Finding Solution and Comfort in God with St. Augustine

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St. Augustine’s solution to the problem of evil is a rather direct one, in that evil does not exist. Evil, in Augustine’s writings, is an opposite to the goodness that emanates from the ultimate being. Thus, Augustine argues that evil, due to its parallel relationship with the concept of God, cannot exist. Or if it does, such a drift from God’s goodness is a failing of our perception and our own personal choice to perpetuate evil and suffering.

Augustine finds that though the soul and the body are joined and yet they are decidedly different forms. The soul is spiritual, eternal, and indivisible, while the body is material and finite. But, the soul is entwined within the body and must participate in the material. The world is not evil, but rather it is material and finite. It has a lesser degree of goodness and being, and will fade come eternity. Though interacting with this material reality, the soul, in Augustine’s mind, ultimately seeks to return to God, and to thus participate once again in the good, and full-being. When the soul forgets this drive, and beings to develop inordinate desires and overidentifies with the body, then the soul also begins to participate in non-being and to perpetuate this non-being. And as being is good, and all good is an extension of the ultimate good which is God, the soul acts against God and in its sin, commits evil.

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God does not allow or perpetuate evil. Rather, God allows for human decisions and their consequences. Evil does not actually exist in this model, as a choice or state of non-good cannot participate in being, as the state of being is an extension of the good. Therefore, there is no evil in the Augustinian model, but rather states of nonbeing. Those who bind themselves to the temporal and inordinate desires of this world are participating in those objects and concept’s earthliness and finiteness. Their eternal and infinite souls gravitate towards and identify with this tangible and material world, and they participate in its limited and lessened state of being. Yet, this world cannot last, and in its fading the soul, now lost and corrupted, will be agonized. Therefore, the punishment of evil, and of participating in nonbeing, is in its own manner a bittersweet reward. Eventually, God will give this forgone soul what it desires and he will allow it to stop being. Thus, hell, is rather than fire and brimstone, simply eternal separation from God, the good, and thus from existence and being itself. Evil souls, lost in their inordinate desires, will follow those tangible and divisible objects and pursuits into non-being.

Thus, those who commit evil are punished in a manner of speaking by being rewarded with what they have deluded themselves in believing that they want. However, the question remains of those who suffer evil. They have committed no fault of their own, and yet they suffer the consequences, and the cruelty and pain, forced upon them. The first and perhaps most unsatisfying answer is simply again that evil does not exist, by its own lack of being, and that our inability to perceive Providence, which we do linearly through time and space, we misperceive the arc of the universe. However, from God’s perspective, in which he sees and knowns all things at once, the evils we suffer do not exist as being and God, transcends linear time.

Yet, the fact remains that human beings are hurt, killed, and victimized on this earth, by every sense available to the human mind. In this regard, the second answer to the question of why God allows for evil- or at very least its consequences is concluded in the notion that He does not—but rather that we do. God grants every human free will, and the ability to make their own choices independently of him. He does this in part so that we might freely choose to love him. Should God compel our love, then our love is not real or genuine. Thus, we are allowed to choose God, and love him, through our choices and lifestyles that perpetuate the good and draw us back towards true being. However, as we are free to make choices, we are also free to chose inordinate desires and perpetuate evil.

Thus, the suffering in the world is a direct consequence of the weakness of humanity, and our deliberate choice to commit evil. God cannot prevent suffering as he will not violate our free will. Should God prevent mankind from committing evil, he will have invalidated our ability to love him genuinely and thus will have violated a core tenant of what makes a human being unique within the known universe- our ability as rational thinking beings to choose. Thus, he chooses not to prevent man from choosing evil, and the suffering that results from these choices and inordinate desires is not a fault or failing of God, but rather of our neighbor and ourselves.

God comforts those who suffer, and rewards those who live, or attempt to live lives that perpetuate the good with a return to himself. Evil, in the Augustine, model does not exist. God does not allow evil but rather he allows for free will, and our choices carry consequences that may cause suffering. The real problem in regards to evil, is our own tolerance or willingness to perpetuate it.

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