HOW CAN GOD ALLOW SUCH PAIN?

  In the past twenty years wildfires, famines, hurricanes, tsunamis and floods have killed hundreds of thousands of people and left many more without homes and means of livelihood. Given all this, how can anyone say God is a God of love?

      Whenever we are overwhelmed by the evil and suffering in the world, we should always remember that evil is only a corruption of something that was originally intended to be good. For example, illness is a corruption of original health. War is a corruption of original peace.

       So goodness is original and foundational, evil is only secondary. According to the Jewish scriptures, God made life and everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

       God provides for us most of the time. The oceans God made are good to human beings 99% of the time: the source not of tsunamis and hurricanes, but of fish and of rain that makes the plants thrive that animals and humans eat. God constantly provides air, food, water, and shelter for us, but this is so commonplace we normally don’t think about it.

       God does not want or cause suffering. The laws of nature, and misuse of human freedom, are the twin sources directly responsible for suffering.

       Normally, natural laws serve us well, create order in the world, and allow us to predict what will happen. However, nature just obeys its own laws. It doesn’t matter to nature if people are in the way of an avalanche – it is going to obey the law of gravity anyway.

       If God kept interfering with natural laws to prevent our suffering, life would be totally chaotic and unpredictable.

       God allows suffering for higher purposes. Through suffering, we learn compassion for the suffering of others, and wisdom: how we and others can avoid even worse suffering. Also, service to others, self-sacrifice, courage, and heroism emerge. If God eliminated all suffering, life would lose its’ profundity.

       Suffering, to some degree at least, is an inescapable part of life because suffering is a continuum, all the way from stubbing your toe to the massive tragedies of famines and war.

      We have to ask: should God eliminate all suffering from life? And if not, what degree of suffering should God allow?

       As Helen Keller once noted, “Life is full of suffering, and it is also full of the overcoming of suffering.”

       God allows suffering, but God also motivates us to overcome suffering. Thus, all the helping professions and agencies arise: medicine, psychology, social work, churches, mosques, synagogues, the United Nations, Red Cross, etc.

       God always brings greater good out of any tragedy or evil. Through God working in them, people all over the world respond generously to disaster relief.

       The pandemic has caused people all over the world to examine their own lives and priorities: are material things that important? Any of us could be gone in the blink of an eye, so maybe God, taking care of each other, and what happens to us in the afterlife are the important things.

       Perhaps the biggest answer to suffering is this: if God had not created human freedom (and therefore the capacity to do harm), and natural laws, there would be no suffering. Therefore, while God is not directly responsible for suffering, God is indirectly responsible for it. Given that God indirectly causes suffering, one could say it is necessary that God suffer with us, that God not be in heavenly bliss while people on earth suffer.

       If God is ultimately responsible for suffering, the cross is a necessity, if we are going to maintain any idea of a compassionate God. The cross is the great symbol that God suffers with us, that God is, indeed, a compassionate God.

       Where is God in the face of natural catastrophes? God is right there suffering with the people who are suffering. God is always right in the center of human pain, trying to alleviate it. God is a God who cares and is close to the brokenhearted. The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures say this over and over.

       The cross in turn demands resurrection and heaven. It wouldn’t make any sense that an all-powerful God could be ultimately defeated. It is another necessity of faith that God ultimately must triumph over all suffering and death, and there is a place where all suffering is wiped away forever. Resurrection and heaven are necessities.

       Suffering is ultimately a mystery beyond explanation. We could talk to the victims about all the points above, but it would still not take away the pain of those who have lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods.

       Sometimes all you can do is hold, cry, support, and try to be present (either physically or in your prayers) with those who are suffering.

       Besides giving whatever aid you can, sometimes all you can do is feel people’s pain with them. This is what a loving God does.

 Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and author. btallman@rogers.com

 

THE GIFT OF CHILD-LIKE FAITH

According to Joseph Campbell

supernatural guides can take many forms:

– in fairy tales: a hermit/elf/shepherd/wizard

– in mythology: a Baboon god

– in classical literature: Virgil and Beatrice

in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Scientists have been our guides for centuries

but Isaac Newton’s mechanistic universe

eventually had no need or place for God

and no definition or place for humans.

We used to be supernaturally defined  

as the image of God.

In the new quantum science and quantum theology

God is not a passive/detached/external ruler –

God is a passionate/relational/internal Presence

embodied in the process of creative evolution.

“God’s providence/compassion/mercy

were there right from the moment of my birth –

for you gave my mother breasts and milk

to feed me, you gave me the desire

for this milk and gave my mother

the desire to share it.” – Augustine

In contemplation we are like a child

sucking on our mother’s breasts – all our faculties:

memory/reason/imagination are suspended

only our will, the will to drink sweet nectar remains.

In the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius

the foundational theme is: our will

and all our faculties of memory/reason/imagination

are gifts from God to  be given back to God

and used at God’s discretion.

All we need is the grace to love God above all.

Faith is a gift from God too

since it gives us new eyes –

so you see through God’s eyes.

Faith is self-fulfilling prophecy –

it creates the good world it sees.

Whether we can see Jesus or Buddha or not

depends on our awareness –

a man rushed to see Buddha

and ignored a woman in dire need.

When he got to the monastery

he was incapable of seeing the Buddha

who was in the woman he passed by –

the Good Samaritan knows that

as you do unto the least you do unto God.

Hindus can call on Jesus with faith and devotion –

Mahatma Gandhi wept when he saw the Pieta –

the sculpture of Mary holding her dead son –

and in his tiny room in New Delhi

he had only one picture: Jesus

the Universal Christ who is everywhere.

God unconditionally loves everyone:

after the Resurrection Christ’s love

did not become exclusive or conditional –

he gave his Shalom peace and his breath

to his disciples who had betrayed him.

The community of faith, the Beloved Community

is a community of sinners –

good and evil run through all hearts.

We must acknowledge our sin

since the more we think we are righteous

the less we see our shadow

and the more we project our shadow onto others

causing untold suffering.

Rather than asking “How can I find happiness?”

we could ask “How can I sit with suffering,

yours and mine, and not try to make it go away?

How can I let the pain/loss/dishonor open me up?”

Once you have opened up and experienced

nondual reality, you can return to dualistic reasoning

but in a freer way as you realize

there are greater truths than reason:

“Oh God, I am so glad you revealed your plan

not to the learned and wise

but to the simple and childlike.”

– Jesus (Matthew 11:25).

THE GREAT LOVER

The Great Lover calls all of us

the outsider/sinner/violent

into the Ocean of Mercy called God:

“I did not come to make the virtuous

feel good about themselves,

I came for those who need healing.”

– Jesus

Once in the Ocean you can dive to the depths:

“There are two healing demands

if you take up the contemplative life:

forsaking the world’s evil

and purifying your conscience of all sin

through the sacrament of reconciliation.”

– The Cloud of Unknowing

Both Christianity and Buddhism encourage people

to reject all earthly aspirations.

Instead, people rejected religion

which works well for them

until there is serious suffering.

People losing their religion

may be entering a spiritual wasteland

or travelling into a mythic desert

where they can start a new spiritual search

for the God old, ossified institutions have lost.

Perhaps religion is all made up anyway –

our minds cannot grasp infinity

so we invoke concepts like beginning and end

Alpha and Omega, Incarnation and Resurrection

as dominant myths to help us cope

with our Infinite God and infinite universe

even though God is fully present everywhere

including in your own heart and soul.

Though God is in, over, through, and as us

“We do not see things as they are,

we see them as we are. We hear religious texts

according to our own level of consciousness

which is always developing.” – Richard Rohr

The first worldwide developmental Axial Age

was 500 BCE to 100 CE –

the rise of the great religions, east and west.

The second Axial Age began in 1600 CE

with the labor pains of science –

a massive revolt against Aristotle

and his deductive method of arguing from effect to cause.

Science was inductive/experimental/observational/pragmatic

thus, studying people’s approach to God (religious studies)

began to displace the science of God (theology) –

God became an object of academic study

instead of the Author of Living Faith.

Reason has overcome myth

and been a handmaid of Spirit

in achieving real freedom

rather than mythic freedom.

A person might worship an Egyptian god

but must overlook the great pyramids

were built by slaves.

Like the United States, Egypt was

“The land of the free

and the home of the slave.”

The mythic God – the angry old Sky-Man

brought hierarchical oppression to slaves and Catholics

but the Spirit brings democracy and real liberation.

With real liberation has come

bodily and sexual liberation –

It is not right for a human to act like an angel

denying all desires and pleasures.

God has designed us so that

certain desires and pleasures are natural for us –

to be human is more godly than to be angelic.

The lingam, the giant stone phallus in Hindu temples

represents the mythic god Shiva

and is an all-encompassing symbol

representing a multitude of ideas and emotions

which have little to do with penises and sex.

Other religious symbols like the Cross

represent many ideas and emotions other than

human cruelty and suffering.

The courage to suffer is an affirmation of one’s essential nature

but courage may require the Cross in your own life –

sacrificing other essentials such as pleasure or happiness

or even your life.

When you accept that ‘everything belongs’

you can accept suffering and death –

only the ego fears suffering and death –

whereas your true life, your soul

is hidden with Christ in God

and All things, even death, work for the good

for those who love the Great Lover.

COSMOLOGY, SCIENCE, SPIRIT AND SUFFERING

Since the birth of science

Christianity no longer has an effective cosmology

and its followers have difficulty 

relating their faith to the world of science.

Meanwhile, secular culture sees its purpose as 

personal fulfillment and social progress

and religion as having little to do with

solving temporal problems.

Peoples’ loss of faith in the institutional church

and their search for meaning outside church

was instigated by God 

the Hound of Heaven who always pursues and finds us.

This is the mysticism of today

an attempt to find and experience the True God

rather than the Lego god constructed piece by piece

through pre-set definitions of churches.

The downside of abandoning religion

is that secularists suffer tremendously

 – always dissatisfied – never able to fill their soul’s God-hole.

To dissolve suffering due to dissatisfaction

with who we are and where we are

we are forced to give up some basic assumptions:

that we can have it all, get it all together

have lasting security, all pleasure and no pain.

In spite of these assumptions

or perhaps because of them

things fall apart.

Crucifixion is symbolic in its universal sense 

of destruction – that is an inevitable part

of evolution unfolding and necessary

for the birth of new life.

Secular people need to embrace poverty like Francis of Assisi:

“Blessed poverty even in this life

gives to souls who love her

the ability to fly to heaven.

Poverty guards the armor of true humility and charity.” 

Even Karl Marx was an anti-materialist 

when he wrote (well before intelligent phones):

“All our technological progress results in 

endowing material things with intellectual life

and stunts human development by materialism.”

Eastern religions share this anti-materialism

but their solution to the suffering caused 

is to desire less

whereas in western religions the solution is

to desire more – desire God –

until you reach God you have not desired enough.

But Christian theology to be relevant must gain a foothold 

in the new science that is replacing spirituality

for so many in Generations X to Z.

We need to see Spirit behind scientific revolution –

Spirit had to, thru Reason, free the Spirit 

trapped in the mythology of a distant heaven

and so break the chains

of the oppressed here on Earth.

Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican who dominated

Christian thought for centuries

was no Platonic contemplative

in love with incorporeal essences

but a Christian who contemplated the divine light

in every created thing here and now.

Heaven is NOW. In YOU.

Fully realizing that you are Spirit/divine

only happens if your Higher Self

takes compassionate action

letting Spirit into your whole life.

Otherwise, you stunt your development

if your Higher Self exists

only in the ivory tower of your intellect 

and never in your emotions, senses and body.

The laws of our mind, emotions and body

are one with the laws of the 

universe, galaxy and planet

that birthed us as its children.

Spirit driving science and evolution

gives us a new Christian cosmology.

BEING EXALTED IN GOD’S EYES

Suffering and humility are what exalt a person most in the eyes of God.

Being willing to do whatever God wants, even if it involves our suffering, is a sure sign of someone who is completely surrendered to God’s will: “Thy will be done, not my will be done.” This takes absolute trust on our part, and God showers those who trust God with many blessings in the long run. Nothing pleases God more than trust. God works all things to the good for those who love and trust God.

Humility likewise pleases God. God can only really work with people who have moved beyond their ego. As Wayne Dyer used to say “E.G.O. = Edging God Out.” And as scripture says “Those who exalt themselves will be brought low. Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

brucetallman.com, btallman@rogers.com