The Problem of Evil in God’s Creation
We’ve all read news reports of horrid cases of people being imprisoned for long periods of time by perverted individuals who have been later diagnosed as classic psychopaths. By definition, psychopaths are individuals who are hateful towards others, and incapable of empathy. Sometimes known as Dissocial Personality Disorder, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (alternate terms for sociopathic behaviour), these people are callous individuals, who are unconcerned for the feelings of others.
There is a lot of clinical evidence that points to a biological grounding for the uncaring nature of the psychopath. Since caring is a largely emotion-driven enterprise, it has been found that the brains of psychopaths have weak connections among the components of the brain’s emotional systems. Such disconnects make it impossible for the psychopath to feel emotions deeply. Disgust, as an emotion, plays an important role on our sense of ethics, and normal people find certain types of unethical actions disgusting, something that keeps them from engaging in cruel treatment of other people. But psychopaths, when shown disgusting photos of mutilated faces and when exposed to foul odors, have extremely high thresholds for disgust. In rarer cases, the psychopathic personality can be the result of having suffered an extremely abusive childhood.
Psychopaths, because they have an inability to empathize with others, are unable to feel the emotion of love. Simply put, psychopaths are not able to participate in normal, loving relationships that bound people together as family, friends, and fellow human beings. Thus the question arises for the Christian, how can a person who does not have the ability to love, love God? And, if such a person is incapable of loving God, how can they escape eternal hell fire, since it is in this life that we are expected to prepare ourselves for an eternity in the presence of an All Holy God. If a psychopath is incapable of loving God, can we even say such a person was created in the image and likeness of God, Who is love? How can God have even allowed such a person to be born, for does not this birth give life to someone who is totally incapable of gaining salvation? Wouldn’t such a birth be a violation of free will?
This question can equally be posed regarding the child born without a brain, or someone born without any cognitive abilities. Such abnormalities in God’s creation are ultimately the result, not of God’s will, but the result of the fall. The Scriptures identify sociopathic and psychopathic behavior as among the severest moral and spiritual effects of man’s fall into sin. Jesus described such sins as arising from evil hearts (Mark 7:20-23), and the holy apostle Paul identified godlessness as the root of such a deadly heart (Romans 1:28-32). In the psychopath we see the worst characteristics of sinful man’s nature, the worst effects of both genetic and environmental moral degradation.
The New Testament does not offer specifics on how a Christian society should deal with such serious problems. The Church’s teachings about morality and immorality of every kind, and her hopeful appeals and invitations to repentance, conversion, and transformed life in Christ, certainly apply to a psychopath as to any sinner. Saint Paul, describing conduct that included psychopathic characteristics, wrote to one congregation of believers in Jesus Christ, “Such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). As Orthodox Christians, we know that God is able to rescue and restore to righteousness the most corrupt heart. Because of this, it is possible for even a psychopath to be healed, and to come into a transformational relationship with the Living God. Yet, ultimately, much of this will remain a mystery to us, until that great day when we stand in the presence of God, and all is revealed to us. I believe culpability is the primary factor. God will not damn someone for things outside of their control.
With love in Christ,
About the author
Fr. Tryphon is the Abbot of the Monastery of the All-Merciful Saviour, which was established in 1986 by Archimandrite Dimitry (Egoroff) of blessed memory. The Monastery is under the omophore of His Eminence Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.