By Mother Miriam, CSM
What follows may be a dangerous exercise for a natural introvert to pursue, but we live in dangerous times that call for a bit of personal bravery in our hurting world. My head and heart are reeling from the current exchange of war-mongering rhetoric between President Trump and North Korea, from the violence in Charlottesville, and from the revelation of sexual abuse in many parts of the Western Church. The current flooding in Texas from Hurricane Harvey adds another layer of questioning. More and more frequently, Christians must answer the question of why God permits evil. I keep reminding myself that theodicy deals with real things. It is not just the kind of thinking professional theologians engage in when innocent people of God cry and groan in pain. It is in the experience of earthly evil. Where is God, the all-powerful Comforter?
In my intercessions I find myself continually called to pray for the persecuted, and reciprocally, the persecutors. I have caught myself remembering a poignant scene from the classic movie A Man for All Seasons (1966). Sentenced to death and confined to the Tower of London for declaring his allegiance to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church above King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas and his daughter Meg have this conversation.
Sir Thomas More (in his prison cell): If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that abhorrence, anger, pride, and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice, and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little — even at the risk of being heroes.
Margaret More (crying): But in reason! Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?
Sir Thomas More: Well, finally … it isn’t a matter of reason. Finally, it’s a matter of love.
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky presents a similar and even more vexing situation in The Brothers Karamazov. To introduce his famous tale of the Grand Inquisitor, the middle brother Ivan Karamazov, a self-styled intellectual, presents to his youngest brother, the novice monk, Alyosha, an account of incredible cruelty toward an innocent child. Following this, Ivan asks his brother
to imagine building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finales, of giving them peace and rest at last, but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature. … “Would you agree to be the architect under such conditions? Tell me the truth.”
“No, I wouldn’t agree,” said Alyosha softly.
Therein lies the conundrum, for that is exactly what the humanist Ivan says God did to his only Son, Jesus.
Dostoevsky presented the agonizing problem of evil in a work of fiction. Sir Thomas More answered the problem with his real life, although dramatization gave us the memorable words to break the puzzle. There is a higher virtue than reason. In fact, reason is not a virtue at all. Life built on the virtue of love is the only one worth the cost of losing one’s life.
In June, Mac Stewart challenged Covenant readers to understand the difference between the obedient Church and the obedient Christian from the self-conscious Church and the self-conscious Christian. More’s kind of love is the selfless, committed, obedient love of the Church and those who love the Church more than themselves. Let us be clear here. Human beings only know God because he has deigned to reveal himself to us. In the biblical tradition we have inherited two covenants progressively revealing divinity, first in creativity and in power, then in covenant love. Covenants, however, require action and commitment from both parties. In the old covenant God promised to be Israel’s God and protector if Israel would obey his commandments. After humanity’s failure upon failure, God revealed more of his divine nature in sending Jesus Christ. Embedded in his life and story are many signs of God’s personality that are squeezed into the human situation. Until finally, in the mystery of God made man, Jesus was able to bear humankind’s deserved judgment so that through him we may come before God in love.
If it were possible to transcend time so that the whole New Testament message could flash before us all at once, what might we see that would transcend, or even transform, the agonies over injustice and wickedness we see daily in the world?
As a monastic, I have based my life in faith upon the conviction that God has won the victory over evil on the cross of Christ once for all. A faithful life is a selfless life. (I fail miserably at this, as we all do.) A faithful life may be full of suffering or pain, but it will be full of joy because it is life together, a life focused on the face of Christ within the Body, the Church, he gave us.
The Church offers life, rooted in the end of the story, in resurrected life, in Life himself. Not only is Christ the beginning and the end, the shepherd on the pilgrimage way, but he also gave us food for the journey in the Eucharist. I am gambling my whole self on that revelation and conviction, in the face of much evil, and I do not think I shall be disappointed. Paul’s words sum it all up:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. (2 Cor. 3:18-4:1)
 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov: A Novel in Four Parts with Epilogue, translation and notes by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1990), p. 245.