In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, we are reminded of the big question - how do we explain the seeming paradox of God being "all-loving" when senseless tragedy strikes?
Fr. Thomas Hopko, and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick reflect on the question of evil, calling it the fundamental core question of Christianity, of reality itself - if not "the only question" ...
In the wake of the tragedy in Las Vegas we are all reminded of the great question of the existence of evil.
Here are some particularly good podcasts on these issues from two well-respected priests of the Orthodox Christian Church:
Fr. Thomas Hopko - God and the World
October 6, 2011 Length: 53:02
Source: Ancient Faith Radio
Fr. Thomas Hopko - Sandy Hook and Our Response
December 29, 2012 Length: 45:53
Source: Ancient Faith Radio
Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick - Newtown Massacre
December 18, 2012 Length: 15:20
Source: Ancient Faith Radio
Quick heresy disclaimer: I do not write here as an authority, all I can do is offer a layman’s opinion on what's said in these podcasts from my personal understanding of the Christian teaching on evil - so take it for what it's worth.
It’s an obvious question that if there exists an 'all-powerful' 'all-loving' and 'all-good' God, who can create any kind of world he wants; why would he make one filled with pain and suffering when he doesn't have to?
On the surface, that seems like an absurdity.
Upon examination however, these ideas are not absurd, in fact some of the greatest secular minds, philosophers, theologians, and world religion scholars, throughout history have held that the Christian explanation of reality does indeed make the most sense using logic and human reason - more so than the major philosophies, more so than the other major world religions, and far more so than science.
The Christian short answer
'Evil' doesn't actually 'exist'. You just don’t know what 'evil' and 'existence' truly are.
The Christian long answer summarized
Look at the big picture - the metaphysical big picture.
In order to answer the big questions of anything abstract, you must first define your terms.
Christianity defines existence itself as "God", and "God" as reality(ies).
Think of our personal reality (life) as only 1 out of the personal realities (lives) of all the people who have ever lived and ever will live - which together make up man's reality on earth. Imagine each person's reality as a transient soap bubble temporarily floating inside the infinity of ultimate reality - which is "God".
In God’s ultimate reality “evil”, as we know it, doesn’t actually exist.
We are like a bubble floating somewhere in a special part of God’s infinite realities where human ‘beings’ are brought into eternal existence and are offered the opportunity to turn this existence into what will be either joy or pain eternally.
A joyful state can be achieved at any time through a certain synergistic power from the willful cooperation of two wills, the human's “free will” and God’s “free will”.
It is an exercise of two free wills working in concert for the ultimate purpose of the joyful version of our immortal life.
When things happen that cause us pain, and we don’t understand why, we might label it as ‘evil’, but Christianity would choose to better describe it as a necessary component of a “spiritual war" that we do not yet fully understand.
Christianity often describes evil as the state of not existing, and the movement towards that state - like a vacuum.
Hot and cold is another common analogy used, with cold not itself existing - but being the measurement of a lack of heat.
Light and dark are another, with dark not existing - but being rather the absence of light.
So ultimately you could say that evil doesn’t actually exist in and of itself: it is the absence of God or the movement away from God.
Christianity teaches how life is man's journey to reunite with God because we are separated from him.
It holds that this separation is what causes the existence of ‘evil’ in man’s temporary reality on this side of bodily death.
The cause of this separation and the subsequent birth of ‘evil’ is understood using the fundamental classic drama of Adam and Eve coming to know the reality of evil (“the knowledge of good and evil”) through "breaking God’s commandment."
Therefore another Christian definition of evil would be what happens as the result of violating God’s law. "The wages of sin are death".
Because God is pure goodness like a source of light, in Him is no evil - in the same way, no darkness exists in the source of light.
However, Because our understanding of "evil" certainly does exist in our world, i.e. mass shootings, we know that we are in a separate reality from God’s reality.
Christianity teaches the way to merge these two realities into one using free will to achieve a state in which for the human, evil would literally not exist because his understanding of "evil" would change.
Or, put another way, one would not have “the knowledge of good and evil’, only knowledge of good.
Therefore because death is evil, and evil no longer exists, death would no longer exist either, yielding an immortal state, ‘eternal life’.
It should be noted here that this is a state of being, far beyond the concept of a location, as “heaven” is unfortunately misunderstood.
Therefore as Christ taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is 'within you', and John the Baptist taught the Kingdom of Heaven is 'at hand', Christianity teaches that “heaven” is not a place you go after you die, but a state of being that can be realized in the present moment (‘at hand’) within your present state of being - before you die.
Bodily death is merely the merger of God's ultimate reality and our personal reality, a merger into the infinite and eternal presence of God.
The question is whether the human wills to cooperate or not.
If so, it is “heaven.” If not, it is “hell”.
This is but a drop in the ocean of what remains to be said here, but fortunately, we have enough books to last us a lifetime, and a lifetime to read them. The answers are out there, you just have to find them.