Felix Culpa and the Problem of Evil

Felix culpa: fortunate fault — used especially of original sin, which is redeemed by the coming of Christ (Merriam Webster)

It would seem that if it weren’t for the fall, Jesus would have never become a man to save humanity. If Jesus never became a man, the connection thus created between God and man would never have happened. Jesus, being both fully God and fully man, is a bridge between God and man which connects the Creator with the created and the Infinite with the finite. If Jesus never became a man, that connection would never have been made, and forever there would be an infinite separation between God and His creation. The theodicy here is that evil was necessary as it caused the man Jesus to come and save humanity.

Of course, there was nothing stopping the second person of the Trinity from becoming a man if there never was a fall. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that it was always God’s intention to unite with His creation by entering that creation as a man. The fall is not necessary for that to happen. So, the theodicy breaks down, as all theodicies do.

Was evil necessary for God to get what He wants out of His creation? The Calvinist would say yes, as God created the universe to display the full range of His perfections, which includes wrath, mercy, and justice (a la John Piper). If there were no evil, how could God display His wrath? Who was God displaying His wrath onto before creation? No one of course. Therefore God had to create the universe in order to fulfill that unmet desire. Here is where the Calvinist theodicy breaks down since it insists that God had to create the universe in order to complete Himself, which cannot be true for a perfectly complete God. God did not create the universe to complete Himself or to fulfill some unmet desire. The universe is an outpouring of God’s perfect completeness–ex nihilo, or better ex deo.

Some believe evil is necessary for the act of “soul building”. The evil we experience builds our character, builds our humanity, and shapes us into the beings God ultimately wants us to be. But this theodicy confuses hardship with evil. If you wanted to run a marathon, and I were your trainer, I would tell you to get up at 5 am each morning to run for an hour. This would be hard for you, but it would not be evil. If I decided that your family was distracting you too much from your training, and thus killed your family to keep you focused, that would be evil. The hardship builds you up, but the evil tears you down. Evil never creates, it only destroys.

Others would say that evil is necessary in order for us to have free will, which is necessary for true love. They argue that love can’t be real unless it is chosen. People have to have the option of rejecting God in order for their acceptance of God to be real. It’s a bad argument. Think of all those you love. Did you have to choose to love them? (Don’t confuse loyalty or obedience with love here.) Does a mother have to choose to love her newly born child? Does a child choose to love his parents? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” I don’t think Jesus is suggesting we prove our love by obeying, but rather, we obey because we love Him first. (Obedience might lead to stronger love, but it is love which initiates obedience.) At any time in eternity past, did Jesus have to choose to love the Father? Is it even an option for Jesus to reject the Father? Think about what that would mean. God is not suicidal. There is no darkness in God. Could God create a universe in which we had free will and yet there would be no evil? Yes, this is exactly what will happen in the next age, post-resurrection.

Evil creates nothing, it only destroys. Evil is not a positive force, it is a negative parasite. Evil is the privation of good and it has no substance of its own. Evil is not non-being, but rather anti-being — it seeks to kill and destroy. There is no good reason why evil exists in our universe, but yet it is here. Why? God did not need evil to get what He wants out of His creation, but yet He allowed evil to happen. Why?

Perhaps we are asking the wrong question: “What does God want?” Maybe we should be asking the question: “What do we want?” Perhaps the solution to the problem of evil is to stop asking what God wants and start asking what we want. God did create the universe wholly apart from Himself after all. Christians are not pantheists or panentheists, or we shouldn’t be. The terrifying truth is that God created us to rule this creation. The responsibility of doing that is immense. Are we going to kill the evil infecting our universe? Or will we join ourselves with the evil?

So, what is evil? Evil is not non-being, but anti-being. Evil is a side effect of the supremacy of Freedom in Becoming (Being), and it is Being turned against itself. Evil has no substance of its own, but it is parasitic on the very substance which it is intent to destroy. If Creation is Good, then Evil is destruction, both the refusal of the acceptance of the Gift of Being, and the active opposition to Being-itself and Becoming. Evil is freedom, but it is freedom misused. Not as some Gnostic ignorance (As David B. Hart seems to suggest), but indeed a genuine hatred. Since human nature is founded on freedom, humanity can choose evil and oppose the inherent Goodness of his/her nature. Evil is a very real psychological and spiritual reality, and cannot be brushed away by a magic wave of the metaphysical finger. It may not be a substance, but it is very tangible. Evil is not cured by knowledge alone, but by Love.

Some guy online called Oskar

Thankfully we have Jesus, God as man, and the Holy Spirit to guide us in this great responsibility God has given to us.

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.

Mark 6:45-51 NKJV

Horrors Causing Blindness

My mother-in-law, Srai Sim, lived through the horrors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I wrote her story here. When she told me her story, she mentioned how she began to lose her eyesight while toiling in the rice fields. She’s had trouble with her eyes ever since those days. I thought it strange and assumed it was/is due to the malnutrition and hard labor she endured under the Khmer Rouge soldiers.

I recently discovered the following article from the LA Times, titled Blinding Horrors: Cambodian Women’s Vision Loss Linked to Sights of Slaughter. I will share it in its entirety below…

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Eang Long cried for many days after the Khmer Rouge soldier beat her brother and his three children to death. She vividly recalls how the soldier threw the youngest child, a 3-month-old, against a tree until the baby died.

“My eyesight started to get terrible after I saw the tragedy,” Long said. “Because I was crying so hard and long, my eyes were red and started to swell up. Then I started to have problems with my eyesight.”

A decade later, Long, 65, who now lives in Long Beach, still has days when shadows–like silent phantoms of the past–obscure her vision. She says her bifocals do not always help and she fears her eyesight will get worse.

Long and dozens of other middle-aged Cambodian women are coping with a condition that some researchers have called “functional blindness”–blindness or visual problems caused by psychological factors.

Two researchers who have studied the condition say it is linked to post-war trauma stemming from the genocide by Communist leader Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

Gretchen Van Boemel, associate director of clinical electro-physiology at the Doheny Eye Institute in Los Angeles, says it was 1984 when she started to notice a disproportionate number of Cambodian women in the 40 to 60 age group who had the disorder.

“I talked about this with a friend who was involved in Southeast Asian affairs,” Van Boemel said, “and she described all the atrocities and killing fields in Cambodia.”

Armed with this information, Van Boemel contacted her friend and former college classmate Patricia Rozee-Koker, now a psychology professor at Cal State Long Beach. By 1985 the two researchers had located a group of 30 Cambodian women, ages 40 to 69, who volunteered to be in a study. All of the women had lived in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime and later spent one to six years in a Thai refugee camp before being relocated to the United States.

Van Boemel said the purpose of the survey was to show that “a psychological overlay was causing the women’s eye problems, even if the brain was functioning normally.”

Each woman was interviewed and given an eye exam and a test to determine whether the visual system in the brain is functioning normally. Van Boemel said the test monitors brain waves as subjects look at checked patterns on a video monitor.

In each case, the test revealed normal visual acuity, often at the 20/20 or 20/40 level. These same women, however, when looking at an eye chart could barely see the top line of 20/200–the point of legal blindness. Other women had no light perception and could not detect light or dark shadows.

Rozee-Koker said most of the women’s functional blindness surfaced during the Pol Pot years. Personal interviews brought out repeated stories of forced labor, the murder of family and friends–often in their presence–beating and torture, starvation, a treacherous escape to Thailand and separation from family. She said the findings indicated that the longer a woman was bound to Khmer Rouge servitude or life in a refugee camp, the more her vision was impaired.

Reports Received Attention

Results of the study were presented at the 1986 American Psychological Assn. annual meeting in Washington. There was only one other paper about Cambodian refugee women and both reports received considerable attention. The paper, “The Psychological Effects of War Trauma and Abuse on Older Cambodian Refugee Women” is scheduled to appear in a coming issue of the journal, “Women and Therapy.”

The researchers found that the Cambodians do not always understand their condition and that many optometrists and ophthalmologists dismiss the vision loss as a case of “faking” or “malingering,” Van Boemel said.

As an example, Rozee-Koker pointed to a 1985 piece in the journal Ophthalmology. It described new immigrants who might be milking the welfare system with complaints of functional blindness. “That article was racist,” Rozee-Koker said. “But people believe it. It was very insensitive.”

Dr. Eric Nelson, a third-year resident at the UCLA School of Medicine, recently completed a preliminary study of Cambodians with functional blindness. “We found some patients who had been considered malingerers,” he said. “But our research proved this to be wrong.”

Unexplainable Problems

His findings were confirmed by Long Beach ophthalmologist Hector Sulit, who in the last five years has noticed a significant number of Cambodian women with unexplainable visual problems.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with their age, but because they lost family or children,” he said.

As more data about functional blindness in the Cambodian community became available, Rozee-Koker and Van Boemel decided to continue their study.

This fall they completed a 10-week study of 15 Long Beach Cambodian women. Each Saturday the women participated in a therapy or skills group for 90 minutes. The therapy group uncovered deep post-war trauma.

The most dramatic improvement took place in the skills group. As the women mastered such basic skills as taking a bus downtown, using a telephone and shopping, they felt a growing sense of empowerment over their lives.

Or as one Cambodian woman told Rozee-Koker: “When I am happy I see better.”

Improvement in Vision

“It was amazing to see the difference,” Rozee-Koker said. “From having to be guided by our arms into the elevator to the psychology building or holding themselves in a fetal position–to the last week when they were standing up straight. Many could smile and with some, their vision improved.”

For Chhou Chreng, 64, the sessions were an opportunity to learn how to dial 911 and to brush up on writing.

“I lost my vision in an accident in 1979,” she said. “Something fell on my head and then things were not clear.” Under Pol Pot she was forced to work in the rice fields for four years. Her husband, brother and many cousins died of starvation.

“Sometimes I will get a headache if I think about my sister in Cambodia,” she said. “Then I will get pain all over my body and my eyes will hurt.”

Both researchers, who are compiling their data, acknowledge that 10 weeks is not enough time to deal with these bouts of depression. Next year they hope to start a student intern program at Cal State Long Beach that will assist local Cambodian women.

Another agency, the nonprofit Community Rehabilitation Industries, also works with Cambodian women. Konthea Kang, a program coordinator at CRI, estimates that up to 20% to 30% of the dozens of Cambodian women she sees have had visual loss symptoms.

Older women, she said, have a more difficult time assimilating into American life styles. In Cambodia, most young people take care of their elderly relatives and parents. In rural areas, she said, women stay at home and raise families and many urban husbands also frown upon wives who work. When these women reach the United States, they are strongly encouraged by federal and state agencies to find a job. But in the workplace, they encounter yet another problem.

“When they can’t speak English, they don’t know what to do and get laid off,” Kang said. “After this they feel lost for several months.”

Tormented by Nightmares

As a counselor at the Asian Pacific Mental Health Center in Long Beach, the Rev. Kong Chhean said he tries to help his patients become more secure. The counselor and Buddhist monk has a caseload of about eight women with visual dysfunction symptoms. They are tormented by frequent nightmares about the Khmer Rouge and are afraid of attacks, even though they are half a globe away from the soldiers.

Although light is being shed on functional blindness, experts say that successful treatment is often tied to mental health care and that poses a problem in the Cambodian community.

Kung Chap, a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Long Beach office of the California Department of Rehabilitation, said the concept of mental health care in Cambodia is negative. A mental health facility in Phnom Penh called Takhmao Hospital “looks like a jail,” he said. “The people there are labeled as crazy people. They would have been beaten and electric shock used on them.”

Cambodians, Chap said, would rather seek help from the family, a temple or a shaman with magic cures. They are slow to accept the American-style of counseling and therapy.

Rozee-Koker and Van Boemel have also found Cambodians to be afraid of agencies, hospitals and the university. On one occasion they made an appointment to interview a woman and her family. When they got to the house, the entire family had picked up and moved.

“We had evoked memories of the Khmer Rouge,” Rozee-Koker said. “To them it was a voice of authority. To their minds it sounded like Pol Pot.”

The refugees, Rozee-Koker said, will carry the scars of their experiences throughout their lives. “They do not want to see any more violence, any more pain. They have essentially closed their eyes to it.”

Or, as Chhou Chreng put, it, “When I feel happy my eyes are normal. When I think about Cambodia and my family I see flashes of light and dark.”

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