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. 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.
At the beginning of the Creed each one of us proclaims: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” An Almighty Father! Somehow, these two words appear to contradict each other. The word Father is indeed charged with ambiguity, but when it resonates in our hearts, even if it be only with a kind of sad nostalgia, in the case of those who have suffered from negative experiences related to human parenthood, this word Father still carries a promise of goodness, mercy, and kindness. Consequently, a God who is an Almighty Father, a Father whose goodness is supported by his omnipotence, should offer us a life that is full of wonder and delight. But when the Creed goes on to declare that this Almighty Father is the Creator of heaven and earth, we are almost inevitably driven to ask in astonishment: “How comes it then, that our world is not a paradise?” And this can lead us to wonder which of the two words, Father or Almighty, contains a lie, or is unable to fulfill its promise.
Indeed, here we encounter two possible temptations against the faith: either we believe that Almighty God is not really a Father, that is to say, that he is not really and totally a God of goodness and mercy, since the world seems to follow its own course, involving in particular the scandal of evil which constantly clutches at our throat; or else we grant that God truly is a Father, and that he really does want the best for us, but we suspect that he is not really “all powerful,” but that something escapes him, and that his governing of creation is not entirely effective in reality.
Both these temptations are quite present in our modern-day culture, which oscillates between two suspicions about God. The first is the idea of a “sadistic” God who is the enemy of man and who is jealous of him. We find here the projection onto God of all our images of bad paternity, due to all the failures of family and parenthood, which are so common in our present everyday life. It is not surprising that all the sins, failures, and distortions arising from relationships between parents and children have been projected and heaped onto the face of God. The opposite suspicion is to think of God as indeed a father (or even a grandfather!) who is good and well-meaning, but who is powerless or impotent, a God whose will of salvation is more a feeble wish than a real and victorious commitment for the good of mankind. Of such a God the only thing that it would be possible to say is that “he is dead”!
Yet when we profess our faith in the Father Almighty, these two words are inseparable, they draw their strength, as it were, one from the other. At the beginning of the Creed, omnipotence is attributed to God the Father. It might have seemed more natural to assign this trait directly to God the Creator by saying, for example, “We believe in God the Father, who is the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth.” It is easier for us to believe in the omnipotence of God in creation than to believe in the omnipotence of God in his paternity, that is to say, in his providence, in the care that he exercises on our behalf, in his manner of accompanying us in our daily lives. To assign omnipotence to God in his paternity is somewhat of a challenge, or even a provocation. It is easier for us to believe in the omnipotence of God in creation in our day and age, when we know much better the immensity of the cosmos as well as the intricately perfect way in which matter is constituted. From the infinitely large to the infinitely small, we sense God’s omnipotence at work; but this omnipotence seems ridiculously impotent when it comes to our lives, and to the unfolding of our daily existence. There, indeed, the omnipotence of God seems to suffer an eclipse, even as it continues to shine on the rest of the universe. But it is precisely in our day-to-day existence that we most desperately seek the face of God the Father. However, when we think we have found him, we can have the impression of confronting either the impotence of an old man, sweet-faced and benevolent, but whose arms are tired, or else the enigmatic face of a cold omnipotence that we may be tempted to accuse of total indifference or even of cruelty.