Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four
“For sometimes our Lord leaves these individuals in their natural state, and then it seems all the poisonous creatures from the outskirts and other dwelling places of this castle band together to take revenge for the time they were unable to have these souls under their control.” (Teresa of Avila)
Before we can figure out why we might be in pain, we have to ask: How much does God control? There are several views:
Some assert God controls everything. In this view, all good things and all bad things ultimately come from God for some larger purpose. One of the problems with this view is it makes God responsible for some horrible atrocities. For example: Did God “cause” the holocaust for some larger purpose? This reflects negatively on God’s character and his treatment of the human race.
A position akin to Theological Determinism is God’s Foreknowledge. God didn’t cause bad things, he only knew in advance the precise details of what would happen in the future. And then he created the world. This view still doesn’t let God off the hook. If God knew in advance these horrible things would happen and then triggered an inevitable course of events through creation — he’s still the “cause” of all things.
Open View of the Future
Then there is the “Open View of the Future”. God created the world “good”. He gave rational beings (humans and angels) the power to choose good or evil or a combination of the two — but he created them with an inclination for good. Human choices would solidify over a period of time into habits. Their habits would ultimately become intrinsic to who they were and become their character and destiny.
In an Open View of the Future, God knows the possibilities — but either chooses not to know or, more likely, could not completely know the ultimate decisions/outcomes of those with free will — because these decisions and outcomes don’t exist yet. Free will has a degree of unpredictability and mystery to it. Ultimately, God has objectives for the future, but the present is unfolding with billions of free agents exercising their free will apart from his complete control. Consequently, there are an infinite number of variables and scenarios that can play out in the world and in our life.
One extreme form of the Open View of the Future limits God’s power. It surrenders almost all power to human decisions and other rational beings (angels and demons) instead of recognizing things like prayer, faith, and God’s intervention as powerful variables in potential outcomes.
Another extreme form of the Open View of the Future is God is never the source of pain or so-called negative outcomes: He wants us to have a pain-free life. This one is tricky. I agree God is never the source of evil, but he does allow or causes pain that contributes to our long-term healing and growth (much like an exercise program or medical treatment). This brings us to Teresa of Avila who says “Sometimes our Lord leaves these individuals [the spiritual mature] in their natural state, and then it seems all the poisonous creatures from the outskirts and other dwelling places of this castle band together to take revenge for the time they were unable to have these souls under their control.”
Teresa of Avila and Healthy Pain
God occasionally brings “healthy pain” (which can sometimes overlap with evil or natural consequences not caused by God). But he always does this for our benefit, the advancement of His kingdom, and the destruction of evil. This happens several ways according to Teresa:
- He brings “healthy pain” to ‘clear our head’ so we can develop “stability and good resolutions”. [They way forward in life.]
- He brings “healthy pain” to develop resilience and perseverance. Properly centered, perseverance deals a significant blow to the power of evil and provides us strength for the next stages in our journey.
- He brings “healthy pain” to develop humility. Humility is the central character trait of the Christian and is the ultimate counter-attack to the evil powers in this world.
- He brings “healthy pain” so we become grateful for all the good things we experience. [Gratefulness is a powerful and underestimated force for the advancement of good.]
So why am I in pain? It could be because there is evil in the world. It could be because other people make ignorant or careless choices. It could be the consequences of my own choices. It could be bad luck. It could be God bringing pain to further develop me for the next stages of a great journey. It could also be a combination of any of these. But one this is clear: God wants to end all destructive suffering and help us build a new and vibrant — but not necessarily a pain-free — life.
* I want to acknowledge the influence of Greg Boyd (and to some degree C.S. Lewis) on my thinking on this subject. However, for their sake, I do not want to suggest my views represent their writings or thought processes.
* For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.