With rich theological language that will appeal to a broad audience, this beautifully written book offers a hopeful interpretation of the problem of evil that plagues our time.
In God without the Idea of Evil, well-known French Catholic theologian Jean-Miguel Garrigues, O.P., seeks to rise above the apparent contradiction of faith and the existence of evil, suffering, and death. Originally published in France as Dieu sans idée du mal in 1982, a revised second edition came out in 1990, and in 2016 the book was released again with a foreword by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, which serves as the basis for the present translation. At its heart, this book contemplates the mystery of our election by God, which is expressed in the very fact of our existence. Garrigues addresses compelling theological topics—the concept of moral evil, the “redemptive charity” of Christ, the “journey” of human liberty, and the process of “nature becoming history”—with precise, poetically charged language that remains accessible.
Garrigues makes a passionate defense of the innocence of God in the face of moral evil. By enveloping us in his look, as Cardinal Schönborn writes in the foreword, “God encounters us in the very gift of being that he bestows upon us, and his eyes do not see our sin.” The book invites us to rediscover in the eyes of Jesus the eternal, continually renewed charm of the divine gaze. We are illumined and inspired by a vision of God who “does not see us through the evil in us,” but rather loves us from the infinite depths of his creative charity.
Foreword by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn
Part 1. The Mystery
1. The Omnipotence of the Father
2. The Humanity of God
3. The Innocence of the Father in Our Adoption
4. The Glorious Growth of the Liberty of the Sons of God
5. The Good Will “Even unto Madness” of the Lamb of God
6. The Vulnerability of God as the Lamb
Part 2. The Economy of the Mystery
7. The Son as the Lamb Who Was Slain from the Beginning of the World
8. Gethsemane: The Supreme Contradiction of Evil
9. The Mysterious Ambivalence of the Cup
10. In the Cell of Mercy
Part 3. An Understanding of the Mystery
11. God without the Idea of Evil
12. How Does God Know the Evil of Which He Has No Idea?
“This little work is destined to be a spiritual classic, and it is so because it has so many pages that are of such simple (and rare) beauty. It is deeply biblical throughout, and draws not only on the wisdom of Aquinas but also of Fathers such as Irenaeus, spiritual writers such as Catherine of Siena, and the works of the artists Fra Angelico and André Rublev.” —Michael D. Torre, editor of An Yves R. Simon Reader
“The questions God without the Idea of Evil addresses are of concern to almost all Christians, and the relative lack of technicality with which Garrigues addresses them should make the book accessible to a considerably larger audience.” —Paul J. Griffiths, author of Regret
But why did God the Almighty Father not create a more perfect world? Before answering this question, we need to know in relation to what we are measuring perfection. Who are the creatures capable of perceiving the world’s imperfection? Does the tree feel that it is imperfect? Do animals feel imperfect? Do they sense in this world an imperfection which wounds them or deprives them of something? The answer would seem to be no. Every creature follows its natural path and appears to be at ease doing so; that is, all creatures with the exception of man: he alone perceives the imperfection of the world. It would of course be possible for us to imagine a world that had been created more perfect than our own; but the more perfect we would imagine it to be, the more we would somehow end up perceiving its imperfection, because everything depends on the criteria we choose to measure perfection. For example, it might be perfection in a world like our own, but in which everything that contributes to creating human adventure or dramatic situations would be removed. We could imagine a world like ours but simply prolonged infinitely in duration, a world in which all trials and tribulations would be banished and which would go on perpetually, like a spring day that never ends. But wouldn’t we very soon end up by finding such a world to be an “air-conditioned nightmare,” that is to say, a place in which we would feel good only because everything was conditioned and measured for us? And there precisely is the rub! The world is not made to our measure, and it is a mistake to wish to scale it down to fit the measure or size of a perfection which we have imagined. This would amount to setting up our purely human happiness as the only absolute value. But if it were possible for us to do this, we would very soon perceive how dull and stifling such a world would be.
Our world, despite all its imperfections, nonetheless offers a mysterious promise for the future, a mystery of high expectation, which makes it somehow more bearable. Whereas if we were placed in a world that had been scaled down to our measure of happiness (as if we ourselves were capable of determining what our true measure of our happiness is!), we would rapidly get the impression of being locked up in prison. The real problem is this: we bear within ourselves a measure that is not commensurate with this world. This means that we can constantly ask ourselves why there is not a better world, but the best one we could imagine would most certainly turn out to be for us the least satisfactory of all. The higher we climb on the ladder of cosmic perfection, the more we perceive a kind of frustration. It is well known among sociologists and historians that frustration and dissatisfaction have never been more acute than in highly developed civilizations.
The question of the best of all possible worlds is a kind of false metaphysical infinity where one can continually go further, imagining each time a still better world. But the very “best” which the heart of man desires is not just the highest level or degree within the same world; he is thirsting for something which is qualitatively different. As the famous phrase of Rimbaud puts it: “real life is elsewhere.” Man is in quest of that which comes from elsewhere, and that which is “best” is perceived to be inseparably linked with an experience of something which is from “elsewhere,” something that this world, in its finite state, cannot by itself provide. The more our world is ameliorated, the more it is perfected by our civilization, the more it tends to take on a stifling aspect. This can be the case notably in places where the state has become “providence,” the so-called “welfare state.” The asphyxiating impression given by these advanced societies is infinitely greater than that which arises from the countless sufferings of more primitive and poor nations.