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Why is God doing this?
October 2001
By Fr. James Grogan
Pastor of St. Rita's Catholic Church in Cottage Grove, Minn.

I hear people say quite often - "Why is God doing this?" When bad things befall them, they assume that it's something they did wrong, that God is in Heaven gunning for them. Such a God would be a tyrant, not a loving parent, as all the world's religions tell us. The assumption is that because we speak of God as being in control, everything that happens is the direct will of God. An evil event then means that its victims are being punished.

But there is another, and I think better, way to understand this. God's control means that in the end - good, justice and right will prevail. Indeed, I would argue that in the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, victory is already ours. How then do we explain evil, when bad things happen to good people? The lives of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin prove that evil does happen to good people, that even sinlessness doesn't prevent suffering.

The best explanation of evil I know is what I call the Unified Field Theory of Evil. God alone knows the final explanation, but this is the best human one I know.

It goes like this: randomness is built into the smallest particle of creation, into every particle. An atom occasionally and unpredictably goes astray. A cell mutates. Weather and geology combine to produce lightning strikes, earthquakes or hurricanes. When these levels of random, but natural, events affect us adversely, it's called natural evil. When this same randomness reaches the human level, however, because we can exert some control over it, we call it free will.

Free will is absolutely necessary for God to get what (or she) most desires from us - our love. Love cannot be commanded by God, because commanded love is not love. However, the same free will that allows us to love can also be used to perpetrate evil - people make bad choices and adversely affect their own lives and those of others. This is called moral evil, because it involves human choice. And it's no more controlled by God than is our love. God doesn't need to visit evil upon us, because we do plenty of that ourselves.

God, I believe, is with us at every step of the way to draw good out of our evil and the adverse effects of nature. The same forest fire that burns down a house is necessary to cause certain trees, like Douglas fir, to burst their cones and drop their seeds for new growth. The Holocaust gave renewed impetus to the need for a Jewish homeland.

The September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon gave rise to a new sense of union and communion in the American people. That's where I see the God I serve - not in the evil, but in the good arising from it. I believe in a God who was on the planes, on the staircases, under the rubble - and digging into it, comforting and caring.