Discerning God’s positive and permissive will
Jim Gontis, director of religious education for the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., explained, “Because God is infinitely good and has no evil within him, he can only will that which is good and holy.”
That’s why events such as the Crucifixion can’t fall into the category of God’s ideal will. They can, however, be understood to be part of his permissive will, which broadly defined, is everything that happens in the world.
“God’s permissive will is what he allows,” said Gontis. “If he didn’t allow it, it wouldn’t happen.”
That’s true on multiple levels.
The active will of God regards what is in perfect accord with the perfect goodness and the order established by God. For instance, the active will of God would be that Adam and Eve remain perfectly obedient to Him, and never have sinned. The passive will of God regards what God will allow or tolerate what is less than good or perfect, for instance, the act of disobedience on the part of Adam and Eve. Why the passive will? Because God endowed created persons–angelic and human–with free will, and in order to allow the exercise of that free will, even for evil, it means that God allows what He Himself would never do, namely, anthing less than what is good and perfect. But ultimately, God makes evil an occasion for an even greater good, so His permissive will is not without merit. In the case of the sin of Adam and Eve, the greater good has been the Incarnation of God as man, which likely would not have happened, had we never sinned against God. Every time God tolerates sin or imperfection, it is by His permissive will. Not that God loves sin or imperfection, but He loves us, and will work with us–up to a point–to rise from sin to redemption, and from evil to good. Calvin and some others fail to understand permissive will, and fall into the trap of assigning all causes to God. Ultimately, it makes God the author of evil, which cannot be.
Catholic Encyclopedia: Evil
There is practically a general agreement of authorities as the nature of evil, some allowance being made for varying modes of expression depending on a corresponding variety of philosophical presuppositions. But on the question of the origin of evil there has been, and is a considerable diversity of opinion. The problem is strictly a metaphysical one; i.e. it cannot be solved by a mere experimental analysis of the actual conditions from which evil results. The question, which Schopenhauer has called “the punctum pruriens of metaphysics”, is concerned not so much with the various detailed manifestations of evil in nature, as with the hidden and underlying cause which has made these manifestations possible or necessary; and it is at once evident that enquiry in a region so obscure must be attended with great difficulty, and that the conclusions reached must, for the most part be of a provisional and tentative character. No system of philosophy has ever succeeded in escaping from the obscurity in which the subject is involved; but it is not too much to say that the Christian solution offers, on the whole, fewer difficulties, and approaches more nearly to completeness than any other. The question may be stated thus. Admitting that evil consists in a certain relation of man to his environment, or that it arises in the relation of the component parts of the totality of existence to one another, how comes it that though all are alike the results of a universal cosmic process, this universal agency is perpetually at war with itself, contradicting and thwarting its own efforts in the mutual hostility of its progeny? Further, admitting that metaphysical evil in itself may be merely nature’s method, involving nothing more than a continual redistribution of the material elements of the universe, human suffering and wrongdoing still and out as essentially opposed to the general scheme of natural development, and are scarcely to be reconciled in thought with any conception of unity or harmony in nature. To what, then, is the evil of human life, physical and moral, to be attributed as its cause? But when the universe is considered as the work of an all-benevolent and all-powerful Creator, a fresh element is added to the problem. If God is all-benevolent, why did He cause or permit suffering? If He is all-Powerful, He can be under no necessity of creating or permitting it; and on the other hand, if He is under any such necessity, He cannot be all-powerful. Again, if God is absolutely good, and also omnipotent, how can He permit the existence of moral evil? We have to enquire, that is to say, how evil has come to exist, and what is its special relation to the Creator of the universe.
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