“While everyone was asleep, his enemy came.” (Matthew 13:25)
Does God sleep? Sometimes God appears to sleep, and the Enemy sows weeds.
One of the questions our contemporaries ask us: How can you believe? When bad things happen all the time, and God does nothing? How can you believe in such a silent, absent, sleeping God?
The Enemy has sown weeds up and down the face of the earth. Smog chokes the air. No jobs for people with Masters degrees. More refugees living in squalid camps right now than at any time in recorded history. More conflict, less understanding. Immigrant children unwelcome. Unborn children unwelcome. Gridlock here, bombs exploding there. Hope on the wane.
And all the while, God sleeps—as the Scriptures themselves, in a parable told by the Son of God, relate!
Do we have a sleeping God Who doesn’t care? Who lets good people get cancer, because He can’t be bothered?
Ok. First we have to distinguish the two kinds of evil.
The Creator could have made a motionless universe, absolutely still, and finished when it began. But in His creative wisdom, He chose otherwise. He chose to create a cosmos that moves, in which the marvelous thing called growth can occur. The universe has not attained its final state yet. Rather, as we heard St. Paul put it at last Sunday’s Mass, creation “groans in labor pains,” as history moves toward its conclusion.
So: Material beings change; they go into and out of existence. We have a theological term for the disintegration and/or destruction of well-ordered material things, which occurs because the universe still moves toward a goal it has not yet reached: ‘natural evil.’
Natural evil can really suck in the short-term. When someone we love dies of old age, or disease, or in a tornado, earthquake, or volcano eruption, we grieve. It’s evil.
But natural evil does not have eternal consequences. When history reaches its conclusion, and the labor pains of the cosmos are over, all the bodies of the dead will rise and will be re-united with our immortal souls for the Final Judgment.
So: the far-more-significant kind of evil is the second kind. Moral evil.
To grasp the significance of moral evil, we need to consider the spiritual dimension of ourselves. Christ teaches us to see how the human person towers over the entire material universe. We human individuals stand as titans, with immeasurably greater dimensions than everything we see, because we have spiritual souls. The movements of the cosmos which can destroy material things cannot destroy our souls, which are purely spiritual and therefore immortal.
We have the capacity to know the truth; we have the freedom to love everything that is good. We can choose. We can study. We can act in accord with the truths that we know. By the same token, we can fail to do these things. We can languish in ignorance, and we can act selfishly.
To summarize: The difference between a beautiful red rose and a withered ashen flower: this is the difference between natural good and natural evil.
The difference between virtue—prudence, kindness, courage—and vice—laziness, dissipation, self-destructiveness: this is the difference between moral good and moral evil.
To come back to our original question: If God sows the seed, owns the farm, and runs the operation, then why is there evil? The only adequate answer to that question is the entire mystery of Christ, taken as a whole.
Now, the complete freedom and faithfulness with which Christ offered Himself in love: this can help us understand why God would allow moral evil in the wills of the fallen angels and men. All creation exists for the love of Christ; this divine love is the power that brought the universe into existence out of nothing, and which moves everything towards the glorious conclusion that God planned before He laid the foundations of the earth.
But the only real window into the grandeur of divine love that we fallen men have is: Christ crucified. All the moral evil of history came crashing down on the head of the innocent Lamb. Out of love, He bore it all for us. Then, He overcame it, and rose again on the third day.
Does God sleep? Well, if He did not constantly give us existence, we would vanish into the utter nothingness from which we came. We would not last a nanosecond without the power of God sustaining us.
No, His only sleep came when He slept the sleep of death for our sake. He went down into the realm of absolute moral and natural darkness, His face flecked with the spittle of His accusers, His brow bloodied with His crown of thorns, His hands and feet pierced by nails.
He went to the domain of death like this, so that we would not have to. So that we, in fact, could sleep and dream sweet dreams like children.
The truth is, our heavenly Father has protected us from the true depths of evil. Like children, we pester our Father with questions like, ‘Why do you tolerate so much evil? Why did You allow the milk in my fridge to go bad, and now I can’t eat my cereal?’
He thinks to Himself, ‘Child, you don’t know the half of it. You don’t really even know how evil evil is. But that’s just as I would have it. I have conquered evil for you, so that you can live forever in goodness.’