If God is good, why is there so much evil?

I recently came upon a passage in Eric Voegelin’s The World of the Polis that meets a very common problem people have in trying to reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil and misfortune.

Here’s the problem: People have an experiences of a transcendent, spiritual truth, which leads them to believe that such truth exists in the world and society independently of the life of the soul. But in Greek philosophy and Christianity, spiritual truth or order is not immanent in this world; order is something we move toward, something toward which we orient ourselves, and which brings order into our lives and even into society, without, at the same time, this order becoming immanent, because the world and society are inherently filled with disorder. Thus the problem of theodicy, of how to reconcile a good and all-powerful God with actual evil and disorder in the world, is a false intellectual problem. God’s order is not an immanent order of the world that is simply given and that exists by itself; God’s order is a transcendent order toward which we try to orient ourselves and in which we participate in the act of trying to orient ourselves to it. The nature of this world, the immanent world, remains disorderly.

It is thus a mistake to believe that the existence of disorder and evil contradicts the existence of God. God is not immanent. God is transcendent and can only be known through the life of the soul that turns toward him.

This fits my interpretation of the Gospel passage about the eighteen who died in the fall of the tower of Siloam. Jesus says to the disciples: “Unless you turn and repent, you will die likewise.” Meaning, not that you will not physically die if you repent, but that if you don’t repent, there will be no order or meaning in your death, as everything is ultimately without meaning in the absence of a life lived toward God.

With God or without God, towers will continue to fall, cars and planes will continue to crash, accident, disorder, and evil will continue to be active in the world. But with God, we are living toward an order that transcends the disorder. Without God, we are lost in the disorder.

Here is the Voegelin passage that triggered the above thoughts:

The movement of philosophical speculation from the Milesians to Heraclitus, we may say, is a movement away from the experience of actual disorder in the direction of a principle of meaningful order. The discovery of the Solonic unseen measure, or the Parmenidean Being, or the orientation of the soul through love, hope, and faith toward the sophon, are truly great discoveries; in fact, they are the foundation of philosophical speculation as a critical exploration of the constitution of being. Nevertheless, this movement and its discoveries are beset by a grave danger. The occupation with transcendental being and with the orientation of the soul toward the unseen measure may become a preoccupation that lets man forget that he lives in a world of unoriented souls. The movement of a soul toward the truth of being does not abolish the demonic reality from which it moves away. The order of the soul is nothing on which one can sit down and be happy ever after. The discovery of truth by the mystic-philosophers, and still more the Christian revelation, can become a source of serious disorder if it is misunderstood as an ordering force that effectively governs society and history. From such misunderstandings result the psychologically understandable, but intellectual deplorable, “great” problems of theodicy, such as the reconciliation of the all-too-present evil in the world with the omnipotence and goodness of God. In problems of this kind there is implied the speculative fallacy that the transcendental order, which is sensed in the orienting movements of the soul, is a world-immanent order, realizing itself in society independent of the life of the soul. In brief: The discovery may produce an intoxication that lets man forget that the world is what it is.

It was the greatness of Aeschylus that he understood the order of Dike [justice or order] in society as a precarious incarnation of divine order, as a passing realization wrung from the forces of disorder through tragic action by sacrifices and risks, and—even if momentarily successful—under the shadow that ultimately will envelop it.

[Eric Voegelin, The World of the Polis, p. 255.]

- end of initial entry -

Brandon F. writes:

Plotinus has better answers.

Chance has no place in life, but only harmony and order reign therein.

According to Plotinus, matter is to be identified with evil and privation of all form or intelligibility (see II 4). Plotinus holds this in conscious opposition to Aristotle, who distinguished matter from privation (see II 4. 16, 3-8). Matter is what accounts for the diminished reality of the sensible world, for all natural things are composed of forms in matter. The fact that matter is in principle deprived of all intelligibility and is still ultimately dependent on the One is an important clue as to how the causality of the latter operates.

If matter or evil is ultimately caused by the One, then is not the One, as the Good, the cause of evil? In one sense, the answer is definitely yes. As Plotinus reasons, if anything besides the One is going to exist, then there must be a conclusion of the process of production from the One. The beginning of evil is the act of separation from the One by Intellect, an act which the One itself ultimately causes. The end of the process of production from the One defines a limit, like the end of a river going out from its sources. Beyond the limit is matter or evil.

We may still ask why the limitless is held to be evil. According to Plotinus, matter is the condition for the possibility of there being images of Forms in the sensible world. From this perspective, matter is identified with the receptacle or space in Plato’s Timaeus and the phenomenal properties in the receptacle prior to the imposition of order by the Demiurge. The very possibility of a sensible world, which is impressively confirmed by the fact that there is one, guarantees that the production from the One, which must include all that is possible (else the One would be self-limiting), also include the sensible world (see I 8. 7). But the sensible world consists of images of the intelligible world and these images could not exist without matter.

Matter is only evil in other than a purely metaphysical sense when it becomes an impediment to return to the One. It is evil when considered as a goal or end that is a polar opposite to the Good. To deny the necessity of evil is to deny the necessity of the Good (I 8. 15). Matter is only evil for entities that can consider it as a goal of desire. These are, finally, only entities that can be self-conscious of their goals. Specifically, human beings, by opting for attachments to the bodily, orient themselves in the direction of evil. This is not because body itself is evil. The evil in bodies is the element in them that is not dominated by form. One may be desirous of that form, but in that case what one truly desires is that form’s ultimate intelligible source in Intellect. More typically, attachment to the body represents a desire not for form but a corrupt desire for the non-intelligible or limitless.


LA replies:

I will have to read this again when I’m fresher.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 17, 2009 01:09 PM | Send

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