Limit of Evil

Memory and Identity - Rizzoli 2005

Memory and Identity - Rizzoli 2005

In response to the question: “Evil sometimes seems omnipotent, it seems to exercise absolute dominion over the world. Holy Father, does there exist a threshold that evil is unable to cross?”

If I have wanted to underline the limit imposed upon evil in European history, I must conclude that the limit is constituted by good – the divine good and the human good that have been revealed in that history, over the course of the last century and of entire millennia. Yet it is hard to forget the evil that has been personally experienced: one can only forgive. And what does it mean to forgive, if not to appeal to a good that is greater than any evil? This good, after all, has its foundation in God alone. Only God is this good. The limit imposed upon evil by divine good has entered human history, especially the history of Europe, through the work of Christ. So it is impossible to separate Christ from human history. This is especially what I said during my first visit to Poland, in Victory Square, Warsaw. I stated then that it was impossible to separate Christ form my country’s history. Is it possible to separate him from any other country’s history? Is it possible to separate him from the history of Europe? Only in him, in fact, can all nations and all humanity “cross the threshold of hope”! ~ John Paul II Memory and Identity pg 15, Rizzoli International Publication 2005 [emphasis mine]

When John Paul II mentions the good that has entered history in this century and in this millennia he seems to be referring to the forgiveness that he says we offer and which is rooted in Christ. Yet I can’t help but consider that it is because goodness itself (God) entered history by becoming man, suffering, dying and rising, that evil has any limit at all. It seems to me that the greatest evil that can be done has indeed been done to God. It is precisely because of the perfect goodness of God that evil has its limit. The ultimate evil that can be done is only ultimate because it is perpetrated against Him who is ultimate goodness. A man can be persecuted, spit upon, ridiculed, humiliated, stripped, scourged, beaten, forced to carry the instrument of his death, and then killed in public view, but if he is only a man this will be evil for sure but not the ultimate evil, for if all of it or worse is done to many people then it is an even greater evil. Yet if the same atrocities are perpetrated against a man who is also God then it is the ultimate evil, for there is none greater to sin against. So I must conclude that there is no greater evil than that which is done against the greatest good; God. To our great shame this is exactly what we do each time we sin. Were it not for the great mercy of God the evil we do would have no limit. Praise God for His unfathomable mercy!

An afterthought:

In Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, during the scourging, Mary asks the quintessential question of the movie and indeed of humanity, “My son, when, where, how will you choose to be delivered of this?”  In other words, how much more are you and I going to take?  Where does this brutality have its end?  The movie answers this question both with words and with actions.  In words, when Jesus meets his mother after falling with the Cross, she says, “I am here.” Earlier, Mary seemed to be saying how unbearable the suffering is and now she seems to be reminding Jesus why He’s enduring it.  Now Jesus responds, “see mother, I make all things new.”    In a sense, He is saying that although I will take this to my death it will not end there.  Actions have the last word in this movie and this is as it should be since it is said that actions speak louder than words.  The Passion of the Christ concludes with the Resurrection, giving finitude to this question of the limit of evil and suffering; it ends with triumph over evil and death.  Evil has its limit, its end in Christ.

© 2009 Tim Bartel

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One Response to “Limit of Evil”

  1. Tim Bartel says:

    Pope Francis summed up this point on the limit to evil very succinctly today writing, “Jesus’ Cross shows the full force of evil, but also the full power of God’s mercy.”

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