At some point, most of us will go through a crisis of belief and wonder if there is a God. If God exists, why doesn’t He prevent evil? Christians recite all of the stock replies and appropriate Bible verses to ease the pain in a struggling friend’s mind and heart. We are brave in our declaration of faith in good times, but when loss or tragedy becomes personal, we question not only the goodness of God but His very existence. Why would a good God allow evil on earth? St. Thomas Aquinas gives us a reasoned response to the problem of evil in the “Five Ways” found in his Summa Theologica.
Nearly seven centuries later, C.S. Lewis also grappled with this crisis of belief in his book, A Grief Observed. After the death of his wife, his Christian faith offered little consolation. He writes, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.” Lewis makes a good point. Until you find yourself in the darkness of grief and questioning God, you truly cannot understand. The faith that you relied upon seems hollow and questions trickle into your mind. Lewis asks, “Is it rational to believe in a bad God? Anyway, in a God so bad as all that? The Cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile?” What an encouragement to know that Lewis struggled through the same doubt.
God is not a “Cosmic Sadist,” but that might be the first thing we think about when everything is going wrong. If we could remove all traces of God, would that eliminate evil? It will still be present because we live in an imperfect world. Difficult things will continue to happen. Christianity acknowledges that misery is real and painful, but only Christianity gives us a God who, through His own son, Jesus Christ, intimately knows suffering.
St. Aquinas replies to the objection that God doesn’t exist. He states “This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it, produce good.” For our part, we may never be able to explain why a tragedy happens, and we shouldn’t ignore suffering. Evil exists, but God works through it to redeem it.
Aquinas responds to one of theology’s most difficult conundrums in his Summa Theologica. He states a common objection which is the idea that God does not exist because a God of infinite goodness would leave no room for evil. Since there is evil in the world, there cannot be an all-good God, therefore God doesn’t exist. But God must be all-good or He cannot be God, so why would an infinitely loving God ever allow evil to exist? In the following sonnet sequence, the reader moves from the sorrow and anger in a confused heart to resolution and understanding that “this is part of the infinite goodness of God.” They depict the dichotomy in Article 3 of the Summa—evil exists, so there is no God vs. God allows evil to produce good out of it. These sonnets reflect the struggle and healing after the death of a child. “Dark Sonnet” illustrates the objection to the existence of an infinitely good God. “Life Sonnet” is the reply to the despondency. The poems parallel heartbreak answered with hope.
Because God is good, all that he creates is also good. Therefore, the child who passes away was created for a purpose that God always knew. Because we are human, we can only see it through our own limited understanding. God will bring goodness out of evil which will ease the suffering, but we need to respond by accepting this dual gift of suffering and blessing. If we do not, we are doomed to live out our lives in darkness and without hope.
C.S. Lewis writes about these ideas of suffering, glory, and eternal perspective in his fictional account of heaven and hell, The Great Divorce. How can grief be temporary? Through the depiction and voice of his spiritual hero, George MacDonald, Lewis writes, “That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”
This brief life will continue to be a challenging amalgam of trouble and joy. We can start with St. Aquinas’s reply to the argument against the existence of God because of evil. God would not allow evil to exist unless, working in His omnipotence, He would bring good out of evil. If we choose bitterness, we miss the mercy that God offers and the gift of being reconciled with hardship. Instead, be encouraged and choose the blessing of which Paul reminds us:
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Quiet. I know nothing of what I knew:
Believing You are good, why is she gone?
Woven for a purpose, so we prayed through.
It wasn’t enough. Darkness before dawn.
Omnipotent to prevent the deep pain.
I hear, “I AM.” But God? You are? You will.
You cannot exist, reasons form a chain.
No hope. Go away. I don’t want You. Still.
Infinite goodness finds me in the pit.
Your plan over my pain. I teach, head bowed.
I close my eyes and search for words that fit,
The struggle to teach of an all-good God.
My doubt, rejection of what I believed.
You’re preaching through suffering while I grieve.
I lift my gaze. Small mercies hug me tight.
I am unwilling to be still and hear,
Make me Your student like them, a delight.
Mercy’s answer is more than I can bear.
You replace one with hundreds of blessings,
Imperfect all, but still Your reflection.
I move from deep anger to confessing
The great I AM. Oh, but God. Perfection.
Because you are infinite love, highest
Good, you give us two choices to embrace.
To cling to my grief. To resent. Heart driest.
Your Child died for me, so I’ll see her face!
You bring good out from evil, beyond grief;
I scarce can take it in, choosing belief.
Annie Crawford, “Hogwarts in History: The Neo-Medieval Vision of Harry Potter,” An Unexpected Journal 3, no. 3. (Fall 2020), 119-170.
Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/thomas-aquinas-understanding-evil/
 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 25.
 Ibid., 30.
 Peter Kreeft, A Shorter Summa — The Essential Philosophical Passages of St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 64.
 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2001), 69.
 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV).