Julian's Problem with Evil
"There are many evil deeds done in our sight and such great harms suffered, that it seems to us that it would be impossible that it ever could come to a good end."
Even though Julian heard Christ reassure her again and again that "alle shalle be wele and alle manner of thing shalle be wele," she simply could not see how the persistent problem of evil could ever be “made wele.” And as we view the sectarian religious wars and the barbarous acts of violence being committed in our world right now -- with millions of terrified refugees fleeing the onslaught of evil -- neither can we.
Julian was certainly no stranger to the brutality of her fourteenth century. She heard the stories of deadly battles won and lost by English soldiers during the Hundred Years' War in France, of burnings and lootings of whole villages and other acts of vicious brutality. During the Peasants' Revolt in Norwich, she saw severed heads being raised on pikes and set upon the barricades of the city as a warning to any future peasants who might think of revolution. She knew about local murders and rapes; she saw hands cut off for thievery, whippings and lashings for a multitude of offenses, men and women confined to the "stocks" for lying, cheating, adultery. Such a sense of all-pervasive evil so shocked and disturbed Julian's peace of mind that she found it difficult to pray. She wrote:
"And upon this [evil] we look, sorrowing and mourning therefore, so that we can not rest ourselves in the blissful beholding of God as we should do."
Impact of Evil
Julian was painfully aware that evil deeds -- our own, and those committed within our communities and throughout the world -- are the cause of our terrible sufferings. The spread of evil is insidious; it wears down our hope of ever being set free from its clutches. Evil disillusions and embitters our hearts, making us unable to love or trust God as we should. Evil fuels anger and feeds the desire for revenge. Evil wreaks havoc in our families and seriously tests our faith in the goodness of God. And the seeming "triumph of evil" that, for a time at least, goes unpunished, raises severe questions about God’s lack of intervention. "Why doesn't God do something?" we may ask.
And in all this we become unable to pray, to praise, and to give glory to God as we ought to do. We cannot rest in contemplating the pure goodness of God. We are worn out with weeping.
Don't Blame God
Julian admitted that she knew this debilitating process only too well. Yet she refused to blame God for the "problem" of evil. She insisted that the cause of our despair over the prevalence of evil is that our reasoning minds are “so blind, so low, and so simple” that we simply cannot comprehend the transcendence of the Trinity in its glorious wisdom, might, and goodness. The seemingly insurmountable power of evil -- and the deep anguish it causes us -- renders us incapable of "seeing" how God is always working, in hidden ways, to combat it.
Indeed, there are times we may find it easier to believe that God may not, can not, will not, and shall not save all humankind, and that we shall never see him make “alle manner of thing wele."
But Julian is convinced that this is because of our total inability to comprehend who God is and what God is capable of accomplishing.
Trust and Faith
Our anxiety and despair are also symptomatic of our lack of faith. It will take us a long time to allow Christ's promise that "alle shalle be wele" to filter through our fears and find a home deep in our injured psyches, renewing our hope. Julian writes:
And thus, this is what he means where he says: “Thou shalt see thyself that alle manner of thing shalle be wele,” as if he had said: “Take heed now, faithfully and trustingly, and at the last end thou shalt see truly in fullness of joy.”
Julian insists we must "take heed" of what Christ is saying to us, here and now, in the thick of our mental and emotional turmoil. We must trust blindly in the One in whom we have believed. We must have faith in his promises, most especially because we cannot see how this or that particular evil could ever “come to a good end.” We must hang on Christ’s words, counting on him to make all things well at the end of time, even though we have no idea how he will ever do it. We must believe that he can and that he wants to do it.
And, finally, we must give thanks for the work Christ is already doing to transform the "problem of evil" into "the victory of good" -- as he did on the cross.
Such belief does not arise easily. It is an acquired habit. It takes
continual and determined practice. But if we do practice such belief, day after day (and news report after news report), then “at the last end,” we will be able to “see truly in the fullness of joy” how Christ has done it.
We must hold onto that faith and trust throughout the darkest days and nights we may yet have to endure. Anything less would be to deny the reality of Christ's ultimate triumph over "the problem of evil" in his glorious resurrection.
9/29/2014 06:12:38 am
God insists that each human exercise a divine freedom to choose a response to evil. That human response may be good or evil, but God does not intervene independently to overcome evil. That would be a violation of divine freedom. God responds to evil by empowering our compassion, but we must choose to let God in.
9/30/2014 09:41:33 am
Thank you for the timely message. Julian is so relevant and contemporary and she seems to get even more so every day. We sang a hymn this Sunday, " Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty", and the words touched me deeply. They resonate with Julian's message and yours - "Tho' the darkness seem to hide Him, faith and love can understand."
9/30/2014 12:43:09 pm
Matthew 11:28-29 came to mind while reading this blog, when we are heavy laden, we need only to go to Christ and he will give us rest - for me that doesn't mean the traumatic situation I'm dealing with disappears, but that with His strength and mercy I can peacefully get through lives never ending challenges!
10/1/2014 05:20:29 pm
Thank you for all you write....for the door this post opened for me, for being so willing to grapple with the pain and tragedy of our world as you do, and, beyond words for the gift of Julian's Gospel....(today especially, the chapter "Betrayal and Affirmation").
10/20/2014 10:06:06 am
Veronica...I am so sorry about your recent UVA loss. This encapsulates the evil in the world that is so hard to understand. Julian struggled with the great and horrific losses and somehow came to a deeper understanding to be able to carry on.....
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