God and Evil: “Why have you abondoned me?”

Before Mass this morning I read in the LA times that former LA Deputy DA Vincent Bugliosi has come out with a new book in which, after prosecuting bunches of people both in the courtroom and in print, has come up with a new challenge, this time he puts God in trial: “Divinity of Doubt: the God Question.”

It was just released five days ago, and seems highly promoted if the Amazon.com site is any indication.  His argument seems like an old one, and from the Times article and the reviews on Amazon, I can’t see anything new to it. The challenge of trying to reconcile the idea of an all-good God with the immensity of evil in our world necessarily comes up with imperfect and unsatisfying answers.  The real answer is only that all rational categories we use to describe God are limited by our own powers of understanding.  It’s not only that “God has a greater plan,” as some theories maintain, or that God will ultimately reward and punish, but that the mystery of God simply can’t be subject to human concepts.  Our minds are capable of knowing God, but not of comprehending God.

During the reading of the Passion according to St. Matthew this morning, it came home to me that even Jesus could not “rationalize” the Father’s love with his experience of evil.  His struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane was not play-acting, he was indeed arguing with the Father.  His last recorded words in Matthew scream from the ultimate depths of darkness and abandonment, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”

There is no hope of justice, vindication, or redemption in those words; only unrelieved depths of despair.  The supreme irony is this: on the cross there was no redemption.  None.  Just terminal darkness and emptiness.  Just like the Holocaust and the countless repetitions unimaginable tragedy that has been the lot of humankind throughout history, and seems even more immense in today’s world.

Supreme irony gives way to supreme paradox. There was no redemption for Jesus, human and divine, on the cross.  But God, in Jesus, embraces the depths of the human experience of evil; God has taken into himself the reality and consequences of evil, and precisely in that is our redemption as human individuals and the human race. God is not a proposition to be debated, but a mystery to be entered.

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Author: tomwelbers

I have been a Catholic priest for nearly fifty years, most of that time serving in parish and college campus ministry. I also have professional degrees in theology and liturgy, as well as institutional management, and continue avidly to explore pastoral theology, Scripture, liturgy, ecumenical and interfaith relations, and spiritual direction. I have a passion for sharing insight into our Christian heritage through teaching, writing, and leading pilgrimages, especially to Early Christian World sites in Turkey. Now actively retired from parish ministry, I live at Nazareth House in Los Angeles.

1 thought on “God and Evil: “Why have you abondoned me?””

  1. When my eyes glanced at the LA Times headline on Bugliosi’s book release, my soul winced Fr. Tom, so much so that I could not read that article. I did not want to. I deliberately turned it face down, my reaction to its headline – so visceral – even surprising me ! So I can’t speak to it directly but as I fumed a bit at what I saw as yet another God-bashing headline I did quickly recall in my mind the recent New York Times article that covered a Supreme Court ruling in Italy stating that the crucifix would be allowed to remain hanging on the walls of its country’s classrooms because it was deemed to be a “cultural” symbol, to which I was equally was appalled.

    My heart and soul both know that there is redemption beyond the Cross – but you have to get to the Cross first. No one should ever run from the Cross. You even said that on Holy Thursday night. And it is true.

    Evil exists as a force in the world, and it doesn’t get much worse than “dei-icide “- creatures killing their Creator – on Good Friday. But I believe in His Holy Church and it’s members, all Catholics (even all christians), and that God battles evil through and with our help, we are His boots on the ground. And we will win, even if we are not around to see it. The media has to start building up instead of tearing down. Our society and culture too. At the intersection of those two wooden beams of the Cross (where Evil was ultimately defeated, three days hence) is – Love, which is never defeated. (I think John Paul II said that: “Love is never defeated”). And Jesus will be glorified and proven undefeated on Easter Sunday! And Evil did its best to destroy Him. And if all of the Catholics in the U.S. could “interiorize” Jesus into their hearts, assimilate HIM, we as a nation would change the world overnight, not to mention Catholics and Christians worldwide but it takes hard, long, and sacrificial work to change the human heart. Instead we hear and see these increasing multitudes of “debates” on Evil versus the existence of God, the Cross or Not the Cross, which from my God-given faith-filled soul is on the wrong focus. The mysteries and graces of God are unfathomable and unquestioningly omnipotent over the worst evil has tried.

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