Tuesday, 22 March 2011

illness is caused by sin - not according to Catholic teaching

There are some who say that illness, and disease is due to sin. Well it's not. Such a teaching is not Catholic Belief. Well what about natural disasters and when bad things happen to good people. Well... lets take a look at what the Archbishop of Port of Spain says:

For many if not most people when life is good, it is easy to pray and worship. If life becomes too good, there is always the danger that people will slowly develop a false sense of independence and eventually distance themselves from God. It is a common experience of people that when life becomes difficult or even overwhelming, as it is now in Japan, faith and relationship with God can be seriously tested.

The Perennial Question

The recent natural disaster in Japan – similar to the tragedies in Haiti and Indonesia – raise the perennial theological questions: “How could God have allowed this to happen? Where is God in these events?”

In philosophical and theological terms, natural disasters, victims of crime and incidents of terminal illness among the very young fall into the category of “the mystery of evil”. Evil is a mystery not in the sense that it cannot be recognised. The presence of evil both physical and moral is painfully evident throughout the world. Evil is a mystery in the sense that it cannot be fully understood or explained – not the fact of it, but the why of it.

The Traditional Catholic Response

One of the dimensions of the Catholic understanding of creation which we find summarised in the Creeds is that God is creator of heaven and earth (Apostles’ Creed) and of all that is seen and unseen (Nicene Creed). We believe that not only does God create but God also sustains in being what has been created.

The theology of the Church is that the fall from grace affected not only our first parents and their descendants but also the physical universe. Over the centuries, people had little difficulty in accepting the explanation of human weakness that flowed from original sin and moral evil that was the result of a misuse of human freedom. What most people did not reflect on sufficiently was that “the fall” reported in Genesis also affected the physical universe.

As a result of that lack of reflection, three aspects are operative on an interactive manner even to this day: 1) The goodness of the God of creation; 2) What the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “the drama of sin”; and 3) The promise of redemption and recreation (not just of people but of the entire universe).

Until the promise of redemption in Christ is completely fulfilled, there will be physical evil in the world e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and deadly tornadoes. Why? Because God respects the nature of things which God created out of chaos. Unfortunately, what has been created has now been affected by sin both in the evolving physical universe and in the free will of the human person.

The Contribution of Philosophy

Over the centuries, the mystery of evil has received considerable attention in schools of philosophy. The mystery of evil has also been used in philosophical discussions to argue for or against the existence of God e.g. the presence of so much goodness in the world supports faith in the existence of God and the presence of evil (physical and moral) suggests the non-existence of God.

Evil as a concept is considered as an absence of a perfection (a good) that is proper to a creature. Authors use blindness as an example. Blindness is the absence of a function that is part of human completeness.

It is beyond the scope of this column to summarise the various approaches of philosophers some of whom were believers and others not. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (N. 285) offers an outline of the philosophical attempts throughout history to explain or at least address the mystery of evil.

Coping with Physical Evil

What should happen when physical evil happens? How should we cope? The answer to those questions falls into two categories:

1) Science

The scientists agree with the theologians and philosophers about physical evil but for different reasons. Natural disasters have been and will continue to be a part of life on planet earth. The best we can do is to build prudently and to develop accurate warning systems to protect people as effectively as possible. We cannot prevent natural disasters (physical evil) nor can we control their power.

2) Spirituality

Since the promise of a redemptive incarnation of his Son by the Father, the world began the process of restoration. More specifically, the world entered “a state of journeying” toward its ultimate perfection. The constructive and destructive forces of nature will be involved in this journey (CCC, N. 310). The acceptance of the promise in faith will lead to a firm hope.

Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3: 13). For the cosmos, the Book of Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man: “For creation waits with eager longing ….in hope because creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay...” (Romans 8: 19 ff).

The Constitution on the Church from Vatican Council II states: “At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him will be perfectly re-established in Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 48).

While we wait for the transformation of humanity and the cosmos, we must confront the reality of physical evil and moral evil in the world. Many elements of human life and the cosmos must die before all the implications of the death of Jesus are understood and accepted.

3) Intercessory Prayer

When we are personally affected by physical and/or moral evil or when we witness evil affecting others, prayer and charity should be our immediate reaction as believers.

As I watched and continue to watch the troubling pictures in the media about the tragedy in Japan, I instinctively prayed for the people who died so suddenly and so violently that God would be merciful to them and also for those who survived that God would strengthen them to find the energy to rebuild.

I also prayed that the international community would respond quickly to help the Japanese government care for its people. I prayed for all governments to find ways to protect their own people from the dangers of radiation poisoning.

May all God’s people intercede in prayer for those who have been already affected by this tragedy and who may be affected by it in the future.


We have reflected in this column on the inevitable presence of physical evil in the world and the dangers it potentially holds for all of us. My intention was to provide the readers with a theological context to understand what has happened. The context is important because natural disasters will happen again.

I conclude this reflection with a quotation from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: “The form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away and God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of humanity.” (LG, 39)

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