Creation and the Origin of Evil

I have been writing about the account of creation given in the first chapter of Genesis. Today, I plan to address some subtleties that will expose some common errors and misconceptions of our own day.

The first chapter of Genesis, by and large, reveals God’s completed work, which is pronounced ‘good’ in its parts and ‘very good’ as a whole. Nevertheless, from what follows we learn how sin enters the world, giving rise to a whole history, marked by sin, suffering, and death, a history that would truly be tragic were it not for the redemption wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Last week I noted that just because creation is ‘very good’ that does not mean that it is perfect in every way or the best of possible worlds. Actually only God himself is perfect in every way.

The very imperfection of creation is what gives rise to the possibility of evil. Something more needs to be said as to how that possibility is implicit in the account of creation. We must always keep in mind, though, that God who made all things good, does not cause evil. Rather, by making things the way he did God allowed for both the possibility and the reality of evil.

Within the six days it is important to note that God creates different kinds of trees and plants, bearing fruit, containing seeds, and reproducing themselves; different kinds of birds and sea creatures that reproduce themselves. So also the different kinds of land animals and man reproduce.

We see here that truth taught by St. Thomas Aquinas that God not only gives to creatures the goodness of being like him through the fact of their existence, but also the goodness of being causes within the created order. Existence comes straight from God, but insofar as things come forth from other creatures by way of created causality, like reproduction, they do not come straight from God.

God’s causality never fails, but created causality does. Even apart from the question of moral evil, there will be deficiencies in a created world in which one creature acts upon another and where different creatures are dependent on each other in various ways. That happens simply because creatures, not being God, are limited and imperfect.

As for moral evil two things in the first chapter give us a hint of what is to come.

First, among all the things that God calls good, there is one thing mentioned on the first day that is excluded from that judgment: On the first day God judges the light as ‘good’, but then he separates the darkness from the light. He never calls the darkness of the first day ‘good’. St. Augustine interprets this in terms of spiritual light and darkness and sees here an indication of the rebellion that took place within the angelic world. All the angels were created ‘good’, filled with spiritual light, but some of those angels freely rejected that light and became ‘darkness’. God judged the darkness separating it from the light.

The imperfect universe, created by God, by allowing created freedom, also allows for the possibility of moral evil.

When God creates man, male and female, he speaks to them, giving them a command: Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on earth. (Gen 1:28) The fact of the command implies the presence of human freedom and therefore the possibility of sin.

Now today, we often meet with the claim, “God made me this way. Therefore it must be good.” At best this is a very deceptive and misleading claim.

First of all, by our own free choices, we have made ourselves in certain ways, we have developed certain habits, definite ways of acting and thinking that, had we made different choices, would have been different. Virtue or vice becomes for us a kind of second nature of our own making.

Further, while our souls come directly from God, our bodies with their natural dispositions are formed by the natural process of human procreation (or, tragically, for some the laboratory process of ‘in vitro fertilization’). God fashions our bodies through intermediate causes, with their imperfections.

Further, from an early age, the lower part of our soul, imagination, memory, and emotion, is profoundly shaped by social influences from parents, to school, to friends (not to mention television, internet, and social media) before we ever reflect on the matter.

None of this determines us one way or another, but they set up the context in which our free choices will be made. They give us certain dispositions and inclinations, some towards what is truly good, some not so good, some disordered.

Evil it should be noted is not so much a positive reality as a disorder, a lack of the order to the good that should be there. We could call it a tendency to fall back into the nothingness from which we were created.

Finally, and this is a message contained in the rest of the Bible, God only allows evil because he is capable of bringing forth from the very evil a much greater good. Making a saint from a sinner is actually a greater work than creating something from nothing.

The Collect for the Mass of the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time calls upon “God, who manifest your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy…”

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.