To Be or Not To Be
Monday of Pentecost 6
17 July 2017
Twentieth-century physicists theorized the existence of black holes through computations based on Einstein's theory of relativity, long before astronomers were alerted to the existence of black holes through the observation of places in the universe where there were expected anomalies in radio waves. You can't see it, but you know it's out there because of the way things around it are being acted upon.
Augustine's theory of evil is like finding black holes. We know there is evil only by the absence of something. One does not see darkness. It is the absence of sight. One does not hear silence. It is the absence of sound. Evil, like these phenomena, is a privation, a lack of something. For Augustine evil is a lack of good or love. Thus evil is not the cause of anything, it is the lack of a cause. It effects nothing. It is a deficiency.
We are familiar with the possibility of defection from the good. Jesus warns us that the love of money is our defect, not a defect in money (Mt 6:21-24; 1Ti 6:10). Gold jewelry around my wife's neck is a chaste adornment, around the neck of a prostitute it is an adornment of moral degradation. Gold is not at fault for the abuse of the prostitute. Things in themselves are good gifts of the God who creates. Our wickedness deprives them of their proper use.
Perhaps Augustine was just putting evil in its place: "Evil, you are nothing." But just as nature abhors a vacuum, so evil seems to suck all the good out of the world, like a black hole crushing and digesting all within its path. But as powerful as nothing might be, there is a power greater in the God of love. For Augustine this is the power of being over non-being. God's love and His essence are the ultimate being, they are not able to be overcome by non-being. God orients His being for our sakes to rescue us from the threat of non-being. Our Lord Jesus Christ held back the power of nothing by being one of us born of Mary. He rebuked unsaying by speaking the Word and making things so. He set at naught the nothingness by being and becoming one among us. He fills the copulative verb full of real promise. He is the "I AM" (Ex 3:14). All being flows out from Him alone. Our Lord stands triumphant over the black hole of evil. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Let no one, therefore, look for an efficient cause of the evil will; for it is not efficient, but deficient, as the will itself is not an effecting of something, but a defect. For defection from that which supremely is, to that which has less of being, this is to begin to have an evil will. Now, to seek to discover the causes of these defections-causes, as I have said, not efficient, but deficient-is as if someone sought to see darkness, or hear silence. Yet both of these are known by us, and the former by means only of the eye, the latter only by the ear; but not by their positive actuality, but by their want of it. Let no one, then seek to know from me what I know that I do not know; unless he perhaps wishes to learn to be ignorant of that of which all we know is, that it cannot be known. For those things which are known not by their actuality, but by their want of it, are known, if our expression may be allowed and understood, by not knowing them, that by knowing them they may be not known. For when the eyesight surveys objects that strike the sense, it nowhere sees darkness but where it begins, not to see. And so no other sense but the ear can perceive silence, and yet it is only perceived by not hearing. Thus, too, our mind perceives intelligible forms by understanding them; but when they are deficient, it knows them by not knowing them; for 'who can understand defects?'
"This I do know, that the nature of God can never, nowhere, and in no way be defective, and that natures made of nothing can. These latter, however, the more being they have, and the more good they do (for then they do something positive), the more they have efficient causes; but in so far as they are defective in being, and consequently do evil (for then what is their work but vanity?), they have deficient causes. I know likewise, that the will could not become evil, were it unwilling to become so; and therefore its failings are justly punished, being not necessary, but voluntary. For its defections are not to evil things, but are themselves evil; that is to say, are not towards things that are naturally and in themselves evil, but the defection of the will is evil, because it is contrary to the order of nature, and an abandonment of that which has supreme being for that which has less.
"For avarice is not a fault inherent in gold, but in the man who inordinately loves gold, to the detriment of justice, which ought to be held in incomparably higher regard than gold.Neither is luxury the fault of lovely and charming objects, but of the heart that inordinately loves sensual pleasures, to the neglect of temperance, which attaches us to objects more lovely in their spirituality, and more delectable by their incorruptibility. Nor is boasting the fault of human praise, but of the soul that is inordinately fond of the applause of men, and that makes light of the voice of conscience. Pride, too, is not the fault of him who delegates power, nor of power itself, but of the soul that is inordinately enamored of its own power, and despises the more just dominion of a higher authority. Consequently he who inordinately loves the good which any nature possesses, even though he obtains it, himself becomes evil in the good, and wretched because deprived of a greater good."

Augustine, The City of God, 12.7-8
Matthew 6:19-34  
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (ESV)
O Lord Jesus Christ, all that is good comes from You. Your incarnation exalted our marred human nature, that we might be brought into perfect fellowship with You. Continue to force back the power of nothingness in the world through Your Word. Make us participants in that last battle with zeal to share the life-giving Word of God. Amen.
For all those who labor to support the church's life and proclamation, that they would be fulfilled in their vocation
For faithful confessors of Christ from among those who have converted to Christianity from Islam, that they would be granted courage and the peace of Christ
For Susan Narr, that she would be strengthened in body and soul as she undergoes chemotherapy for cancer
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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