Ann has been on a decades-long search for an answer to the problem of evil and suffering. Through the years the idea of “Felix Culpa” or the “Happy Fall” has provided her with hope that all will turn out well, and she believes it can provide the same hope for others.
Last week we recorded one of her stories centering around a significant incident that happened to her one November, and why she keeps a certain autumn decoration hanging in her hall all year long.
Please excuse the scraping noise. We have now learned not to zoom with this lens while recording. -Michele
When I was really young, probably 12- something like that, I was really troubled by the question of where evil came from. And I remember laying in bed thinking, if God made everything there is in the world, and there’s evil in the world, then God must have made evil. And if God made evil, then he cannot be good.
I didn’t like that logic I was coming up with, so I went through it again: if everything that there is in the world, God made, but there’s evil in the world, God must have made evil, and therefore if God made evil he must not be good.
I must have chewed on that for like a half an hour and every time I tried to think it through, I would come back to the same thing.
I distinctly remember this, and it was over 50 years ago. I remember thinking: Ok, God, you’ve heard me think this whole thing through, and I do not like the conclusion I have come up with. So I am going to make it as my conscious choice, my decision, that I have figured this out wrong somehow. I am going to choose to believe you are good, even though I don’t understand how. I am just going to trust your goodness more than my ability to figure this thing out,
But, I said, if you ever choose to give me the answer, I would REALLY appreciate it.
Time went on, and I was never able to express this question to anyone, because I was afraid it was too heretical a thought that I would dare tell anyone I was thinking such evil things.
Years passed. I was a senior in high-school, and my grandmother passed away. I went to the funeral, and an uncle of mine who was a minister in Philadelphia just seemed like the kind of person I could ask this question to. I really had never met him before, but he just seemed like I could ask him. So, after the funeral I asked him this question. And he goes,
“Hmm, it seems to me that Milton talked about that in Paradise lost.”
Well, I had never read paradise lost so I go, “Oo! What did Milton say?”
And he said, “God is bigger than you are, so don’t ask embarrassing questions.”
Since then, I have read Milton, and that’s not exactly what he said, but that kind of took the air out of my sails, and I go, Whoa, maybe I shouldn’t be asking these questions.
Then a short while afterwards, that same year, when I was a senior in high-school, I got this substitute teacher several times for several class periods. This was in the late ’60s in Southern California, and he was a child of the times, so he was telling us all about Tony the Healer who did bloodless surgery in the Philippines and all kinds of weird stuff like that.
I had him the last class of the day, and we got in this big debate and discussion, and finally he says,
“Ok, answer me this one, if in the beginning, there was only God, and God made everything, but we have evil in the world…”
And I knew where he was going. I knew what he as going to say, and I knew I didn’t have the answer. I remember sort of laughing, because I knew he had me. And by the time he finished the sentence, I said,
“In the beginning there was God, and God is absolute goodness. All goodness is contained within the absolute goodness of God. And if God were to make anything other than himself, it could be good, even very good, but it could not be absolute good, otherwise it would just be more of the absolute good: God. It would simply be an extension of his absolute self. Consequently, anything God made has the potential to be less than absolute good. Consequently, it has the potential to be evil.”
I was more surprised than he was, because I knew I didn’t have the answer, and I had been struggling with this question for years.
What that did is give me permission to ask this question. I am in my late 60’s now, and I have been working on this question for decades. I was a philosophy major for that reason, searching for that question.
After I became a philosophy major I discovered that there’s this whole branch of philosophy trying to solve what is called the Problem of Evil. So I have come up with a theodicy, and I have been trying to develop it to the extent that I would be able to write it and share it with other people.
The bottom line, without going into all of its details, is that God is love, and for love to be expressed in its fullness it has to have an object to love. And so, of course there is love within the three persons of the Trinity, but the one God who is made up of [the Trinity] chose to make an other to love; to express his love [to]. And the goal was to have the ultimate love relationship as an expression of the God who is love. And that’s what humanity is.
To have the ultimate love relationship, the object of the love– may I say, the bride– is going to have to appreciate who the groom is. She is going to have to appreciate these qualities of love- to the extent of loving the unlovely, forgiveness- that quality, mercy, and she is even going to have to know evil and have chosen to reject it as well, otherwise she would not be compatible with him.
I spent all kinds of time as a philosophy major developing that into a formal theodicy, but I had never really been successful in writing it yet, because I was still picking it apart, seeing all kinds of flaws in my logic here and there.
But in the process of being discouraged about not producing this, I also discovered this phrase, Felix culpa. Have you heard Felix Culpa? Felix is happy; you probably know it from Feliz Navidad – happy birth. And culpa is fall, or responsibility, or evil, like being culpable. That’s the root of it. So Felix Culpa is happy fall or happy fault.
Just like in that verse [in the Old Testament story in Genesis in which Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery] where Joseph says to his brothers, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, for the saving of many lives, you can take that same concept and apply it to the whole universal history of humanity: that evil was meant by the evil one to bring about evil, but God used it to bring about a good that was so much better than could have happened without it. Because, if we had remained in Eden, only knowing good and not knowing good and evil, we never could have developed into being, this ultimate creature who can appreciate the qualities of the divine groom. We would never have been able to comprehend that.
So, I was at the chiropractor’s one day, and you know where they put those little electrical probe things that zap you? It’s supposed to relax your muscles, and I needed to have my muscles relaxed, because I was very uptight about this. Actually, I was laying there crying– I mean, there were tears running down my face– because I was just so discouraged. Because I had this idea, and I wanted to get it out and share it, but it just wasn’t happening. And maybe I was just being lazy, or procrastinating, or whatever. I was in a rut, writers block, whatever, all of the above; that’s where I was.
And I was laying there thinking: Felix Culpa. Because, to me that was kind of the core of what my theodicy was. It’s the happy fall. And it gives meaning, and hope, and destiny for anyone who can see that in the middle of whatever rut or evil and darkness they might be in. It gives a solution to all of it and gives a happy destiny. I wanted to share this with the world, but I wasn’t making any progress. And I was just thinking, God, help me! But, you know, this is not the first time I’ve asked for help and it’s not happening...”
Anyway, I was laying there, and I opened my eyes kind of blearily. Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you, this was Thanksgiving week when this was happening– I opened my eyes, and on the back of the door of the doctor’s office was hanging this decoration. While I was thinking, Felix Culpa, this [Happy Fall Thanksgiving decoration] was hanging on the door.
Then I really cried. And [the decoration] also says Welcome! It’s like, an invitation to this solution, this explanation, not only of the whole history of humanity and our destiny as human beings, but it’s a welcome to individual people who are in the slew of their culpa, to have the felix offered to them. It’s just a matter of: Welcome, it’s here for you. You just receive it; just enter into it.
My husband went to the secretary and said, “I need to buy that from you.”
And she says, “I’ll just give it to you”.
He says, “No, you don’t understand; I’ve got to pay you, but I need that.”
And so that is how come I have this [Happy Fall decoration]. And even though I still haven’t written my theodicy, this is my hope. It’s like a message from God that it will happen some day.
I’ll tell you the name of [my theodocy] though. It’s going to be called Evil and the Bridegroom.
That is the story of why I have this hanging in my hall ALL year long, not only during the autumn.