Easter’s Reply to the Mystery of Evil

Happy Easter to all of you!

Although the discussion of the question of evil might seem out of place in a post within the Easter Octave, in a profound way Easter speaks directly to the problem of suffering. In Pope Saint John Paul II’s letter On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering he writes this: “Love is also the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This answer has been given by God to man in the cross of Jesus Christ” (SC, 13). Through the Cross, we see the Son of God incarnate taking upon himself evil, suffering and death. By all appearances, Good Friday meant the “end” of the story of Jesus from Nazareth. If Jesus’ ministry ceased with his execution, then Christianity would never spread across the globe. We know, however, that the Cross was not the end, but a window into the manifest glory of God’s effusive love. Love that suffers with a beloved we call compassion. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Jesus’ crucifixion, a death he freely accepted for our sake (Jn. 10:18), reveals to us the ultimate compassion of the Trinity for fallen humanity.

We see in the Cross a rich expression of saving compassion, because the Cross of Christ becomes the place of the undoing of evil’s root within history. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.” In a past blogpost, I mentioned that the wellspring of evil comes from sin not willed by God. The Apostle Paul highlights this in order to speak to Christ’s power for salvation. By becoming a human being, the Son of God took on our flesh to bring to the Cross the innocence meant for humankind. That first rupture of innocence sprang from distrust in God’s fatherhood and lead to the fruit of disobedience. In contrast to such sin, Jesus takes on flesh and remains obedient even unto death on the Cross (Phil. 2:8). Thus, Paul writes, keeping in mind the breadth of Scriptural prophecy and the biblical worldview of sin, punishment, and God’s salvation: “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). John Paul II sums it up this way:

The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil [the loss of eternal life] and against definitive suffering. In His salvific mission, the Son must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots [the world riven from God’s love through sin] from which it develops in human history. These transcendental roots of evil are grounded in sin and death: for they are at the basis of the loss of eternal life (SC, 14).

Through faith in Jesus Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we enter into communion with Jesus’ obedience to his heavenly Father and inherit the gift of eternal life by grace. The Resurrection fulfills this promise of eternal life in Christ and manifests the new life of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ glorified and risen body, we witness the breakthrough of God’s kingdom into the world. And, this work of God’s compassion takes on flesh in our own lives by the power of the Resurrection through the Holy Spirit: “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). The compassion of God, revealed through the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, complete through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, answers the ache of suffering, the experience of evil, with the presence of redemption through Christ.

Easter turns us to faith in the power of God’s compassion that upends the worst of evils wrought by sin: the loss of eternal life. And, through the power of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon the Church, attested to throughout the Gospels and the New Testament, God restores that which is affected by evil. Pope John Paul II writes this about the full scope of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery:

In His messianic activity in the midst of Israel, Christ drew increasingly closer to the world of human suffering. ‘He went about doing good’ [Acts 10:38], and His actions concerned primarily those who were suffering and seeking help. He healed the sick; consoled the afflicted; fed the hungry; freed people from deafness, from blindness, from leprosy, from the devil and from various physical disabilities; three times He restored the dead to life. He was sensitive to every human suffering, whether of the body or of the soul…At any rate, Christ drew close above all to the world of human suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon His very self (SC, 16).

This is truly Good News! By the Spirit, the Resurrection promises the presence of God who brings us, even now, into an experience of the kingdom at work in the world. This work and power of God, through the faith and mission of the Body of Christ, the Church, makes present the Easter kingdom of God. When pondering the question of evil and suffering, the light of Christ shines brightly upon the human scene and shows forth a God of compassion. A God of compassion whose love affects human history and brings about a redemption that makes us new.

Happy Easter!

Fr. Bearer