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Why Do We Exist? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Part
2 | Part 1
Some folks, I believe, do hold that the capacity
of thought evolved from non-thought. But once it by chance appeared among
us for whatever reason (sic), we can use it to get rid of the things we
do not approve, like pain and suffering, which have also arisen by chance.
At least this latter theory, provided it does not change into something
else, enables us to blame someone, since, now that the brain has by chance
evolved, we can blame each other for not using it to eliminate what we disapprove
of in evolution. I admit that this position very much looks like bringing
in by the back door what we have closed off at the front door. The fact
is, even if we hold a position that logically does not allow for a cause
of reason, we still want to give a reason for our not having a reason for
the existence of reason.
But the question I am dealing with obviously does not come from someone
who is a determinist. A determinist has his own problems that arise the
minute he inquires about why they arise. We are rather dealing, in the matter
asked of me, with a world in which the universe is held not to be chaos.
It is likewise a world in which the real chance that is within it is itself
an aspect of its order. The origin of this order is "all-knowing."
Since it is a created world, it means that the world is not necessary. It
need not exist. That is, nothing can be found within the Godhead that would
necessitate Him to cause something to be out of nothing. Nor is there anything
in creation that would explain its own order.
The next step in the question follows. The knowledge of God of creation
must include the knowledge of it that we know. We thus do not reduce the
suffering found in the world to an illusion or to unreality. The question
includes knowledge of "the Fall" and the Redemption, which latter
also includes suffering in this case (in the case of Redemption)
the well-known suffering of the man-God. This latter suffering is an even
greater enigma since Christ could not be said to be directly affected by
the Fall. That would mean, if He took on Himself the so-called consequences
of the Fall (particularly suffering and death), He had to do so by some
sort of voluntary association with those who undergo this suffering necessarily,
once the Fall happened.
Thus, in this light, the question arises, "why are we created at all?"
Why do we exist? The implication behind the question seems to be
that the existence of suffering and pain challenge the very rationality
of existence. Existence, at first sight, should be without these things.
But it has these things; therefore, something is wrong with existing in
the first place. But the fact is we exist and have pain, so what alternative,
if any, do we have besides blaming God for this thoroughly messy situation?
The question does not deny, but assumes, that God loves us. This assumption
only adds to the difficulty. If God hated us, we would have no problem in
understanding why we suffer and are in agony. We might not like it, but
it would make sense. We might still want to know if we were guilty of something
or deserved it. But if God is not just, that would not be a problem either.
We can only complain if indeed we are created and God is all-knowing. We
do not see how these two positions do not imply the direct responsibility
The question then continues: granted this love, 1) why are we created "knowing
that many would have to struggle so hard against evil," and 2) knowing
that "many of us would not be successful in that struggle?" Presumably,
no actual person is exempt from "struggle." Furthermore, some
do not make it. They fail their very purpose in creation, they are so free.
So connected with this question is that of hell and punishment (see
"The Brighter Side of Hell," Nov. 2005). What is the status
of those who rebel, in one form another, against God and the creation given
As I see it, with these thoughts in our minds, we can give a sensible answer
to the main issue, namely, was the "all-knowing God" somehow unjust
or unreasonable, or even perverse, in giving us being in a finite world
in which pain, evil, and suffering would be possible? We do not and cannot
deny these realities. Do these latter facts make belief in the God that
we understand to exist impossible, or even improbable? Or, when spelled
out, does it all go together in such a way that some reasonable sense can
be made of it? Was the "all-knowing God," after all, so unwise
when He created the sort of world we find ourselves in a world that
would include eventually real evil, real suffering, real pain with,
as was mentioned, the suffering found in the Redemption itself?
Why do we exist? Certain things are clear. The fact of an internal life
within the Godhead, what we call the Trinity, means, when spelled out, that
God does not need anything but Himself. The world does not exist because
of some loneliness or lack in God, to provide Him with something He needs,
but does not have. What follows is this: if in fact there is anything but
God, as there is, it must follow from Gods all-powerful freedom such
that it need not exist. But if it does exist, it must be because God had
a purpose in its creation. What was this purpose? What precedes in the intention
of God, even though it may be last in the order of time, is Gods choice
to associate other free beings with Himself in his inner life.
What we know as the world follows from this decision, not the other way
around. Thus, God never intended to create a fully natural world, even though
in our world grace builds on a real nature. That purely natural world, with
rational beings in it, might have been possible, but it did not happen.
What came forth was rather a creature who was given more than he was capable
of achieving by his own powers. Is this not odd? Not quite. The creature
that would be worthy and capable of receiving such a gift had to be both
intelligent and free, an autonomous being who was not determined to receive
what was offered since what was offered could only, at its highest limits,
be received freely, lovingly. The original situation of our kind evidently
was precisely an arena in which there was no pain, no death. But both of
these latter exemptions were not "natural" but supernatural.
The essence of the Fall is the free rejection of this initially granted
order. The temptation of Adam and Eve was precisely to be the cause of the
distinction of good and evil. What we know as redemption is Gods plan
or effort to continue His original purpose but in the light of accepting
man's free choice to reject Gods initial way of receiving this
purpose. The alternate way was something that retained the notion that man
had freely to choose God but now within a world in which the Fall and its
consequences had happened. Finite beings, both human and animal, will by
themselves suffer and die. That is their nature as such. Added to this is
what we freely do to one another.
But can this suffering, whether caused by nature working itself out or by
additional voluntary suffering caused by fellow men, be a cause, as such,
for rejecting the original purpose of our creation? It can be, no doubt,
since Gods plan of redemption did not propose to restore the condition
in which man was initially placed. In Redemption, God chose another way,
essentially a way through suffering. The poets and the philosophers had
already understood that "man learns by suffering" and "it
is never right to do wrong." The New Testament added, "greater
love than this no man hath, but to lay down his life for his friends."
The Cross thus kept suffering and transformed it. But into what?
Surely, not immediately into a situation in which no more suffering would
Rather what the Cross did was to re-propose the problem of suffering. If
man rejected God in the Garden when all things worked to his good and usefulness,
it means that the cause of his disorder is not in external things but in
himself. But this internal point is where the original cause of creation
arose in the fist place. The free creature was the center of creation and
had himself rightly and freely to order himself to what is proposed as his
destiny. The "scandal of the Cross" was designed, if it might
be put that way, to achieve freely what was rejected freely.
God could not "redo" the consequences of a free decision. He could
only accept it and present the free creature with another way to achieve
the purpose that was originally intended for him. Thus, suffering and the
possibility of evil, even after the Fall and the Redemption, were not abolished
but they were transfigured by Christ as the only way freely to achieve Gods
original purpose of inviting men to choose that for which they were created
in the first place (cf., Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1).
So, "why do we exist?" We exist because of the freedom and abundance
of God. But the essence of Gods love, as of our own, is that it be
rooted in a freedom that is not coerced. Thus, we can still reject God,
just as Adam and Eve at first did, and for the same reason. That is, we
want to create our own rules, our own world. We cannot imagine anything
better than what we can make for ourselves. Since our own world is not nearly
so glorious as that which is offered to us, God continued to work on us
to respond and select the original purpose for which we were created, even
within the consequences of our own choices, choices that have led to our
suffering and those of others. Granted that we are free and granted that
we are created to associate ourselves in the inner life of God as offered,
our existence, including our final existence, includes the consequences
of our choices, even those in which we reject God and what He has offered
The Redemption is Gods effort to save us even in the light of our
choices. This is why it includes repentance, suffering, forgiveness s, the same final glory to which we are called from the beginning. God,
I suspect, has done all He can. His only other alternative, as "all-knowing,"
was not to create us at all, a path we can be grateful that He did not take.
He did not take it because, as Augustine and Aquinas said, He could bring
a greater good out of the evils we know and are confronted with. God did
take the risk that we would reject him. But even God could not save us without
our free response. How we choose thus still remains the central point in
the drama of our existence. Our very existence remains the risk that God
took in causing us to stand outside of nothingness in the first place.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links:
Author page for Fr. James
V. Schall, S.J., with listing of all IgnatiusInsight.com articles
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls
and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing,
Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing,
and A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning.
Read more of his essays on his
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
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