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On Good and Evil in the World
“An enemy came and sowed weeds amongst the wheat.”
The Gospel reading this morning addresses the age old problem of why God allows evil to exist in the world alongside the good. I say age-old, for as long as man has known that there is a God, and that God is good, this question has occupied his thoughts. We see it in the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms; we see it in New Testament passages like this one; we see it in the writings of great philosophers and theologians like Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinas. For that matter, we see this same concern for the problem of good and evil even in the works of the pagans.
God is, of course, good—and all of creation is likewise good, in imitation of its Creator. But material things are breakable and subject to destruction, so we material creatures tend to see evil in the destruction of a hurricane, or a plane crash, or an attack by a wild beast, or an epidemic of disease, or whatever. We ask ourselves, “Why does God allow such things to happen?”
Even more than such naturally occurring evils, we wonder about the moral evils we see around us. We certainly see evil at work in the wars that are fought throughout the world; in the murders and the rapes and the robberies; in the lying and cheating and slandering; in the various kinds of hatred that people seem to have for their fellow men. These seem even worse than the evils of nature because someone had to plan to carry out each and every one. Again, we ask ourselves, “Why does God allow such things to happen?”
Part of the answer is that God created His universe in an ordered fashion, governed by physical laws and principles that He rarely suspends in a miraculous way. If, for example, the engines of an airplane cease to run, it is very unlikely that God will step in and suspend His law of gravity. While this might seem unfair to those on board, it is no doubt best in the overall scheme of things, for it would surely be a more dangerous world to live in if such things kept changing. Actually, the day to day regular functioning of life is really a more spectacular miracle than most of the unlikely occurrences we might think of.
God also created His higher creatures—angels and men—with a free will. Our reason for existing is to demonstrate God's glory in this world and to share His happiness in the next. In order for any of the good things we do to be of any value, they must be done freely. If we were just “wind-up” robots that did things according to a previously determined program, there would be no merit in anything we did. But this free will is, as they say, a “two-edged sword.” For, just as we are free to do good things for the love of God and fellow man, we re free to work evil against them. So, just as it is unlikely that God will keep the stalled airplane from falling, it is equally unlikely that he will stop the beating hearts of the bad people in our midst.
God has resolved that the weeds will be allowed to grow side by side with the wheat, lest in uprooting the bad, the good too be destroyed. He rarely suspends His physical laws, knowing that otherwise there would be chaos. He rarely steps in to take the evil doers out of this world, lest we be left without the free will that is so absolutely essential to our reason for existing.
But yet, however much we understand why there will always be evil in the world, we still must question what our reaction to evil ought to be. First, as we see in this Gospel that there is no reason for us to think that we are being treated unfairly: justice may sometimes be delayed a bit, but the evil doers will get theirs in the end—they will be “bound into bundles to be burned,” or as another scripture says, “Cast out into the eternal darkness, where there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Second, our reaction to evil ought to be to try to reduce it in this world. That's what Saint Paul is telling us in today's Epistle: to treat each other with “mercy and goodness and humility and modesty and patience ... having charity which is the bond of perfection ... forgiving just as the Lord does.”
And finally, as Christians we can regard evil as something that was conquered and turned around by our Lord on the Cross. In His crucifixion, we know, He bore the weight of all the sins of the world on His shoulders. He was the focus of the intense hatred of the crowd; such a hatred that they demanded His death. But yet He rose from the dead in triumph. And so, whenever we endure evil, or the hatred of others, and particularly persecution because of our Catholic Faith, we can offer our sufferings in union with the Crucified Christ—we can turn evil into an opportunity for merit.
And now, one last point. In the parable, the weeds and the wheat are incapable of change. The weed will always be a weed; the wheat will always be wheat. But that is not true of people in the world. If we are good, we must be constantly on our guard to be sure that we stay that way. If we find that we are in some ways bad, then we must be constantly striving to make ourselves good.
“Whatever you do, in word or in work, do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Do all things for the better! Do all things for the best!
 Gospel: Matthew xiii:24-30 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drl&bk=47&ch=13&l=24-#x
 Matthew xxii:13 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drl&bk=47&ch=22&l=13-#x
 Epistle: Colossians iii:12-17 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drl&bk=58&ch=3&l=12-#x
 Colossians iii:17 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=58&ch=3&l=17#x