God could have eliminated the stain of Original Sin from our world altogether. He could speak a single Word of power and wipe it out. Why didn’t he? Why instead did he become a man and suffer death? Why did he then put us through the perils of this life?
It’s simple: the only way he could have wiped out sin is to unmake the world as we now find it.
Sin is an immutable fact of this world’s history. God can’t turn a vicious fact into a virtuous fact, because doing so would involve either forgetting what has actually happened – an impossibility for omniscience – or changing the nature of virtue – of, i.e., his own nature as the very Form of the Good, an impossibility for a necessary being. So, he can’t arrange things so that this world no longer has the past that it now has. All he can do is influence its future. And the only way he could completely delete sin from the future of a world would be to give it a sinless past. For our world, this would involve its complete destruction and replacement.
This world is sick unto death, and will die – is dying. But contra the nihilists, it would not be merciful for God to kill it now, so as to spare its future denizens their agonies. We don’t kill a man because he is terminally ill and will die someday in horrible pain. Or we shouldn’t, anyway; for all of us will die one day, most in horrible pain, and in the meantime, there are beauties we may create, goods we may do, and pleasures we may enjoy. The world and its denizens are not altogether evil; if they were, then the world would be already over, for the maximum of evil is the zero of being. On the contrary, this wounded world keeps generating marvelous beauties together with its sordid failures, not least a torrent of souls each capable of everlasting glory and godlike majesty.
Rather than kill the world, then, God has in the Incarnation and the Atonement provided a Way for those souls to begin now, in this world, their passage to and implementation of the next, in which there is no defect of being. What is that Way? It is participation in his Passion. Suffering and Death – our suffering and death – are the Way, for those who take them as such.
On Maundy Thursday, we remember and celebrate the institution of that Way, established in the very teeth of our betrayals. Deo gracias.