Like many active adults, I take various exercise, dance, and stretch classes. I've come to think of the time I spend in these activities as additional ways I can praise God – through grace, rhythm, strength, and focus.
A couple of years ago, I added yoga sessions to my routine. At the end of each, the master teacher usually offered a short inspirational saying, followed by a collective "Om." I figured the teacher was entitled to his or her spiritual take on things, and I to mine, but I always made sure I agreed with the saying before I joined in with the "Om!"
So I was taken aback one day when an instructor offered this thought: "Everything that happens on Earth happens with God's permission." Everything? Everything, whether bad or good, happens with God's permission? I couldn't accept that at all and went home troubled. For one thing, I've known a number of Holocaust survivors, and the best I've ever been able to do to address that awful injustice, when so many millions died, was to accept that it could not have come from God and could not have been part of His purpose for humanity.
I also knew there was historical proof that the power of God to save and protect did not go unwitnessed during those horrific events. The Holocaust literature includes accounts of people in many countries who did their best to help potential victims escape, often risking their own lives in the process. Clearly, these people were motivated by the kind of love that Jesus exhibited – a willingness to lay down their own lives to save others.
On a much, much smaller scale, I've had many instances of God's saving power in my own life: His tangible presence during an attempted kidnapping, and in the midst of a devastating fire, as well as in other emergencies where it appeared no human help was at hand. From these examples, I've come to believe there is more to see and understand of God's all-powerful and completely trustworthy goodness than I in my current limited capacity might be able to grasp.
After that yoga class, I did a little research – in the Bible, and in my favorite commentary on it, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor. In a chapter titled "Genesis," a study of the first book of the Bible, Mrs. Eddy posed a rhetorical question about the issue of good and evil: "It is true that a knowledge of evil would make man mortal. It is plain also that material perception, gathered from the corporeal senses, constitutes evil and mortal knowledge. But is it true that God, good, made 'the tree of life' to be the tree of death to His own creation? Has evil the reality of good?" She comes to this conclusion: "Evil is unreal because it is a lie, – false in every statement" (p. 527).
This doesn't mean we deny the human reality of the Holocaust and similar tragedies. Instead, people need to be active witnesses to the unnaturalness of evil within God's creation, rather than just accepting and going along with it. Evil can never really tell anyone anything substantial or good. And it's possible to gain new freedom from past evils, as well as to protect ourselves in the present, by striving to gain the divine perspective of all-goodness, which never includes or indulges evil. The truth of God's goodness is well able to guide individuals out of darkness as they are willing and able to follow it.
We can't shirk our collective responsibility to bring criminals to justice, nor neglect the sick and needy, simply because evil is unreal to God. But perhaps we can begin to find more practical ways to address the ills of the human condition by first challenging the very claim that evil is legitimate. We can acknowledge that if evil does not come from God, who is ever-present good – divine Love itself – then we must have the right, as God's children, to see tangible proof of that goodness right where we are. After that, with great humility, we can listen for the wisdom that takes us forward.