While there are still a few cold days now and then, the warming of Spring has come to Wisconsin, and it is steadily growing like the coming of a slow sunrise. The grass is vigorously bursting from revitalized soil, the snow has melted, and the somber cloudiness that so characterizes Midwestern winters is giving way to clear blue skies. To those of us who live in northern climes, there are few things more joyful than this.
On a particularly exquisite day recently, I left work for a few minutes to get away from the fluorescent lights and glare of the computer screen and to bask in the sunshine and balmy temperatures. I drove to a nearby park that borders a wetland preserve, and stepped out of my car. I was instantly greeted by a cacophony of birds happily singing in the trees bordering the marsh. It really sounded like a celebration, and considering the beauty of the day, it was entirely fitting.
As I stood there listening to this happy avian chanting, two large Sandhill cranes glided gently past—their large necks gracefully extended as if they too wanted to hear their brothers hymning their Creator. It was startling and wonderful. This, I thought, is good. This is very good.
While taking in this beauty, it occurred to me that there are many who would scoff at the idea that a good God created it. If there is a good God, they argue, why is there so much pain, so much evil in the world? Why doesn’t he stop it?
This is a legitimate question, and the problem of evil is indeed a problem. In fact, of all the charges hurled at Christians, perhaps it is the most difficult to answer—most of all because suffering is not so much a theological problem as an existential one. A theodicy means almost nothing to one who is in pain.
At any rate, I do not propose to answer this question in the sense theological explanation of suffering. More intelligent men than I have done that far more ably than I could. But what I would like to do is address the all too popular idea that evil has the upper hand; or that in fact there is more evil in the world than there is good.
To this I would answer that nothing is further from the truth. Evil is not greater than good, it simply makes more noise. Indeed, suffering has a way of dominating our attention and warping our normal perception of things, for it is a very loud signal that something is wrong. We notice when our foot is broken, but we do not notice when we walk.
Now, Evil knows that pain is a powerful instrument, and it uses suffering to make itself the center of attention. It does so for the simple reason that Satan hates God, the source of all goodness. He hates God because he envies Him, and he knows no better way to detract from God’s everlasting glory than to make a mess of what He has made. Suffering, betrayal, deceit, pride, abuse, hatred, gluttony—these are but a few of his instruments.
The greater the devastation he can inflict, the more he can make the world howl in pain, the happier Satan is. For in his bitter pride, Satan wants to drown out the chorus of praise that is rightfully due to God. Put another way, Satan is throwing a tantrum.
But God, in His supremely joyful humility, is quite different. He is not concerned with making a fuss. He is content to let good radiate silently and unnoticed from His heart to His creatures. Everyday, in a thousand places He sends gifts to them, causing the sun to rise on the just and the unjust.
Yes, good is very much present. In fact, it is everywhere—it is simply very quiet and very humble. Being, existence itself, is the first good, from which all other gifts flow. But goodness is seen in so much else—in a hearty meal, in a smile, in a kind word, in the sacrifice of a parent for a child, in blue skies on a Spring day, or Sandhill cranes gliding silently overhead.
But while this goodness surrounds us, it is hardly ever noticed. Very often we completely ignore it while we complain about this or that.
And that is the very problem. We have grown so cold to the ocean of goodness in which we swim, in which we live and move and have our being, that we no longer notice it. We never notice it, that is, until it is gone—like a fish does not notice water until he is taken out of it. In short, we do not see goodness because it is the rule. We only notice suffering because it is the exception.
Now, there are men and women who are attuned to this ever-present good. They revel in it and to offer for it a sacrifice of praise. These men and women are the happiest among us, and not a few of them are known as saints.
Supreme among these individuals is St. Francis, the poor man of Christ. Because of his Gospel life of radical renunciation, St. Francis’ soul was purified to the point where he could see the goodness of God coming forth from all things; a goodness that caused him to cry out in his Canticle of the Sun:
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Would that we were all St. Francis, seeing goodness in all things and praising and blessing God for it. We can, and we must, be so. It is our solemn duty to open our eyes to this radiance of being. To do so, we must outgrow our petulant discontent and melancholy grumbling by cleansing the lenses of our soul to see the goodness that our Infernal Enemy is trying his very best to drown out. Most of all, we must be grateful.
For the simple truth is that we can never be grateful enough. We can never be fully aware of just how good things really are. If we were, this knowledge would crush us under the weight of its glory. But we can learn to sense the silent presence of goodness through thanksgiving.
Let us then begin to offer a sacrifice of praise for all good things, despite our sufferings in the vale of tears. Let us say with the angels and saints and all the host of heaven, Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever, because you have created all things, and for your will they were, and have been created. Amen.