The Sinister Situation of Evil: Problem or Necessity?

Q: I try to understand evil itself – what is it? Brokenness from the biology of the human being, brokenness from the things that have happened sometimes before and sometimes after birth? I’m not finding the right words as I struggle to understand the essence of evil which may inform one’s response but not in terms of consequences.

Robert: Whether we are completely conscious of it or not, all our theologizing is done within a worldview: a philosophical system of thought that governs the careful formulation of our most cherished religious beliefs. Our beliefs concerning the theology of redemption, which necessarily includes the difficult discussion of evil, are no exception. Concerned with meeting the spiritual needs of contemporary society, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin found the classical explanation of evil as “the privation of being”—one that may have seemed logical in a static, perfectly ordered cosmos—seriously deficient in an evolutionary universe.  As a result, he sought to offer a more palatable explanation of the nature of evil in light of this reigning worldview.

While the nuances of his position are complex, his basic premise is that evil is a necessary and inevitable consequence of a world in ever-increasing organization and wholeness. He writes: “[In the process of evolution,] for implacable statistical reasons, and at every level—preliving, living, reflectively conscious—it is impossible that there not be some disorder or lack of organization in a multiplicity that is progressively moving toward a higher degree of organization.” For Teilhard, evil is the result of the incompleteness of life, a failure to unite and a refusal to bring God’s creation to completion. Let us briefly examine this proposition.

In an evolutionary paradigm, the activity of creation is conceived as a gradual process of unification, namely, to create is to unite. It is a slow movement from erratic multiplication to deeper unity, one that reaches its final synthesis in Christ (St. Paul’s pleroma: the moment when all is consciously united in Christ). Thus, if creation is understood as an unremitting process of advancing wholeness and the totalization of Christ is the culminating point of this long trajectory, then Teilhard concluded that the problem of evil is no longer a problem. In other words, the great minds who inhabited ancient cosmologies necessarily had difficulty reconciling the existence of evil with the belief in a ready-made world fashioned by a good and omnipotent God. In a world in a constant state of becoming—what might be more aptly described as continual creation—however, evil is an unavoidable and natural byproduct. Teilhard explains:

By arranging and unifying little by little, through [Christ’s] attracting influence and utilization of the random combinations that occur in quantities of large number, an immense multitude of elements, at first almost infinitely numerous, extremely simple, and possessing negligible consciousness, then gradually more rare and more complex, and finally gifted with reflection. now what is the inevitable counterpart of any success obtained by following a process of this kind if not the necessity of paying success by a certain amount of waste? Disharmony or decomposition in preliving matter, suffering among living things, sin in the domain of liberty: there is no order in the process of formation that does not at every stage of the process imply disorder. There is nothing. . . in this condition of participated being which would lessen the dignity or limit the omnipotence of the Creator. Nor is there anything whatever savoring of Manicheism. Pure unorganized multiplicity is not bad in itself. But because it is multiple—that is, essentially subject in its arrangements to the play of chance—it is absolutely impossible that it progress toward unity without giving ride to evil here and there by statistical necessity.

Evil is, therefore, not an accident but “the very expression of a state of plurality that is not yet completely organized. . . It is an enemy, the shadow that God raises by [God’s] decision to create.” A universe in evolution is a universe racked with growing pains; it is one that is locked in battle against the natural forces of unification that are indispensable to the future consummation of the God-world relationship.

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New Creation is the Center for Christogenesis online magazine dedicated to deepening our awareness of God, Cosmos, and Humanity in a scientific age.

Ω Vision and Ω Spirit cover questions of the theology and spirituality of the Center for Christogenesis worldview. Other areas include our What is God Today? video series, the Visio Divina image gallery, a Resources section with videos and PowerPoints, and the latest from Ilia Delio.

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What is God Today? is an Center for Christogenesis video series featuring interviews with Ilia Delio on the meaning of the divine in the 21st century and what God is doing in our midst. Watch the Series

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A love letter to Ilia and Peirre Teilhard de Chardin Dear Ilia, I am so grateful to have found your books, your website, the Omega community and you, the prophet. Of course none of this was accidental. It all started with a car accident on my 21st birthday in 1968. I was driving alone at night, back to my job as a junior housemistress in a rural boarding school in Australia. Only my knee was badly injured in the accident but when I regained consciousness in the ambulance, I was aware of a terrible pain in my chest (bruising from the impact against the steering wheel before seat belts) as I struggled to breathe, it crossed my mind that I might be dying. I remember clearly thinking ‘what did the nuns teach us to do when one is dying?’. I was feeling pretty panicky by now and said the ‘Our Father’ as I was praying I relaxed with great relief because I knew from that moment (since never waived in my whole body conviction), that I actually, after all that teenage angst and doubt , did believe in God and more importantly that he/she believed in me. It was the greatest birthday gift I could have wished for . However it took about 15 years of ‘unfolding’’ to recognise the giftedness of this experience. The freedom of discovering that “faith” is not a noun but a verb of growing and becoming has given me licence to come and go, explore here and there, on and off. From Liberation theology, to the feminist project, sojouning with protestant friends and projects in social justice and ecological activism to Francis’ Laudato Si, the testament in scripture and finally home to the cosmic Christ and Teilhard de Chardin. Recently I get quite giddy, or ‘tipsy’, in awe and wonder at evolutionary creation and sometimes can cry at the privilege of being part of it. When I see an ant, busy about its business, or a weed struggling between the paving stones, I say to them,’even to be one of you would have been a great gig in this universe!, but to be chosen to be human through chance and natural selection, at this time of internet and DNA, to live in this country of security and more than my needs, to be a woman, a mother, grandmother and to have reached this consciousness of ’ unbearable wholeness’ and all that that means takes my breath away, like a car crash! Just one question. I don’t believe in “supernatural” any more. Is that heresy? The more I read about evolutionary biology and ponder on its implications for an evolutionary chistology, the more it seems to me that from the sub atomic to the cosmic scale, natural creativity, interconnectivity, communication networks, diversity, regeneration: have it all in hand. Thus the concept of ’super-nature’ is a tautology. I hope humanity can redeem itself, so that homo sapiens can continue to evolve into communities of healing and peace, but if not, then the infinite impulse will mourn the suffering and loss, but life is’ immortal and love is eternal’ (Bede Jarret) Resurrection goes on in the now, on the cusp of creating the future. Many thanks for your website. People like me need your company and inspiration. Patricia
Patricia Devlin
Monasterevin, co.Kildare.Ireland, AK
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