Fr. Charles Irvin
Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10
I must tell you that when I read the Gospel account for today I was quite disturbed, thinking to myself: “How can God be so hard-hearted, so demanding?” When I read today’s first reading from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk I became even more perplexed. The whole question of God allowing evil to exist confronted me. The answer given to Habakkuk’s complaint didn’t help. Essentially the answer God gives Habakkuk is this: Be patient; ultimately you will know why evil exists. Just have faith and you will come to know the answer.
Well, I went searching. I went back to the Old Testament, scanned the Book of Habakkuk along with some of the events surrounding it, and then some of the things surrounding the Gospel account from St. Luke. I wanted to see them in context and try to discover what God was telling us in those readings.
As you may well imagine, I’ve had discussions with many folks on this topic as well as with other priests. Gradually a theme has emerged over the years. Stated simply it is this: We cannot call God into account for the existence of evil. Rather we must call ourselves into account. God has not caused evil, we have.
Let me put some ideas in front of you before we develop some answers to the problem. First we must take a large view of things. Suppose we say God did not create the world and then stop. Suppose it would be more accurate to say: God is creating the world; that His creating love is on-going.
Holding that in the back of your mind, suppose we go on to say that God is creating the world along with us. I mean, perhaps the message of Genesis is that God and man are bringing order out of the chaos, that creating is something that God and man are to do together, and that man is co-responsible with God for what happens in our world.
Now let’s put that together with the existence of evil in our world. Evil is the situation that exists when there is an absence of perfection, when the good is missing, when there is a lack of wholeness, when what exists is not wholly all that it should be. Pain is the result of the lack of full health. Emotional pain is the lack of a complete relationship with others. Suffering exists when something is missing. As St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans: All of creation groans and travails until completeness has finally arrived.
The situation is that now man is responsible for the completion of creation. God has charged man with the responsibility of bringing the world to completeness. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom will come here on earth as it is in heaven. He has given us the opportunity to mold the destiny of our world, to share with Him freely in the task of guiding our destiny. He gives us the freedom to become what we should want to be and what God wants us to be.
Do we now call Him to task for not having finished the process of creation? Do we complain that moral evil and physical evil still afflict us? After all, it is we who have devoted our time and energy to killing our brothers and sisters. It is we who have chosen violence, warfare, hatred, segregation, division, and strife. It is we who could have used our resources to control the weather, to overcome disease, to the elimination of all manner and form of physical afflictions. Is it now God who is responsible for that? Evil exists and God is a good God. Do we imagine that He wants evil to exist?
Habakkuk complained about injustice and wanted God to destroy the unjust men. He begged God to obliterate a part of His creation. It would have been better for Habakkuk to call mankind into account rather than God.
Something else should be seen in connection with all of this. We have to look at the corporate responsibility of man rather than just look at each man’s individual responsibility. The sins of father’s, the bible tells us, will be visited upon their children. We reap the whirlwind of racism, the seeds of which were planted by mankind, not by God. What we do as a society really matters.
We’ve all paid lip service to the proposition that no man is an island, but we fail to recognize the consequences of that. Every sin that I commit has its impact on others beside myself. If our vision is clear enough we can then recognize that there is no such thing as a private sin. It is a myth to say that I can do what I want so long as I don’t hurt someone else. If I sin I will always hurt someone else.
And so innocent people suffer. Little babies must suffer. A race of people that have devoted themselves to the acquisition of money, of power, of military might, will visit suffering on themselves and upon their innocent children. Greed will affect us all. When you search for the causes of our present economic depression you will find greed played a key role.
God is calling us to do our duty and not be concerned about getting rewards. We cannot enter into a contractual arrangement with God looking for a quid pro quo reward. We cannot say to Him: “Well, if I get serious about religion, if I go to church every Sunday, if I pray and fast and do all manner of good things then you, God, you are obliged to reward me.”
God has called us to co-responsibility. Jesus tells us: “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” That is a monumental statement if ever there was one!
We ought not to regard God the Father as some sort Sugar Daddy In The Sky. We ought to stop looking to Him to take care of our every little need. He wants us to grow up, to mature, to take responsibility for life into our hands, to develop and stand on our own feet and then give Him the beautiful gift of love, a love that comes from a free and mature person. That’s a beautiful thing; that’s what God thirsts for from us.
And so let us stop calling God into account. Let us rather demand more perfection from ourselves. Let’s make this world a better place by taking hold of God’s power and letting it work through us, rather than thinking that He works for us. It is then, and only then, that we will be the sons and daughters that He wants us to be — full in stature, mature, strong, lover’s filled with power, and fully human. When that day dawns we will have given Him true honor and glory.
Finally it seems to me that God’s answer to Habakkuk was really good. If we develop our faith, if we have enough faith in God and in His ways, we will overcome. When we acquire that personal love and that personal relationship with God that allows us to be filled with power — with His power — then evil will be overcome and defeated. It remains for you and me, therefore, to become more filled with His power in order that we, together with God, might bring all things to fulfillment.
May we share that goal and nourish each other in the Eucharist that we now celebrate and receive in the Bread of Life what we need in order to live life to its fullest.