Where was God when a little girl is raped and murdered? Where was God when millions were killed by Nazis and the communists? Where is God when unborn babies are killed by their own mothers by the millions, not just through brutal late-term abortions, but also through “reproductive health” products?
This dramatic question is asked again and again over all the world. Being a theological question, the right answer can only come from God himself.
A first reply comes from God’s reminder to Job, a fabulously wealthy man and saint who lost all his properties and his ten children: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!”
God’s dig has two implications. A creature’s mind, made from nothing, is infinitely lower than the mind of the Creator. We can’t wrap our mind around God’s. He wraps his around ours. Secondly, the world has a design: an ordered arrangement that leads to a goal. His purpose is that “we may be holy in his sight”. God created us for nothing else but to be with God. Taking Steven Covey’s famous “Begin with the end in mind”, this clear end illuminates all the discussions about the so-called problem of evil – which God integrated into his plan.
Where is God when evil is done? He is everywhere, holding things into existence, and he is unchanging. We, who are changeable, can make ourselves more or less present to God, depending on our response to him. Thus, it is necessary to make a distinction between the evildoer and the victim of the evil.
Plato clearly saw the difference: “He who commits injustice is ever made more wretched than he who suffers it.” From God’s point of view, the evildoer separates from him. The victim is drawn closer to him.
And in both cases, the God’s death on the cross illumines the issue.
For evildoers, they crucify Jesus anew, says Hebrews 6:6. Where? The Catechism specifies: in their hearts. For he is in them. Philosophers define evil as “deprivation of due good,” the removal of something wonderful that is supposed to be there. Like blindness. Like houses shattered by a supertyphoon. Evil per se is not a thing. For all things that God created is good. When a rapist rapes, he on his own free will decides to remove beauty, truth and good from himself. He crushes the image of God present in his soul. And so Plato is right: a rapist is ever made more wretched than his victim.
But where is God in the victim? This is the key problem, the hardest to crack. Why isn’t the omnipotent power of God used to shield the victim? If God is love, why didn’t he stop all the pain? Again, the goal and the cross illumine this mystery.
One of the ways God expresses the goal is when he describes someone as “greatest in the kingdom”. Jesus used this phrase twice. Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
The real world designed and revealed by God turns our human conceptions upside down. Our contemporary minds can’t see the world correctly because we think we are at the top looking down. But the truth is the opposite. We are cosmic dust. Creatures can climb the infinite distance to God, only if we are humble enough to allow God to take us up to him, and to act like him to benefit other people.
Because obedience and humility are key to attaining the one goal, God has permitted the human beings’ decision to commit evil against other humans and against God. Suffering evil, in God’s master plan, facilitates the attainment of these key attitudes.
C.S. Lewis who wrote the Problem of Pain says that “God whispers in our pleasures but shouts in our pains. Pain is the megaphone to rouse a dulled world.” Pain and suffering, because they make all the other things of secondary importance, help us realize what is essential.
But there is more. Suffering identifies us with God himself. The summit of God’s presence in the world is not a spectacular display of power to achieve success and popularity. Thus in the mind of those anti-theists who think themselves more efficient than God, God is a failure.
But failure is relative to the real goal.
God who became man attains the summit when he acts according to the highest attribute of God. Love. When he gives himself and obeys God in the midst of insufferable humiliation. On the cross.
But this is not all. God’s love is displayed in suffering, but when viewed with his logic, omnipotence and wisdom are also displayed.
On the cross, the greatest possible evil, the murder of God or deicide, is astutely turned to achieve the greatest good: the salvation of all men.
Victims of cheating, rape, mutilation, robbery, of social structures that breed poverty, have become, in the teaching of St. John Paul the Great, recipients of a gift. They have become sharers in his work of saving all men.
And in this world where God wanted us to be like him, possessing freedom, victims have a choice. They can say yes to participating in the greatest deed, becoming the greatest in the kingdom, or they can take the side of the evildoer and destroy God’s image in them.
The division of men into two groups was presaged when Jesus was presented at the temple. Simeon said that, “This child is destined to bring about the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against.”
We rise or fall relative to the goal. And speaking against God, standing in judgement of God, as if we were higher, is the opposite of the obedience and humility that make us rise to the level of God.