The question of evil has been a timeless question asked all throughout the ages. Still today the question passes over onto the twentieth century with the same negative overtone. The question has existed in many forms but the main idea of the question has never changed. That is if there was a loving and sovereign God how could he permit evil in the world? The Christian faith has had to appeal to this question for as long as it has been challenge by those who do not accept the Christian God. Saint Augustine dealt with this question in his work called The Confessions and it was during a time when the Christian faith would have been greatly scrutinized by its enemies. Augustine addresses this question of evil in a profound way that has reverberated effects in todays culture. The argument is that evil exists and entered into the world as a result of man’s free will and not by God because he created all things to be good.
During the time in which Augustine lived the question of evil would have certainly been one of the main inquires during his era. The period of history when Augustine made an appeal to this question was during a time for Christians where evil seemed to exist more then any other century. Augustine was born in the fourth century and in the earlier century Christianity was still recovering from the persecution under Emperor Decius. It was Decius who sought to restore Rome to its former beauty by worshiping the gods, which was being undermined by Christianity. As a result Decius set out to create as many apostates of the Christian faith by torturing them. Following this Christians experienced a few years of peace but would soon enter into the worst persecution the church would ever be exposed to under the Roman Empire. Entering into the fourth century under the reign of Emperor Diocleaetian he would set the standard as being the most notorious leader for the Christian faith. Similar to Decius, Diocleaetian wanted to create as many apostates in the Church. However Diocleaetian would spare Christians from the torture if they would simply hand over their texts for him to burn. Thus many Christians succumbed to this condition, which would cause latter problems in the Churches across Rome.However those who did not give up their scripture would be tortured to death in an assortment of ways from crucifixion to being burned at the stake. This served as a public example for all Christians who refused to worship the gods. The persecution hit the Church rapidly. And it vanished the same way in entered. Under the influence of Galerius, Diocleaetian suddenly stopped the persecution of the Christians.
When Augustine was born in the forth century he was living in the thoughts of the aftermath of all this persecution. Constantine followed Diocleaetian and brought upon the Roman Emperor a manifestation of restoration and prosperity to the Christian faith. The question naturally arises out of this that is how could God allow all of these terrible acts to happen to his own people? Augustine was first introduced to this problem of evil at a very early age. Being a follower of Manichaeism it “taught that the universe was made up of two powerful forces, Good and Evil, which were eternally opposed.” Augustine would later leave that faith and become a Christian sometime in the early years of his life. In Augustine’s Confession the discussion of good and evil begins with God. Augustine argues that God is absolutely good and that there can be no corruption in Him. Augustine employs words such as “supreme good” and “best good.”He is the highest conceivable being of goodness and Augustine adds that what God wills for himself is good which “he himself is that same good.” Furthermore Jesus exhorts that all men be perfect as his Heavenly father is perfect in Matthew 7:35. Thus there exists this perfectly good God, in whom no evil could exist because it is contradictory to his character. Consequently a good God could not create anything that is not good.
Therefore if evil is not good as Augustine contends then it was not created. That is because all things that God created is good. Moreover all created substances created by God have a state of being so if evil does not have a state of being then it follows that it is nothing.However evil does exist as some form in the world because there are clear objective moral values that are actually evil. This is the dilemma because evil does exist all though God did not create it. This is where Augustine transitions over to man’s free will.
Man’s free will begins in the Garden of Eden.The Garden of Eden is a place in the Bible that reads that God created this perfect environment for man to dwell. God created all things and all things were good. The perfect environment that God made was a place where God could come down and have fellowship with man. The passage also says that in the Garden God placed a tree in the center and God told man not to eat from it. The tree was good but God gave the man free will to obey or disobey God if he chose to eat of the tree. Otherwise there is no reason for God to command man to not eat of the forbidden tree. God gave him a choice. Thus when man in his free will choose to eat of the tree that God told him not to, man deliberately displayed disobedience to God and evil entered into the world. Since all things were created good then evil Augustine calls it a corruption of that good.
Thus this corruption exists like a malfunction in the brain, a disorder that prevents the complete goodness in men. Augustine shows that evil is a depravity of goodness.Consequently evil exist in the form that it takes away some of the goodness that God had created in each man because everything God created was good. Nolan B. Harmon rightly adds that Evil is found in “not adhering” to God, a type of falling away that was given man as a choice. Once more evil does exist because it robs men of their goodness, thus making them evil, because they are not all good but partially good. So man is responsible for the evil in the world because God created everything to be good.
There is a disease that Augustine believes is the worst disease in the world. This disease claims more lives then any other disease. It is a disease that everyone who ever lived, lives and will live is going to suffer under. This disease is called sin, which is evil. Evil that exists in the form of thousands of persecuted Christians and horrific crimes that were taking place in the Roman Empire. Evil that has spread to all men everywhere it man is utterly hopeless. However Augustine advocates that there is a cure. The Gospel calls him the great physician. Man’s free will is responsible for the evil that exist in the world, but it is also man’s free will to restore the goodness that God created in all men from the beginning of all time if they chose to accept Christ as their savior.
Augustine, Aurelius. The Confessions of Saint Augustine Translated by John K, Ryan New York: Image, 1960
Bauer, Susan Wise. The History of the Medieval World, New York N.Y: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2010
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity, 2 vols. Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. New York: HarperOne, 2010.
Harmon, B. Nolan, Jr, “Saint Augustine and the Problem of Evil,” Religion in Life, Vol, XIV, New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press 1945.