move my will without determining it. He can move it to incline to the good as such. No finite creature can do this. A finite creature (i.e., a pool ball, a hand, a moving rock, etc.) causes not an indeterminate but a determinate effect (the 8 ball moves in a particular and determined direction). God, who is not finite, can move the will without determining it to any particular course of action.

In making free choices, a person deliberates over alternatives. He deliberates because there is some limited good contained in each alternative that is not contained in the others. That is why he finds something attractive in each alternative. In deliberating over the alternatives, he decides on one when he cuts off the deliberation process.

The difference between a good choice and an evil choice is that a good choice has more being. An evil choice lacks what it ought to have (evil is a lack of something that should be there). More specifically, an evil action lacks an order that ought to belong to the act. For example, one alternative might be to place the suspected murderer under arrest and take him in to face trial. The other alternative is to let him go free and say nothing. Or, I can shoot him and kill him myself, without offering him the benefit of a trial.

Justice demands that I restrain my anger, will him a fair trial, and arrest him. The second alternative is misguided; to choose that alternative is not to love justice enough. The last alternative fails to revere the suspect's life as intrinsically good.

In choosing the first alternative, I determine myself to be the kind of person who restrains his anger and wills justice (chooses justly). In choosing the second alternative, I become a person who does not love justice enough. In choosing the third, I determine myself to be the kind of person who does not revere life absolutely. In choosing any of the two latter alternatives, I determine myself to be a person who is either deficient in justice or reverence.

Now, considering each state of affairs as existing, we can say that God is the First Cause of the existence of that particular state of affairs. But the evil in the two states of affairs is in their deficiency, that is, in what they don't have (i.e., due order). But God is the cause of what is. A thing is good insofar as it is. It is evil insofar as it lacks what it ought to have. That is why God cannot be the cause of evil. Man is the cause of the deficiency, not God (He does not cause non-being, but being). God creates the will in creating the person, and He moves the will without determining it to any particular alternative. In choosing the morally just alternative that lacks nothing, we can say that God is the First Cause (creator) of that entire choice, for it is complete and lacks nothing.

The ability to make free-choices does not mean being the first cause of one's choices; for it is impossible for man to be the first cause of anything that exists. He can only be a secondary cause of his good choices, and the first deficient cause of his evil choices, and thus the first cause of the deficiency of his character resulting from his choice of a deficient alternative.

And so God is the First Existential Cause of all the good free-choices that persons make, and all the goodness that is present in an evil choice.

Now "good" is a property of being. The entire order of existence (including all of human history), which is brought into being by God, who is the Supreme Good, is an order that is good. Indeed, it is very good; for the whole enjoys a goodness that the part does not -- a part enjoys only a partial goodness, whereas the whole order enjoys a total -- but not unlimited -- goodness. The entire order of existence, including all of human history and the choices that determine it, will not lack what it ought to have, because the whole order is created by God, and whatever God does is good, since He is the measure of what is good.

Evil choices that occur within that order as parts of it cannot succeed in having the final word -- for the parts of a whole do not determine the final and total meaning of the whole; rather the whole determines the parts. In other words, the role that the parts will play within the context of the whole is determined by the idea that conceives the whole. For example, the door does not determine its place within the whole house; rather, its place is understood only in light of the whole idea of the house, that is, the form and function of the house. The same is true for the tire in relation to the whole car, or the video card in relation to the whole computer. So too, the entire order of existence is completely under the dominion of God, whose power and goodness is unlimited, and the parts of that order, especially free human choices, do not determine the over all meaning of the whole. Rather, it is the whole, eternally conceived, that assigns a place to every part.

Now omnipotence in God includes omniscience, that is, knowledge that is limited by nothing -- if not, God could not be said to be all-powerful. God's knowledge is thus eternal and entirely without passivity. In other words, God does not receive information. He is not "informed" by anything: to receive "form" is to be the subject of further perfection. But God is the First Cause, the ultimate source of all possible perfections. He is entirely without potentiality. And so God eternally (simultaneously) knows every choice that takes place within the entire order of existence; for He is the cause of those choices insofar as they exist and thus insofar as they are good.

God's knowledge is prior to every free choice that human persons make (prior not in the order of time, since God is not in time, but according to eternity).

Now, I may freely choose to plot the destruction of the innocent, but God knows this eternally. He is not informed of my choice after it is made, because there is no passivity in Him. He cannot be caught off guard, nor can His overall plan be hampered (to be hampered implies that something was overlooked). If I choose to plot the destruction of the innocent, God merely uses my own free and evil choice to realize His eternal plan, which on the whole is very good, and therefore just. And because it is just, my own injustice -- by the power and goodness of God -- is made to work for justice. This means that my own evil acts will inevitably recoil upon myself. My own evil choices will inevitably be made to bring justice (punishment) to my own injustice and help realize the overall goodness of the order of existence.

From a Theological Point of View

Scripture reveals that all this is indeed the case. In the first story of creation, God is depicted as rejoicing in what He has made: "And God saw that light was good...God called the dry land 'earth' and the mass of waters 'seas', and God saw that it was good...Evening came and morning came: the third day...God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day...and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good." (Gn 1: 3-25).

However, after the creation of man, God beholds all that He had made: "and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day" (Gn 1:31).

The whole has a greater goodness (it is very good) than does the part (which is good), for the whole contains the part, but the part does not contain the whole.

Now it is typical to interpret God beholding the sixth day as occurring within a particular time frame that is now irretrievably past. But if we consider that God "sees" eternally and that He beholds the entire order of creation all at once, it is obvious then that for God to behold the entire "sixth day" is for Him to behold all that man has co-created with Him, all that with which man has "filled the earth" and all that he has "conquered" (Gn 1: 28).

God does not behold as man beholds, for man sees passively. Human persons are informed by what they see. But God's "seeing", that is, His knowledge, measures the real order (a thing really exists because God knows it). If God beholds all that He has made, and indeed it is very good, then it follows that the evil contained within the "sixth day" is not final. The declaration that "indeed it was very good" is, among other things, a declaration of victory and that evil has lost.

This victory is played out in detail within history, made manifest for all to see. It begins with the Incarnation of the Son of God, which is ordered towards his passion and death: "There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!" (Lk 12: 50). The cross is God's victory over sin and death. It is the definitive revelation that God's power is so unlimited that it can defeat the greatest efforts of evil, even by allowing evil the particular victory it seeks for itself. Evil's victories are always its own defeats. We know this because the Son of God, who is "God from God, Light from Light", allows himself to be assaulted by evil. He descends into darkness and is crucified. By joining suffering and death to Himself, the Light illuminates suffering and death, making them the Way to Him: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 14: 6); "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16: 24). The cross becomes the instrument of light and life; the Son's descent becomes our ascent. Satan's very act of aggression, intended to destroy humanity, becomes the very means of humanity's salvation. The symbol of his hatred and violence -- the crucifix -- becomes the definitive symbol of his defeat.

It is through Christ's humanity that we share in this victory over evil, his defeat of sin and death, and it is through the Eucharist that we have access to his humanity.

And so the war has been won, and the celebration of this final victory is assured: "Meanwhile let the sinner go on sinning, and the unclean continue to be unclean; let those who do good go on doing good, and those who are holy continue to be holy. Very soon now, I shall be with you again, bringing the reward to be given to every man according to what he deserves" (Rv 22: 11-13; Cf. Mt 22: 1-14).

That is why ultimately there is nothing for us to fear. We don't need to defeat evil, because it has already been defeated. We only have to choose sides. The choice is ours whether or not to enter into Christ's victory by entering into Him. All we need do is allow Him to make us and mould us into the persons he intends for us to be (making Jesus the Lord of our lives). We have no choice as to whether or not we will be instruments of providence; for nothing exceeds the reach of divine providence. But whether we will be instruments of our own self-destruction or instruments of divine life is up to us.

Those who choose to be instruments of divine life have the easy task: "Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt 11: 28-30). They don't need to scheme, plot, lie, or employ devious and underhanded means to achieve their end; for that is how the wicked operate. They plot the destruction of the innocent: "The wicked man plots against the virtuous, and grinds his teeth at him" (Ps 37: 12; Cf. Ps 31: 13). They are blind to the priority of providence and divine omniscience: "'Yahweh sees nothing,' they say 'the God of Jacob takes no notice.'" (Ps 94: 7).

But God sees eternally, and His knowledge is prior to literally everything, including human choices: "Yahweh, you examine me and know me, you know if I am standing or sitting, you read my thoughts from far away, whether I walk or lie down, you are watching, you know every detail of my conduct. The word is not even on my tongue, Yahweh, before you know all about it; close behind and close in front you fence me round, shielding me with your hand. Such knowledge is beyond my understanding, a height to which my mind cannot attain.... You had scrutinised my every action, all were recorded in your book, my days listed and determined, even before the first of them occurred" (Ps 139: 1-6; 15).

And so all the effort that the wicked employ inevitably recoils upon themselves and strengthens those whom they intended to harm: "They laid a net where I was walking when I was bowed with care; they dug a pitfall for me but fell into it themselves" (Ps 57: 6); "The wicked may sprout as thick as weeds and every evil-doer flourish, but only to be everlastingly destroyed, whereas you are supreme for ever. See how your enemies perish, how all evil men are routed" (Ps 92, 7).

All the believer needs to do is enter into Christ and be part of his victory. He need only be poor in spirit, meek, and allow the love of God to grow within him so much as to cause him to mourn his own sins and the sins of the world; he need only hunger and thirst for justice and be an apostle of mercy, pure of heart, and a peacemaker (Mt 5: 3-12). He need only walk persistently through the shadow of the valley of death, obey God, and trust in providence: "It is he who will free you from the snare of the fowler who seeks to destroy you; he will conceal you with his pinions and under his wings you will find refuge. You will not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the plague that prowls in the darkness nor the scourge that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand fall at your right, you, it will never approach; his faithfulness is buckler and shield" (Ps 91: 3-7).

There is nothing for us but to rejoice and be glad when persecuted on account of Christ, for the war has been won and the celebration will be great, and we are called to be a part of both.