ROCKWALL – Why does God allow evil, such as what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, when 20 children and six adults were murdered in cold blood by a gunman who also took his own life?
That’s the question we asked several members of our local clergy this week, and will ask additional clergy next week.
The Reverend Joe Pool of United Methodist Church of Rockwall (above left), Reverend George P. Monaghan of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church (above center) and Heath Stake President Darwin Smith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) each submitted the following written answers to The Rockwall News.
All three agreed that because God allows each of us to choose between good and evil, that frequently means humankind makes the wrong choice. Loving and forgiving those who make the wrong choice – as Christ would do – is the key to overcoming the evil of this world, and we should all celebrate the gifts of love and forgiveness which will conquer evil, especially during this Christmas season.
Rev. Pool explained that God grieves when humankind chooses evil and would never inflict violent acts upon anyone, but He does allow humankind to choose.
“Our understanding is that God does not allow evil things to happen. However, God does allow humankind the ability to choose and determine their path in this world. There are times when humankind chooses evil, hatred, prejudice, violence and the infliction of pain on others. God grieves when we choose to act in such a manner. But, humankind can choose acts of kindness, comfort, compassion, empathy, and love which envelop and conquer the wrongful acts initiated by others. God is the source of all that is good and would never inflict suffering or violent acts upon anyone. It’s up to us to choose our response to life and this world and how we will exist in relation to one another.”
“Father George” said “we should never fall to the presumption that God encourages evil,” but “God will never take away that ability to choose, no matter how poorly we might act.”
He wrote: “How do we answer the question of “Why does God allow evil? As with most things, we need to start at the beginning. We turn to the Book of Genesis and remind ourselves that in the beginning when God created mankind he gave us two phenomenal gifts; the gift of the intellect and will, the ability to choose. At some point in history, as we hear in the story of the original sin of Adam and Eve, sin entered the world and mankind has not been the same since. We still struggle with the effects of that original sin. When we are baptized we are cleansed of original sin, however we still struggle with its effects. We all have the tendency to be caught up with the glamor of the wrong choices. Prayer helps us to make the right choices.”
“When we ask the question of evil we should never fall to the presumption that God encourages evil. God is not like us who take back gifts. The gift of choice that we have been given is never taken away. We can all misuse that gift. God will never take away that ability to choose, no matter how poorly we might act.”
“Maybe the better question might be, “How does God react when anyone abuses that gift of choice and opt for evil? Maybe, just maybe, our reactions to wrong and evil are just a small reflection of God. Just imagine the disappointment and hurt that God feels when one of his creatures so misuses one of his gifts to abuse another of his creatures. God is Love and loves us beyond our wildest imagination. What is our response to such actions? Again we turn to God. God so loves us that in the fullness of time the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ, broke into our existence to bring us salvation. That salvation comes through forgiveness. Not only does God forgive us, we must forgive each other, no matter what. As we say when we pray that great prayer that Jesus gave us; “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.” We are in the process of celebrating the birth of our Savior. May we all celebrate the gift of life, love and forgiveness that Jesus brings.”
Pres. Smith stated God gives us the freedom to choose between good and evil and quoted a scripture which teaches that men are free to choose liberty and eternal life through Jesus Christ, or captivity and spiritual death, according to the power of the devil who seeks to make all men miserable “like unto himself.”
He wrote: “Evil exists and is as real as the goodness of God, one being in opposition to the other. God gives us the freedom to choose between good and evil. In the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the prophet Lehi taught his son,
“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh;…And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” 2 Nephi 2:27
In this life we experience both the joy that comes from doing good and the misery that comes from evil. Sometimes this misery is a result of our own choices and at other times, a result of the choices of others. This misery and suffering is often inexplicable and senseless. In a 2007 discourse titled ”The Healing Power of Forgiveness“, James E. Faust, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stated,
“All of us suffer some injuries from experiences that seem to have no rhyme or reason. We cannot understand or explain them. We may never know why some things happen in this life. The reason for some of our suffering is known only to the Lord.” (See his entire remarks including observations on the 2006 Amish school shooting found here: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/04/the-healing-power-of-forgiveness?lang=eng)
I have always admired those who are able to choose the good of forgiveness even after suffering tragedy and loss. Forgiveness is a Christ-like attribute that leads to healing and peace as opposed to the misery and sorrow that come from hatred. Forgiveness often takes time and is easier when we feel loved ourselves. May we reach out to those who have suffered loss, to give them comfort in their time of deep grief and sorrow and help them feel the comfort and peace that comes from the Spirit of our Heavenly Father. Our arms are the arms of the Savior. We can love as He would love and forgive as He would forgive. This is the key to healing and overcoming the evil that exists in this world.”
The Rockwall News thanks Rev. Pool, Rev. Monaghan and Pres. Smith for their thoughtful answers. Feel free to post comments about their words below.
By J.J. Smith