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Basil’s Homily explaining that God is not the cause of evil
Now, on this paper I would like to talk about St. Basil’s understanding of human suffering, affliction and death and how it relates to the issue of God and evil. Therefore, I will focus, first on the topic concerning St. Basil’s understanding of suffering and death related with God, on the questions about: Does God really exists? Does he care for his creation and especially for humanity? Is he a good God? And the answers that St. Basil provides, making my comments on them. Then, I will write concerning St. Basil’s understanding of the evil, asking questions like: Did God create evil? What is evil? What is the root or the cause of the primary evil? Then answer and make comments on them. After, I will show the how St. Basil relate suffering, death, evil, God and humanity. At the end, I will finish with a conclusion, saying if it was convincing; how much convincing was or wasn’t and why, for people of this era, like me.
St. Basil, on this essay try to convince his audience regarding first, the “atheists” that they argue that God does not exist, and then the ones, that they argue that God is the cause of evil, so therefore He is not a good God, that both of them, the former and the latter are fool and out of their mind!
“Therefore he is fool, truly deprived of his mind and wisdom, who says, “There is no God.” It is one like him, who leaves undone nothing foolish, who also says that God is the cause of evils. For I regard their sins as being of equal rank, since both alike deny the Good one, the one saying absolutely that he does not exist, while the other concludes that he is not good.”1
St. Basil The Great: On the human condition, translation by Nonna Verna Harrison, p.66
On the one hand, he exalts “the holy singer David” who face his afflictions with courage and patience because he takes God for granted and he believes in one, Good God who not only exists but he also cares about His people and comes speedily to their help: “When I called, the God of my justice heard me” [Ps 4.1], but on the other hand he criticises the one who have such little faith that in time of difficulties he starts loosing heart, doubting and eventually abandon God ,trying to convince himself in his foolishness ,that actually there is no God. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” [Ps 14.1]. Moreover, St. Basil goes further, criticises as much severely not only the one who does acknowledge the existence of God anymore, but also the one who turns to believe that God is the culprit for all kind of evils!
In my opinion, St. Basil tries to engage here, with his audience about basic beliefs regarding God using the support of the scriptures whereas it takes as incomprehensible, even unfound to dare to think, that God does not exist , accusing the weakness and corruptibility of the human mind to acknowledge the existence of God once and for all, without wavering from the circumstances on our daily life. So, implicitly he proves the existence of God and that I think because he focus on the second part of the conflict regarding God as the cause of evil, or maybe because he had already elucidated about the existence -of God on previous homilies or writings to his audience. Nevertheless, St. Basil carries on without hesitation to ask some very uncomfortable questions that his audience mighty have and still puzzle them, maybe until today!
“Whence, then, he asks, are diseases? Whence untimely deaths? Whence the utter destruction of cities? Shipwrecks, wars, pestilences? For these also are evils, he says and all are creations for God. So do we have anything else other than God to blame for the things that occur?”2
Imagine that you were one of the audiences, just for a moment. That is what you probably expected to deal with, these are the questions that bother you and you perhaps could not air them between other brothers and sisters in the congregation. So, what will be next? Before St. Basil try to attempt any further explanation, he states first what his understanding is all about:
“This one thing must be held firmly in our mind, that since that we are creation of the good God and are welded together by Him, as he manages smaller and greater things concerning us, neither can we undergo anything that is not God’s will, nor do we truly suffer anything that is hurtful unless it can be understood to bring us something better.”3
In another words, St. Basil says that God not only does exist but He also is a good God ,He does not only care about us but He sees to not undertake any suffering in vain without a purpose and a way that we would become better and strong in our faith for Him. Then he assures that everything that He wills or even allows to happen to us it is within the measure and capacity to bear with it, so nothing or nobody is really able to hurt us.
Ibid , p.67 Ibid , p.67
So let’s go back to the question of who are we going to blame for if it is not God who created the evils as well as the things that happen around us then who remain to blame? Therefore, St. Basil takes the opportunity to say a couple of things regarding evil. We may divide evil in two kinds; the first one is the evil according to our perception that it is painful to our senses, hurtful to our bodies, lead us to financial, emotional or any physical loss and the second one is the natural evil, that comprise all kind of injustice, iniquity and malice that hides into the hearts of human beings.
“Moreover, what our senses perceive as evil is one thing, while what is evil in its own nature is another. What is evil by nature has been produce by us, namely injustice, licentiousness, folly, cowardice, envy, murder, poisoning, laziness, and passions akin to these, which defile the soul that has come into being according to the image of the Creator and have caused a shadow to pass over the soul’s won beauty. On the contrary we call what is toilsome and painful to our sense perception evil, bodily illness, and blows to the body, and lack of necessities, and disgrace, and financial setbacks, and loss of property.”4
According to the definition of the evil, my understanding is that the natural evil and the sense perception evil should have a kind of cause and effect relation in many cases.
“For wealth is taken away from those who have used it badly, thus destroying the instrument of injustice. He sends illness to those for whom it is more profitable to have their limbs constrained than to move unhindered toward sinning. Death is brought to those whose time of life is completed; from the beginning the just judgment of God has appointed this for each person, as he foresees from long before what is advantageous to
each of us. Famines and droughts and floods are in certain manner common blows to cities and nations, punishing the excess of evil.”5
Therefore, we see that God actually is not responsible for the existence of evil and he is more like a lovely and caring and experience doctor who tries to fight the evil instead of let it be spread, then much more than cause it or create it.
“For these things, disorders of cities and nations, droughts in the air and bareness of the earth, the harsh calamities in the life of each, cut short the growth of evil. Therefore evils such as these come into being from God, and they stop true evils from coming into being .For the bodily sufferings and outward distresses have been invented to halt sin. Therefore God removes evil, and evil is not from God, since likewise the physician removes illness but does not produce it in the body. But razzings of cities, earthquakes and floods, and destructions of armies, and shipwreck, and every occasion when many people are killed either by earth, or by sea, or by air, or fire, or by whatever cause it befalls, these happen for the correction of the survivors, as is corrected by afflictions to everyone from God.”6
From my perspective, St. Basil feels the need to make us understand that the evils that “come into being by God” are not the real evil but a way a method or means to fight, stop or hinder the building up of the ultimate evil that is sin.
“Therefore, having learned these things clearly from God, you can distinguish for yourself between the kinds of evil, and know which is real evil, namely sin, whose end is
Ibid, p. 68 Ibid, p. 71
destruction, and what seems evil because it is painful to the senses but has a capacity for good, such as the distresses that bring about a cessation of sin, whose fruit is the eternal salvation of souls. Stop being displeased with divine providence. In short, do not maintain that God is the cause of evil’s existence, nor imagine evil to have a subsistence of its own.”7
In fact, St. Basil has no need to defend God but in order to make things crystal clear and avoid any kind of misunderstanding that it might lead to a bad theology ,he thinks that it is essential not only to distinguish between evils and the Evil , giving it a name and from now it will be referred as sin. Therefore, in my opinion St. Basil needs to show the difference, the quality the source or root of sin related first to us and the world around us. Because, God is targeted towards our sin, as an illness not towards the patient, that is humanity.
“So sin is evil in the proper sense, and it is especially worthy of the name of evil. It is brought about by our free choice, since it is up to us either to abstain from vice or to be wicked.”8
Hence, St. Basil’s understands sin as something that is lacking of good that is not healthy , like the immune system that has being degenerated, from internal problems and was brought to a condition that is liable to any kind of disease.
Ibid, pp. 72-73 Ibid, p. 71
“For evil is a privation of good. The eye was created, but blindness comes into being following the destruction of eyes. Therefore, if the eye did not have a perishable nature, blindness would not have a means of entry. Thus also evil is not in itself an existence but arises following the maiming of the soul.9
Here it is proper to use a metaphor between sin and illness, soul and body because it is too deep, to big for my boots and it is accordingly to St. Basil’s way of speaking and make things more clear. So, according to him we may ponder more about sin: ‘He carries on saying that sin is not “ungenerated in essence or nature” because in that way could be equal to the essence of God, and it could not be generated or created from God because he could not create something but or evil but only good and perfect. Nevertheless, the sin-evil really exists and could ne encountered in our daily life.’10 St. Basil furthermore associates evil-sin with illness in order to make it easier to understand fro his audience.
“From what source, then does it exist, one asks, if it neither without origin nor created? Let those who inquire about such matters asked in turn, from what source are illnesses? From what source are the maimings of the body? For neither is illness ungenerated, nor is it the handiwork of God. But living beings were created with the bodily faculties suited to them according to nature, and brought into life complete in their limbs and organs, but they became ill through a perversion of what is according to the nature. For a disruption of health occurs either because of a bad lifestyle or because of some other cause of illness. Therefore, God created the body, but not illness; and likewise God created the
Ibid, p. 73 Ibid, p. 73
soul, but not sin. Rather, the soul is made evil through a perversion of what is according to nature.”11
Then, on that sense we should go to the first human Adam and Eve that God created and see what did go wrong and why, as much as we might think and ponder about these things?
“But what was the good set before the soul? It was attentiveness to God and union with him through love. Once the soul has fallen away from this, it is made evil by various and manifold weaknesses. But for that reason is it entirely capable of receiving evil? Because of the impulse of free choice, especially befitting a rational nature. For having been freed from all necessity, and receiving self-determined life from the Creator, because it came into being according to the image of God, it understands the God and knows his joy and possesses authority and power, abiding in the contemplation of the beautiful and the enjoyment of spiritual things, guarding carefully in itself the life according to nature. Yet it also had authority to turn away from the beautiful at any time. And this happened to it were weighed down by a kind of sleepiness and sank down from things above, being mixed with the flesh through the disgraceful enjoyment of pleasures. …He greatly loved his Benefactor, who gave him the enjoyment of eternal life enabled him to rest amid the delights of paradise, gave him authority like that of the angels, and let him hear the divine voice. As he was protected in all these things by God and enjoyed the blessings belonging to him, he quickly became full of everything. And as it were becoming insolent through satiety, he preferred what appeared delightful to the fleshy eyes to the spiritual beauty and considered the filling of the stomach more valuable than
the spiritual enjoyment. And immediately he was outside paradise and outside that blessed way of life, becoming evil not from necessity but from thoughtlessness.”12
In my opinion, which I hope, that agrees with St. Basils’ way of thinking, it is that humanity have used the gift and privilege (of self determination and free-will) that God gave us thoughtlessly and neglectfully not from necessity but from our own choice. We have chosen, what is desirable and looks good to our eyes, than trusting God’s love and care. We have preferred to be attentive to our own perception of ourselves than to be attentive with God’s relation with us. We have made the wrong decision believing that we are enough mature and knowing that what is best for our lives. We have valued the created more above the uncreated. Them somebody might ask then why God have bestowed this gift of self-determination to the humanity since He knew that humanity could probably be led astray from our wrong choice?
“But why did we not have sinlessness in our structure, one may ask, so that the will to sin would not exist in us? Because indeed it is not when your household slaves are in bonds that you consider them well disposed, but when you see them willingly fulfill your wishes. Accordingly, God does not love what is constrained but what is accomplished out of virtue. And virtue comes into being out of free choice and not out of constraint.”13
Therefore, we see that God clearly values virtue but under the precondition that comes from our heart willingly and genuinely not under any compulsion. [2 Corinthians 9:7]
Ibid, p.74 Ibid, p.75
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” NIV Having said all that, I would like to conclude regarding St. Basil’s Homily and message to his audience. I could not say for sure, how much could be convincing for the people of that time, but I think that they probably many people would reconsidered about what really evil is and about the relation between God and humanity. Nevertheless, I would try to say something about the people of our time, since I am one among them and I mighty have some clues about how they might feel as well. So, in my opinion many people lets say here in Boston , they try to separate their lives from God or many of them , they may related with God ,on the way that it seems fit to each one individually. Some others, they might compartmentalize Him and relate to Him when and how they feel to do so. As about evil it might, being a relative matter and not such as a universal truth either. As for me, I think that we most of the time we are feeling weak, defeated, disappointed, bored and dissatisfied with our lives with other people with God and most of all with ourselves. We might feel trapped in a society that we should be productive, competent, savvies, consumers, sexy, ever-young. So, that we live are lives like that we are never going to die and that our possessions, we may take with us all the time to all the places. But God is always there, we may acknowledge it or try to hide it, does it change the truth? The evil as sin exists the same too! Every moment it takes its toll from us, mire our faces or disfiguring our bodies and souls, bleeding us to death! I think, that we most of the times we are sleeping but God has His own unique way to awake us on His own time, on His own way! And that it may keep us alive, like a very
sweet secret too fragile to touch it or reveal it under the radiant sun! This is our hidden hope, our deep yearning for move from the corruptibility to immortality daring to share God, the Good one with everyone and everything that the stinger of the sting could not bite us anymore and even if it does, time for the first time will be on our side!
Fr. Constantine, Thank you for writing this essay a second time. You have grasped a number of questions that St. Basil answered and points that he made. In the last paragraph you explain some of the confusion in people’s lives today. However, you have not explained how what Basil says about evil would relate to their condition. Please continue to work on grammar, punctuation and spelling in English, and on clarity of expression. Your grade for this paper is a C. Because you made good contributions to the class last summer, your overall grade for the course is a B-. May God continue to bless your ministry. Sr. Nonna
St. Basil the Great, On the Human Condition, Translation and introduction by Nonna Verna Harrison, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood , New York, 2005
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