Divine Silence in the Face of Evil

A woman cries at the funeral of Christians killed in Maaloula.

A woman cries at the funeral of Christians killed in Maaloula.

The problem of the existence of evil and death, given the power and goodness of God, is called theodicy. Even young children sometimes ask questions about whether God created evil and, if He did not, how and why He allows evil to exist. This is a profound question, one that has been wrestled with by young and old, by the simple and the educated, by both saint and sinner alike. And yet there is another more profound question.

Why is God silent in the face of evil? Metropolitan Nahum of Strumica makes mention of this, the Divine silence, in connection with Christ’s own suffering and death. “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth” (Acts 8:32). Christ himself was silent in the face of this great evil being done to him. He did not object, he did not present a defence, he did not protest his innocence. All of which made the act of the Jewish and Roman leaders even more monstrous.

I do not have a satisfactory answer to the existence of evil, at least not an answer that will satisfy once and for all. Neither do I understand the Divine silence in the face of evil, especially the evil done to the Church, which is his body. Yet I also know that Christ is most present with us during times of suffering. He suffers with us, and we suffer with Him. In Mark chapter 13, Jesus tells us to give no thought as to what we will speak when we are called to give an account of our faith, for the Holy Spirit will speak through us.  Perhaps God speaks through  and with the voice the martyrs. If this is true, then the voice of the martyrs speaks not truth to power, but truth with power.

Job himself suffered, and no satisfactory answer for his suffering was given him. Yet Job spoke truth with power when he said: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27).

The psalmist cries out with us against the evil of this world. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps 73:1-3). This is perhaps the clearest expression of the problem of theodicy, which becomes a problem when we take our eyes off of God and focus one our neighbor’s continuing good fortune in the face of their own sin. When we cease repenting our own sins and focus on the sin of our brother, the goodness of God seems far away. The psalmist continues his protest against God until something changes. “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;  Until I went into the sanctuary of God” (Ps 73:16-17).

When reading this, I cannot help but think of Peter the disciple walking on the water, until he takes his eyes off of Jesus and focuses on his immediate circumstances. He begins to sink, until he cries out to Jesus, who pulls him from the water and places him back in the boat, which reminds us of Noah’s Ark, which is a type of the church.

I have no answers to the problem of evil. I only hope that when my time comes, that the Holy Spirit speaks through me as powerfully as He speaks through one of the new martyrs of Syria: “I am a Christian, and if you want to kill me for this, I do not object to it.”