Evil in the world

Question: You wrote recently about God permitting suffering. But you only mentioned natural disasters and so forth. But why does God let evil people do terrible things?

Gerald Olesen, Fortuna, California

Answer: Problems that you describe here are moral evils, as distinct from physical evils, such as earthquakes, floods, or droughts. They’re caught up in the complexities of human freedom and God’s sovereignty and power. God can prevent any human endeavor. But in so doing he would be canceling or limiting human freedom. There are cases in the Scriptures where God does intervene and “take sides” in human conflicts, but they are rare. They were rare enough that the cry often went up in Scripture: “How long, O LORD, must I cry for help and you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ and you do not intervene? (Hab 1:2-3). There are many similar cries in the psalms and prophets.

So God’s interventions, even in biblical times, were rare. If God routinely interfered in human decisions, where would our freedom be? Our freedom is important to preserve because we are called to love.

God seeks sons and daughters, not slaves. So he appeals to us, and also disciplines us, but doesn’t often force us to comply. This permits the possibility that many will abuse their freedom and cause suffering for others.

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Where is God in all this? He is in the consciences of every human person calling for repentance. He is in the voice of every prophet and his Church summoning us to justice.

We may want him to “do more,” but how and when and to what extent? And what would this do to human freedom, dignity and our ability to love? When would you intervene? Why then, and not at another time? How frequently would you intervene? If you were married to someone and could do things that forced them to comply with your wishes, would this still be love? What would you and I have God do? Is there an exact list where he “should have intervened,” turned us into robots or forced compliance in some other way?

The intersection between God’s sovereignty and our freedom to love (or not) is complex. Freedom brings a high price of suffering. But at the Last Judgment, any who have unjustly harmed others and not repented will answer to him.

Parish registration

Question: Our pastor recently announced that if we are not registered, we are not considered parishioners. Is this so?

Name and place withheld

Answer: Canonically no. There is no canon law requiring parishioners to register. “Registration” is something of an American phenomenon. The most common way that someone becomes a “parishioner” of a parish is by residing in the boundaries of that parish.

However, do not brush aside the pastor’s concerns. American parishes generally use registration as a form of pastoral care and outreach. By it they track the sacramental progress of parishioners and coordinate and communicate with them.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org.