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The Problem of Evil


Now we have touched upon one of the very broadest questions, that of the general problem of suffering in the world which is so very difficult for religious philosophy to explain. Why is the law of the constant renovation of life, the beneficent law of the life of the world, conjoined with suffering? Is it inevitable that creatures should mutually destroy each other? That some should be eaten by others to support their own life? That the weak should be in fear of the strong, and brute force should triumph in the animal kingdom? Is the struggle of one creature with another an eternal condition of life?

The Bible does not give a direct answer to our questions. However, we do find indirect indications of a solution. Here is what is said about the first law of nourishment which God gave His creatures. God appoints the seeds of plants and the fruit of trees as food for man. Only after the flood does he also make meat lawful for him. For animals, God declares: And to all the wild beasts of the earth, and to all the fowls of heaven, and to every reptile creeping on the earth, which has in itself the breath of life, [I have given] every green plant for food, and it was so (Gen. 1:30).

But the fall occurred. Before the flood, the human race had become corrupt. This corruption also touched the world of earthly creatures: And the Lord God saw the earth, and it was corrupted; because all flesh had corrupted His way upon the earth (Gen. 6:12). The law of concord gave way to the law of struggle. And Saint Paul writes: For the earnest expectation of creation awaiteth the manifestation of the sons of God. For creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him Who hath subjected the same in hope, because creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not they only, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:19-23).

This means that the groaning of creation is not eternal; obviously then, neither is the law of conflict, the right of the strongest. And is it, indeed, indisputably a law of life? Do we not observe that the ferocious, bloodthirsty, and formidably strong representatives of the animal world disappear more quickly from the face of the earth than the apparently defenseless, gentle creatures, which continue to live and multiply? Is this not an oblique indication to humanity itself not to rely on the principles of force? The holy Prophet Isaiah speaks of the temporary nature of the principle, when he prophesies about the time (of course not in this sinful world) when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down together with the kid (Is. 11:6).

The account of the origin of evil in the world, of moral evil, and physical and spiritual sufferings, is given in the third chapter of the book of Genesis, and constitutes a new, third blow against pagan mythology. According to the mythological tales, the gods experienced passions and vices and the sufferings which resulted; conflicts, treachery and murders take place among them. Then there are religions which postulate that there is a god of good and a god of evil; but one way or the other, evil is thus primordial. Hence, suffering is a normal condition of life, and there is no path to genuine moral perfection. This is not what the Bible tells us. God did not create or cause evil. What was created was "very good" by nature. Sin came into the world through temptation; that is why it is called "sin," i.e., a missing of the mark, losing of the way, a deviation of the will to the wrong side. After sin came suffering.

The author of the Wisdom of Solomon says: For God made not death: neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living. For He created all things that they might have their being; and the generations of the world were healthful, and there is no poison of destruction in them, nor the kingdom of Hades upon the earth... For God created man for incorruption, and made him to be the image of His own eternity. But through the envy of the devil, came death into the world; and they that are of His portion experience it (Wis. 1:13-14; 2:23-24).

But the moral law is not destroyed by man's fall. It continues to shine, the distinction between good and evil is not lost. Man retains the possibility of returning to his lost riches. The path to it lies through that grief which leads to moral purification and rebirth, through the sorrow of repentance, which is depicted at the end of the third chapter of Genesis, in the account of the expulsion from Paradise. From the last verses of the third chapter of Genesis, we begin to see the radiant horizon of the New Testament far in the distance, the dawn of the salvation of the human race from moral evil and, at the same time, from suffering and death, through the appearance of the Redeemer of the world.

Thus, the story of the fall into sin is of exceptional importance for understanding the entire history of humanity, and is directly connected with the New Testament. A direct parallel arises between the two events: Adam's fall into sin and the coming of the Son of God on earth. This is always present in Christian thought, in general and particular terms. Christ is called the Second Adam; the tree of the Cross is contrasted with the tree of the fall. Christ's very temptations from the devil in the desert recall, to a certain extent, the temptations of the serpent: there it was "taste of the fruit" and "ye shall be as gods;" here, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. The Church Fathers prefer a direct, literal understanding of the story of the fall into sin. However, even here the real element, the element of the direct meaning, is so closely intertwined with the hidden, spiritual sense, that there is no possibility of separating them. Such, for example, are the mystical names "tree of life" and "tree of the knowledge of good and evil." The Church, rejoicing in her salvation in Christ, turns her gaze towards the same "Paradise of old," and she sees the Cherubim, who were placed at the gates of Paradise when Adam was expelled, now no longer guarding the tree of life, and the flaming sword no longer hindering our entry into Paradise. After repenting on the cross, the thief hears the words of the Crucified Christ: Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.

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