The Emergence of Morals, by Venerable Fulton Sheet, 15 January 1933

1952 photograph of Venerable Fulton John Sheen produced as promotional material for the television show 'Life is Worth Living'If God is Power, Love and Justice, then why did He create this kind of world? If He is powerful, why does He permit evil? If He is Love, why does He tolerate hate? If He is Justice, why does He allow unrighteousness? These questions have, I suppose, been asked by everyone whose eyes have ever seen and whose minds have ever known the ter- rible contrast between the sin of the world and the goodness of God.

In order to answer correectly the question why God made this kind of world, it is important first of all to remember that this is not the only kind of world that God could have made. He might have created ten thousand other kinds of worlds, in which there never would have been struggle, pain or sacrifice. But this is the best possible kind that God could have made for the purpose He had in mind. An artist is to be judged not so much by the masterpiece he produces, as by the purpose he had in mind in creating the masterpiece. An architect is not to be judged a poor architect because he designs a bird house instead of a cathedral, for his intention may have been only to construct a haven for the winged creatures of God instead of a dwelling for God Himself. In like manner, God must not be judged only by this particular kind of world which He created, but also by the intention and will He had in making it.

This brings us to the other question : What pur- pose did God have in mind in making this kind of world? The answer, very simply, is that God intended to construct a moral universe. He willed from all eternity to build a stage on which characters would emerge. He might, of course, have made a world without morality, without virtue, without character – a world in which each and everyone of us would sprout virtues as an acorn sprouts an oak, or a world in which each of us would become saints with the same inexorable necessity that the chariot of the sun mounts the morning sky, or the rain falls to embrace the earth. God might have made us all like so many sticks and stones, in which we would be guided by the same necessity that fire is hot and ice is cold. God might have done this, I say, but He did not. And He did not because He willed a moral universe in order that, by the right use of the gift of freedom, characters might emerge. What does God care for things, piled into the infinity of space, even though they be diamonds, for if all the orbits of heaven were so many jewels glittering like the sun, what would their external but necessarily undisturbed balance mean to Him in comparison with a single character, which could weave the skeins of an apparently wrecked and ruined life into the beau- tiful tapestry of saintliness and holiness? The choice before God in creating the world lay between creating a purely mechanical universe, peopled by mere automata, or creating a world of pure spiritual beings, for whom the choice of good and evil was, at any rate, a possibility.

Suppose, now, it be granted that God chose to make a moral universe, or one in which characters would emerge. What condition would have to be fulfilled in order to make morality possible? If God chose to make a moral universe, then He had to make man free, that is, endow him with the power to say “yes” and “no”, and to be captain and master of his own fate and destiny. Morality implies responsibility and duty, but these can exist only on condition of freedom. Stones have no morals, because they are not free. We do not praise iron because it becomes heated by fire, nor do we condemn ice be- cause it is melted by heat. Praise and blame can be bestowed only on those who are masters of their own will. It is only the man who has the possibility of saying “no” who can have so much charm in his heart when he says “yes”. Take this quality of freedom away from a man, and it is no more possible for him to be virtuous than it is for the blade of grass which we tread beneath our feet. Take freedom away from life and there would be no more reason to honor the fortitude of the martyrs who offered their bodies as incense in testimony of their faith, than to honor the flames which kindled their faggots. Take away liberty and where would be the concern in how children will mould their lives and write their eternal destiny in the invisible ink of their free choice. Take away freedom which gives life the interest of an everlasting plot, and with how little care would we watch the curtain rise, and with what feeble regret would we watch the drop scene fall.

Is it any impeachment of God that He chose not to reign over an empire of chemicals? If therefore God has deliberately chosen a kind of empire not to be ruled by force but by freedom, and if we find His subjects able to act against His will, as stars and atoms cannot, does this not prove that He has possibly given to them the chance of breaking allegiance, in order that there may be meaning and glory in that allegiance when they freely choose to give it?

We have said that God chose to make a moral universe, and secondly, that He could make a moral universe only on condition that He made man free. This being so, we have an answer to the question, why does God permit evil? The possibility of evil is in some way bound up with the freedom of man. Since man was free to love, he was free to hate; since he was free to obey, he was free to rebel; since he was free enough to be praised for goodness, he was free enough to be blamed for his badness. Virtue, in this present concrete order, is possible only in those spheres in which it is possible to be vicious; sacrifice is possible only in those levels in which it is possible to be selfish; redemption is possible only in those realms where it is possible to be en- slaved. The world has no heroes except in those battles where every hero might have been a coward; the nation has no patriots except in those causes where each patriot might have been a traitor; the Church has no saints except in those hearts in which each heart might have been a devil. Triumphal arches are reared only to men who succeeded, but who might have failed in the trying; niches are filled only by the statues of those who might have transgressed, but did not; monuments are erected only to the memory of those who might have turned back, and yet pushed on.

Take the danger and doubt away from life, and where would be the heroism and faith? Let there be no sorrow by night, no malady by day, and where would be kindness and sacrifice? No watchful love hovers over the invulnerable; no crown of merit ever rests suspended over those who do not fight; they might all go forth to battle and enterprise alone, and be forgotten, followed by no musing fancy that is flushed with their triumph, or anguished with their fall. A world without contingency could have no hero or no saint. There is no epic of the certainties, and no lyric without the suspense of sorrow and the sigh of fear, and there can be no morality in the present order without the possibility of evil, and no saints without the possibility of each one becoming a Judas.

If, then, the possibility of evil is in some way involved in human freedom, one can immediately see the absurdity of condemning God for allowing evil to continue. How many there are who say, “If I were God, I would immediately destroy all injustices and evils.” To ask this, however, is to ask that God contradict Himself : you ask that God should create a thing free to choose between good and evil, and yet oblige that thing to choose good. To ask that God should create a man free to choose between justice and injustice, and yet oblige him always to choose justice and never be unjust, is to ask an absurdity. Just as it is impossible in the very nature of things for God to create me and not to create me, to make me exist and not exist at the same time, so it is impossible in the nature of things for God to make me free and yet to make me a slave. God cannot do anything which would contradict His nature, not in the sense that He is bound by anything out- side Himself, but because His nature is Justice itself.

And so those who would blame God for allowing man freedom to go on hindering and thwarting His work, are like those who, seeing the blots and smudges and misspellings and grammatical errors in a student’s notebook, would condemn the teacher for not snatching away the book and doing the copy himself. Just as the object of the teacher is sound education and not the production of a neat and well-written copy book, so the object of God is the development of souls and not the production of biological entities, however perfect they may be. There too, is the answer to those who ask: “If God knew that I would sin why did He make me?” Very simply, insofar as I am a sinful being, God did not make me. I made myself. I am a self-creating being. God gave me power, but I am free to decide the manner of man I shall be. Hence my success or failure is in my own hands and I am responsible for the result.

If, then, the universe is moral, it follows that the supreme choice which lies before us is that of obeying the law of God, or rebelling against it. If you choose to rebel against that law as though you were your own, and as if Christ had never bought you with His blood, then you must remain eternally in the congregation of the dead. Not for you will be the glory of consecrated knowledge; not for you the rich blessings of Him Who turns a soul from the error of its ways; not for you the steady love of good, though it be persecuted, or the steady scorn of evil, even though it be enthroned; but for you the frivolous insipidity of unreverent amusements – the dull and discontented mind, ignoble when with another, wretched when alone. Great deeds will be done, but you will not be at their doing; high thoughts will be uttered, but they shall awaken no echo in the seared conscience and sodden heart. Beyond you shall sweep the God-like procession of the nobly virtuous and the greatly wise, but you shall not be found among their ranks. If you choose to offend God, successful you may be, honored you may be, rich you may be, praised by the world you may be, “broad-minded” and “progressive” you may be, alive to public opinion and to the new morals of the day you may be, but you will never know how much you have failed, as Barabbas never knew how much he failed the day of his success. But you will be dead! dead to the life of Christ! dead to the love of God! dead to the ageless peacefulness of eternity!

If, on the contrary, you obey the laws of God and live as if you were really destined for a life beyond the grave the battle, in which the love of God gains mastery over the love of self, may be fierce, and for the short time of our bodily life every tree may be a cross, every bush may be a crown of thorns, and every friend may be a Judas. Poor you may be on this earth, with no more comfort than a Carpenter once had at Nazareth; sorrowful you may be as each day brings to you a new cup of passion, filled with the bitterness of Gethsemane; solitary you may be with not even a Veronica to wipe away the salt of righteous tears; scorned and ridiculed you may be by a world of darkness that comprehends not the light; thirsty you may be as your soul, in the fire of its crucifixion, cries out for the cool draughts of a Divine Refreshment; a failure you may be, an unworldly dreamer, a fool, but in all the world’s burnt wilderness your food shall be the Manna from the Paradise of God, and your drink the Fountain of Everlasting Life. But alive you shall be, alive to Christ! alive to the spirit! alive to life! alive to God! And if God is your life, then who can take it from you?