Evolution and the Way of the Cross

We cannot pretend to have any rationally satisfactory answer to the problem of evil in this world. Any fully rational response will be far from satisfactory: any satisfactory answer -- if there is one -- will be far from fully rational. Not every sin or moral outrage is punished, not every act of goodness is recognized or even less rewarded, not all suffering is redemptive, nor does every cloud have a silver lining, at least in this world. Hard reality drains the life out of any easy answers to tragedy. Any appeal to another, better world beyond is mocked by the all too apparent callousness of easy belief. Even the logic of theology seems to leave no satisfactory solution, for even as the sage Augustine said, in the face of evil it seems that God is either not all-powerful or else not all-good, and taking his logic a step further, atheism reasons that being neither, such a God cannot exist.

Nevertheless, are things as senseless as it seems? If God has created this world through evolution (and by now it has become clear there is no other coherent view) there must be a special reason for it to have taken place this way. Human freedom, or the ability of intelligent creatures of any sort (for knowing what we do today, surely we are not alone in this universe) to decide, to will, to choose our own destiny is not an ability that has come to us suddenly "out of the blue". It has grown, like human consciousness itself, out of the whole line of chance mutations, adaptations, and seemingly accidental occurrences that have led to the formation of reflective intelligence, and with that, to the possibility of the exercise of truly free-will.

"Animals know", said Teilhard de Chardin, "but man knows that he knows." Having said this, the paleontologist-philosopher might have just as well have added that while animals make "choices", only humans, reflecting on the consequences and meaning of their choices, can be said to truly possess the power of "free-will" and thus be capable of deciding their own destiny. If human intelligence represents, in a very real sense, animal consciousness "squared" (or doubled back on itself), cannot it be said, as a logical consequence, that human freedom is, in a very real sense, "chance" raised to the second or even third power, with the fundamental indeterminacy of matter shaped, as it were beyond the formation of pure drives or instincts, into the realm of autonomy and responsibility? Yet to what end? If in us "evolution (has) become conscious of itself" we at the same time seem to stand "condemned" to live out a freedom which at best can only seem to rant and rail against the cruel injustices of fate.

So where does this put us? If not in the best possible world, at least, as C.S.Lewis observed, in the only possible one. Presuming that God wished a world with persons sharing God's own freedom, we still remain creatures, subject to errors and mistakes. An utterly perfect world, with no accidents or tragedies, would be a world of robots. The price of freedom is the possibility of failure. There can be no real choice without chance.

If this is the case, then how does God, especially a provident God, fit in? When bad things happen to good people -- or good things happen to the bad -- does this mean that God is no longer in control, or even worse, that being in control, that such a god can no longer be considered "good"? To that I would say both yes and no. Yes: instead of controlling us like robots or programming us like automatons, God can be said to have not so much "made" us as to have given us the power to make ourselves. There simply seems to be, despite all the risks involved, no other way that it could have been done. But on the other hand, if we mean by this that God has a "dark side" or a malevolent streak, then no, I cannot agree to that. The connection between "the Good" and "God" is more than linguistic -- as Plato demonstrated long ago. But if that is true, then how can faith be reconciled with fact?

The solution, I know, may seem like pure nonsense to some, sheer foolishness to the philosophers and a even a scandal to the theologians. It is, as St. Paul described it, the "folly of the cross": the contradiction of an all-powerful God and certainly the repudiation of that image of a vengeful God who would take out his anger on his innocent son. The Cross is, for those who can accept it, the sign of the recklessness of a God who becoming one with us, has been, from the very beginning (as A.N. Whitehead put it) our "fellow-sufferer" in the agony of a creation that is still in process. No occasion, no entity that has ever had existence, no matter how briefly, has failed to contribute to the final outcome, the fullness of the "Pleroma", which is in some way both the "mutual completion" of the universe and of God.

I am acutely aware that to many this view of things may be of little consolation, particularly to those who have lost someone near and dear, perhaps prematurely. Those fallen on the field of battle must be mourned, even when the eventual victory is assured. Nor does the assurance of victory excuse us from the struggle to minimize the loss. To fall, yet still have the courage to pick oneself up and begin the journey of life again is essential, for when all is said and done, as Teilhard once observed: "The story of evolution resembles nothing so much as the Way of the Cross."

Richard W. Kropf
April 28, 1996


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