In the readings for this past Sunday, there were several different, closely connected, themes. One of the more obvious ones is this: God provides for all of our needs. Both the first reading (taken from 2 Kings 4:42-44) and in the Gospel reading (taken from John 6:1-15) have a very similar plot: a large group of people are present in one place; they are hungry; there isn’t enough food to feed them; yet, somehow, God miraculously brings about enough food to feed the people, plus have some left over. The message seems clear: have faith in God, and He will provide.
Yet, I see another level of meaning intimately tied up with this one. God is all-powerful and Provident (that is, God has a plan that is the driving force of all things). Nothing is outside of God’s power to bring about; further, nothing is outside of God’s power to change or prevent. The fact that some things come to pass and other things do not, and the fact that certain things come to pass in a certain way, is the result of God’s Providence. This even applies to the problem of evil. If all things are subject to Divine Providence, then this includes evil. Evil takes place not by way of Divine causation – for this would make an all-good God the cause of evil – but rather by Divine permission (that is, God merely doesn’t stop or prevent evil).
One could easily ask why God permits evil. And, by examining Scripture, the teachings of the saints, and the Magisterium, we can receive deep insights as to why God would permit evil and how it plays a role in God’s larger plan. Yet, these insights, no matter how deep or profound, are still only very limited insights. Humans do not have the mind of God; they do not see things from His perspective.
Thus, Scripture is clear that there will be a time when evil will finally be defeated (Revelations 21:4). Nonetheless many people use the phrases “It will all turn out good in the end” or “God has a plan” or “Everything happens for a reason” as an excuse to stop thinking about these issues with any depth. The problem of evil is not something to find a simple, quick-and-easy solution to, but rather is something to perpetually struggle with, to delve deeper and deeper into and to gain greater and greater insights. And this is because God has not promised to make evil go away (prior to His final defeat of the forces of evil in the eschaton), but rather, in His infinite and unsearchable wisdom and goodness, has permitted evil to occur, and acts in and through evil in order to bring about good. This reached its epitome in God actually taking sin and death upon Himself on the Cross. It is in this act of taking sin and death upon Himself that salvation was brought about.
We see this in the readings for this past week. Yes, one of the levels of meaning is, “God provides.” Yet, it is not meant to end there. If we look at this in light of the problem of evil, we see that God, in His Providence, permitted the shortage of food. This doesn’t make God directly responsible (that is why we say that God permits evil, but does not cause evil). Yet, God worked in and through this shortage to bring about some good, and thus lead us to salvation and manifest His glory. Thus, the message of “God provides” is not merely a feel-good message. On some level, it is meant to challenge us: God provides even when it doesn’t seem possible; God is at work even in the midst of evil and hardship; He can – and has – brought forth the greatest good from the greatest evil.
*To read the readings from this past week, click here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072918.cfm