EVIL AND FREE WILL2
Saint Augustine remains of the most influential theologians of histime. He wrote a series of confession that outlines his sinful lifeand his conversion to Christianity. The confession becomes aninfluential biography in the western culture although it was notoutright biography since Augustine wrote in his early 40 years. Theconfessions remain one of the largest collections based on criticalthought and understanding written in the 4th and 5th century.Augustine expresses his regret for having led an immoral life andhaving been blinded by the Manichean religion that inclined onastrological beliefs.1The Manichean religion and it astrological beliefs inclined tomaterialistic tendencies. The perception of wealth acted as a barrierto Saint Augustine exercise of free will. He describes the role ofNebrius and Saint Ambrose in convincing him o the fallibility of theManichean religion and his gradual conversion to Christianity. Hismother also played an important role in constantly praying for hisconversion. A major theme covered in his confession is the problem ofevil in the society. Just like many Christians, Augustine pondersover the question of where evil comes from and whether God allowsevil to inflict people’s lives.
The existence of evil in the works is one of the most difficultchallenges that Christians face. The nature of God according toChristianity is that he is omnipotent. So if he is all powerful,Saint Augustine wonders why then God does not destroy evil with hispower. Evil corrupts people’s minds and leads them to sin. So, ifGod is alls powerful, why could he allow evil to exist in the world?Saint Augustine contemplates on the presence of evil and its origin.Amid his question, he wondered whether God fashioned it when he wascreating the other components of the universe.2If evil was present during creation Augustine ponders over thequestion as to why God could not have turned it into good and whetherhe was powerless to convert it into good. The existence evil in theworld according to Saint Augustine is complex for people tounderstand and it only through understands the intention of Godduring creation that they can find an answer to the inquiry.
Saint Augustine justifies the presence of evil in the world bypointing out the free will that God gave human being to choose theright from the wrong.3God makes human beings responsible for their actions by giving themfree will and they are therefore liable for punishment when they dowrong. Augustine referred to the account of creation when God gaveAdam and Eve everything they would need in life. They had all thenecessities including water, food, partnership and land. These arethe necessities of life and Adam and Eve did not lack anything tomake them go against the will of God. According to Saint Augustineman could have lived with these provisions without breaking the rulethat God had set. Breaking the rule of God by eating the forbiddenfruit was out of choice. Man had the responsibility to choose theright from wrong eating the fruit or living according to what Godhad said. The consequence of choice heaped responsibility on man toface evil. The serpent persuaded Eve to eat the fruit to become likeGod.4She had the right of choice since the serpent did not force her topick the fruit. She convinced Adam to eat the fruit.
According to Saint Augustine, their action bore the original sin.Therefore, human beings are born with the disposition to sin. Theycan choose knowingly the circumstances that predispose them to sinand divert from the will of God. Augustine’s perception andexplanation of evil may have been under the influence of theNeo-platonic view that does not exist autonomously, but it exists forthe good that God created. Although Augustine provides that evilexists in the world because human beings have the power to chooseright and wrong, he failed to decipher its source. According to him,evil is nonbeing, and it is difficult for human beings to understandit.
In his confession, Augustine presents the existence of evil as boththe deprivation of goodness and also as a lesser good in thehierarchy of goods.5He argues in the favor of the idea that whatever God created wasgood, and he did not create evil. The presence of free will inindividuals is a result of creation, and it means that free will isalso good because it emanates from God. Free will was the intentionof God, and it therefore, has a purpose in their lives.6As Saint Augustine indicates, human beings cannot live without thewill to choose between several options. Free will is a path thatmakes human beings realizes true happiness in while they liveaccording to the will of God. His confession shows the struggles heunderwent before finding the ultimate happiness in God. Althoughhuman beings have a sinful disposition, free will is God’s creationthat enables them to evade evil and find the infinite satisfaction inlife that reflects the will of God.
Also, when contemplating on the presence of evil in the world,Augustine notes that people choose to ignore good in favor of evil.The determinant of human behavior is the will to choose between whatto follow. Throughout the historical and social accounts in thesociety, it is easy to point out the effects of people’s behaviorand realize that they had options that they could have made althoughthey had consequences.7Human beings cannot understand evil unless they concentrated on itsorigin when Adam and Eve sinned against God. From the story, asAugustine outlines, it is easy to understand how human beings createevil when they fail to make the right choices. From the story ofcreation, “Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth, and no planthad yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth,and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from theearth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the LORD Godformed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into hisnostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.” Allthe components of creation including water, plants, animal amongothers were good since man could not have existed without theirpresence in the universe. The story of creation n does not indicatethe creation of evil. As Augustine notes, evil is primarily thedeprivation of goodness by choosing to act against it.
Saint Augustine emphasizes on the instructions that God gave to Adamand Eve after creation. According to the bible, “The LORD God tookthe man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care ofit. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat fromany tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of theknowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you willcertainly die” (Genesis 2: 8-9). The instructions were clear on howAdam was supposed to act in the eyes of his creator. However, Goddoes not inform man of the reason for the restriction, and Adam doesnot question Gods decision. He does not question why he should sufferthe consequences of eating the forbidden fruit. God left him in aposition of either obeying the rules or abiding by them. Themanipulation that Eve faces from the serpent tried to influence herto act towards the will of God, Augustine notes that both Adam andEve had the liberty to make a choice.8He also notes that Eve informs the devil the extent to which heractions stretched. She tells the serpent, “We may eat fruit fromthe trees in the garden, but God did say, you must not eat fruit fromthe tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touchit, or you will die. You will not certainly die. For God knows thatwhen you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be likeGod knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3: 1-2).
According to Saint Augustine, the serpent was trying to influence Evefree will into its direction. The serpent knew why God restrictedAdam from eating fruits from the tree of knowledge. The serpent makesEve believe that Eve would not face any consequences after eatingfrom the tree of knowledge since God intended her to be good. BothAdam and Eve were oblivious of the effects of eating the fruit, andtheir free will drove them into testing whether the devil was right.9Again, the revelations made by the devil were too good for both ofthem, and their free will was at the test. Their diversion away fromgood rendered their actions evil.
In his confession, Saint Augustine notes that the actions of Adam andEve were not out of any necessary reason but rather to test therestrictions given by God. They did not know what would happen aftertheir actions. Whatever their intentions were, curiosity, ignoranceor falling for the serpent’s persuasion made their actions evil,and they became the source of the original sin. Augustine likens hislife to the situation that Adam and Eve faced. Just like Adam andEve, who were persuaded by the devil, Augustine was always strugglingwith the persuasion of the materialistic nature of the world that ledhim away from the will of God especially during his teenage years.Evil corrupts his free will and leads him to sin. It I only when heturned to the doctrines of the Catholic church that he realized thepower of a person’s free and its consequent path to the greatestsatisfaction. Augustine indicates that he did not understand that hisbehaviors during his youth were out of his will.10Although there was the effect of the convincing powers, he indicatesthat he had the final word on the action to take.
Despite emphasizing on the creation story show why human beings havethe original sin, Augustine does not clearly find a solution to theproblem of evil. He cannot understand why he chose to do the wrongthings many times despite having an understanding of the rightthings. He uses the example of sickness that depicts the absence ofhealth in individuals. When people know that something can make themsick, they avoid it as much as they can. They cannot willfully exposethemselves to the risk of harming their bodies and reducing theirfunctionality of their organs. Similarly, evil depicts the absencesof good. Augustine does not understand why people cannot avoidcircumstances that lead people to evil and yet they cannot easilyavoid them.11Just like it, the case of Adam and Eve found it difficult to resistthe temptation to eat the forbidden fruit, Augustine indicates thatthere is a possibility of the existence of the evil will. However,Augustine boils down to the free will that God gave human beings whenhe created them and gave them his rules in the garden of Aden.
In the seventh book of hi Confessions, Augustine becomesknowledgeable as he transits into manhood. The insight he developshelps him to understand the difference that exists between theManicheans materialistic life and nature of Catholic doctrines.12Through this insight, Augustine indicates that it is impossible forhuman beings to understand God using the human intelligence becausehe exists beyond the time and space of this world. The effects of hisearly life make it difficult for him to understand the nature of God.He is against the beliefs of the Manichean religion that depictedtheir God as weak and vulnerable to evil, and it made God responsiblefor human wrongdoing.13He testifies the importance of the free will that God created inhuman beings. It is the determining power that determines how onegets closer to God. Whenever he sinned, Augustine confesses that itwas out of his free will. He describes it as the path that led him tothe light of God.
Conclusively, the theme of evil and free will that Saint Augustineportrays in his confessions is insightful on why evil exist in theworld. He abides his search for knowledge of evil to his life thatwas full of struggles and the consequent happiness after he realizesthe nature of God and his creation of a free will. In his life,Augustine had engaged in many activities sometimes thinking that hedid not have the power to overcome them. However, he eventuallyrealized that he had the power to choose his behaviors.
Even if they make him happy, it is only a temporary feeling. In hisattempt to understand what was the cause of his indulgence in prideand lustful activities he realizes the importance of free will andthe impact it had on the decisions he makes throughout his life.14His ability to freely choose combined with his predisposition to sinplay an important role in his eventual conversion. Evil exists as theresult of original sin. However, it is only through free will and ouracknowledgment of God’s divine plan that we may abide by God. Godilluminates us to reach him. God is with us even if we are not withhim, but it is only by choosing the higher goods that we will see thelight at the end of the tunnel and experience ultimate satisfaction.If we hold on to finite things as if they had an infinite nature andwe seek to embrace those goods that place us further away from God,we will not be completely happy. Understanding the role of evil ismore complex than that of free will.15
Evil is created as a result of our mere actions because of free will.Adam and Eve’s story in Genesis explains how God is not responsiblefor the creation of sin rather it is something created by us humansby choosing wrongly. The easiest way to understand evil and evilactions are by using an innocent baby. An innocent baby cries whenintroduced to its new baby brother. Jealousy (sin) attacks the baby,and his mechanism of defense is crying because he/she knows this willattract attention. How can an innocent baby, that doesn’t even knowhow to speak, express such feelings of anger, jealousy and rejectionto another child of God? It is proof that we are born with apredisposition to sin. We can overcome our sin is by living avirtuous life. A moral life guided by the four virtues: temperance,fortitude, justice and prudence will enable us to make willingly theright decisions that will guide to find eternal happiness in God.
His experiences should serve as a guide for all Christians in how todeal with evil, temporal pleasures, pride, and lustful desires. Theseare the major barriers to put their free will to task. Theconfessions of Saint Augustine show that human beings only get truehappiness and satisfaction when they resist the temptation of theevil will. In the end, Augustine was able to learn from his mistakesand misinterpretations of what was true happiness. But because ofAugustine’s teachings, we can skip the process of finding our truepurpose in this life. As a matter of fact, we should utilizeAugustine’s experiences to guide us in utilizing free will to makebetter decisions.
Augustine, Saint."Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick." NewYork: Oxford University Press,1991.
Augustine, Saint.The Confessions of Saint Augustine, New York: Sheed andWard (1943).
Augustine, Saint. On Christian Doctrine. New York: StartPublishing LLC, 2013.
Augustine, Saint. The confessions of St Augustine. Australia:Emereo Publishing, 2012.
Fitzgerald, Allan,and Cavadini, John. Augustine through the ages: An encyclopedia.Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999.
Mathewes, Charles T. Evil and the Augustinian tradition.Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Peterson, Michael L.The problem of evil: Selected readings. Vol. 8. Indiana:University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.
Remete, George. "OnTheodicy." European Journal of Science and Theology 8(2012): 113-119.
Rist, John M."Augustine on free will and predestination." The Journalof Theological Studies (1969): 420-447.
Warner, Rex. TheConfessions of St. Augustine. Ridgewood: University Press ofMississippi, 1963.
1 Augustine Saint. The Confessions of Saint Augustine (New York: Sheed and Ward,1943), p. 18.
2 Augustine, p. 23.
3 Saint Augustine. Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick (New York: Oxford University Press,1991), p.26.
4 Rex Warner. The Confessions of St. Augustine (Ridgewood: University Press of Mississippi, 1963), p.41.
5 Rex, p.42.
6 Augustine, p.31.
7 Saint Augustine. The confessions of St Augustine (Australia: Emereo Publishing, 2012), p. 19.
8John Rist. "Augustine on Free Will and Predestination." The Journal of Theological Studies (1969), p.422
9 Michael Peterson. The problem of evil: Selected readings. Vol. 8, (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), p.16.
10 George Remete. "On Theodicy." European Journal of Science and Theology 8 (2012), p.115
11Charles Mathews. Evil and the Augustinian Tradition (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p.37.
12 Saint Augustine. On Christian Doctrine (New York: Start Publishing LLC, 2013), p.17.
13 Allan Fitzgerald and John Cavadini. Augustine through the ages: An encyclopedia. (Michigan: William Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), p. 51.
14 Fitzgerald and Cavadini, p. 61.
15 Fitzgerald and Cavadini, p. 62.