“I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I, the Lord, that do all these things” (Is.65:7)
It may be said without paradox that one of the great tokens of God’s goodness is the prevalence of evil which we witness in the world. Pressure of suffering, which causes so many to cry out in their agony, to question His providence, to rebel against His holy will, is in truth a proof of His love, an earnest of His solicitude for our welfare.
God has our welfare in mind
It is because God, unlike ourselves, knows how to draw good from what is evil that He permits it, and by evil I do not mean merely physical evil but moral evil too. Whether we realise it or not, there is no evil that happens which God does not ultimately turn to good, to the profit of His own glory and to the advantage of His creatures.
Why does God permit evil?
The fall of man with our first parents [Adam and Eve, Genesis 3] is incomparably the greatest misfortune which has ever befallen the world; but it has been retrieved and more than compensated by the Incarnation and Redemption of Christ Our Lord.
There is no evil that happens which God does not ultimately turn to good
The personal sins of men are an evil the depth of which is unfathomable, and yet they show the patience, the longanimity, the infinite mercy, if not the justice of the Creator; and they may be for the sinner the occasion of practising penance and humility and gratitude.
Similarly, poverty, privation, sickness, bereavements, death itself, all the evils to which human flesh is heir, all the calamities that take place in the universe, are intended by God to detach our hearts from the things of earth, to raise our minds upwards to heaven, to afford us the opportunities of every virtue and the means of attaining the happiness of a future state.
The compensations of war
And thus it is that these great world wars through which we have passed were permitted by God for ends wise and worthy and ultimately productive of good. At a time like the present, there are not wanting those, Christians even, who cannot look ahead, whose feelings are harrowed by the desolation, the slaughter, the atrocities, the fearful disclosures of concentration camps, the apparent ruin of our civilisation, and are thereby led to doubt the goodness and providence of God, to condemn Him and His ways that He should allow such horrors, and perhaps to deny His very existence.
But they are only deceiving themselves; they are too shortsighted to see into the future; they cannot so much as look round them now and discern the hand of God actually shaping the course of events at the very moment they blaspheme His name.
Without a doubt, war is evil
Without a doubt, war is evil, it is a scourge that nothing can rival, save some pestilences which have carried away more than one half of the entire population of a country. And what an evil has been [the Second World War.] It may justly be considered the most devastating and destructive of all the wars ever waged, by reason of the many nations involved, the numbers of men thrown into the fighting line, the numbers of civilians not fighting who were killed or injured by the bombing attacks on their towns or villages, the destructiveness of modern weapons and the murderous skill with which they were used.
What in the past can you find to compare with the wholesale massacre of the people in Hieroshima, where more than 100,000 lost their lives as the result of one single atomic bomb?
War is an evil because it means the widespread sacrifice of human life, than which no gift of God in the temporal order is more precious. It means the mowing down of the youth of the country, those who are the promise and the hope of the future, and the consequent mourning, the unavailing tears of all who are left childless or widowed or orphaned. It involves the impoverishment of nations and individuals, the devastation of lands fair and prosperous, the destruction of churches and monuments of art.
The fierce animal instincts of our nature come to fore
More awful than all, it is a time when the worst passions of men, the fierce animal instincts of our nature, come to fore and seek their satisfaction, when hell is, as it were, let loose, and grim spectres stalk abroad – hatred, cruelty, violence, blasphemy, drunkenness, lust, plunder, and murder, murder of even innocent children, of the aged, of defenceless women.
War undoubtedly is an evil, a vast, incalculable misfortune, and yet out of it all God knows how to draw good, great good, both in the natural and in the supernatural order.
“Like a breath of fresh, healthy mountain air”
And first of all, we know only too well how a long period of peace and prosperity begets in a nation a love of ease and comfort, a certain effeminacy of character, how it creates the need of luxuries and encourages the pursuit of mere pleasure and enjoyment. War suddenly arrests all these enervating tendencies: It braces the spirit of a people like a breath of mountain air: it brings into action all the more virile virtues – courage, endurance, determination, self-sacrifice, heroism.
Healing of divisions
Another blessing that comes to us through war is the welding together of a nation in unity. External peace often breeds interior dissention: party is arrayed against party, class against class: bickerings, jealousies, factions tear asunder those who should be one. As if with the stroke of a magician’s wand, war closes up ranks, heals divisions, knits together the entire social fabric: the nation stands before the world one, one in purpose, one in endeavour, one in mind and heart.
The spirit of benevolence
Yet another benefit we reap from war is the spirit of benevolence and mutual help which engenders. An immense pity seizes upon the people for the victims of the war, be they soldiers or civilians, wounded or prisoners, allies or fellow-countrymen. Charity never rises so nobly, human kindness never shows to such advantage. Money usually spent on selfish aims is poured out in lavish profusion; and still more do we see laid open the treasures of human affection and interest to all who suffer and are stricken. War has educated, improved and elevated the hearts of many beyond recognition.
The supernatural good
But the supernatural good that results from war is a no less striking justification of God’s providence. It is unfortunately in the times of continued peace that the hearts of many grow careless and indifferent in matters of religion. The need of God is less apparent, the attractions of earth are more seductive, the example of others is a factor all too contagious.
Popular “contagious” self-centredness spread through the example of “infected” individuals
It needs the touch of some calamity or misfortune – bereavement, impaired health, shattered resources, to sober us and raise our minds above the things of time.
And so it may be argued that, in many cases at least, war has the effect of bringing people nearer to God. The proof of this is in the larger number of people who frequent the churches and respond to invitations to join universal prayer.
Calamity has a tendency to bring people from selfishness back on to the carpet
We feel, as we never do in ordinary times, how utterly we are in the hands of the Almighty, how all our striving is in vain unless the Lord of Battles be with us; a prayer, a mighty call for help naturally rises to the lips even of those who for long had discontinued the prayers learnt in their childhood. Owing to the war, many a distressed mother, or wife, or child, or friend looked up to heaven through a mist of tears:
“Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my prayer.”
Owing to the war through which they were passing, we may be sure that many a poor soldier, sailor, or airman, under heavy fire or before going into it, called upon his Maker – in rude and unaccustomed accents, it may be – for protection and for forgiveness. If the truth were known, we may suspect that there were comparatively few who did not put up some kind of prayer at night.
“The surgeon’s knife that cuts that it may remedy”
Let us not say then that war is all evil. It serves a great purpose. It is the surgeon’s knife that cuts that it may remedy. Whichever of the contending sides conquers in the end, it is for both a winnowing, a punishment much needed, as we may well think. But in the hands of God it also purifies and heals and sanctifies. If it but draws the creature nearer to the Creator, then all the havoc we deplore, the ruin of so many lives, the sorrow wrung out of human hearts, is amply compensated and death may be said to be “swallowed up in victory.”
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949