The Problem of Pain

This morning as I was driving to work I got to thinking about difficult things. I do this sometimes.

I was thinking about spiritual things. That are difficult.

But then I started to get a little pissed. At God. I get this way sometimes.

I mean, seriously:

If God doesn’t make mistakes, then why are babies sometimes born with only half a skull and even less brain matter? Why are some babies born dead, or why do they die in-utero?

If God supposedly has a “Master Plan” – in which he also allegedly does not make mistakes, and is supposed to ultimately work for good  – then why is there war? Why do people starve to death? Why are people raped and tortured and murdered by other people? Because things definitely did not work out for their good.

Why Oso? Why Fort Hood? Why Syria and Egypt and the Ukraine? Why the holocaust? Why Rwanda and the Congo and Bangladesh and Cambodia? Why Katrina and the big-ass twisters that leveled the elementary school in Oklahoma? Why Newtown and Columbine? And any other of the thousands of horrible things, historically speaking and presently, that I don’t have room to list?

I just don’t understand. I just don’t. And my drive to work was really depressing and angering and even a little bit scary, because of course, there were no answers to be had.

So I got to work, and here was my Word for the Day in my inbox:

“Catastrophe is the essence of the spiritual path, a series of breakdowns allowing us to discover the threads that weave all of life into a whole cloth.”  –Roshi Joan Halifax

**Whooof. **

Timing is everything, they say.

I know the answers my atheist friends would have ready for me, but I am not interested in those answers, because I have already heard them and although I will always respect both my friends and their views, I cannot – either intellectually or emotionally – subscribe to the idea of creation without a creator. Even though God really pisses me off with his infuriating silence, I still believe he exists, and I still believe – no matter how hard it gets – that somehow, some way, and some day – maybe a million years from now, it will all make sense and it will all be good.

 

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11 comments

  1. Faith is what it is. You accept it for what it is as you get older, or you do not. You can rationalize everything else from there as you need to . Anger at God is a harsh emotion on you, that has no place to go. The world is what it is, and if you maintain your faith, then you maintain that you do not understand, and put your faith in your tradition. It is really pretty simple, the part that I would recommend you let go is the anger, it hurts you more than anything else it may do, and only eats at your faith. Harming yourself with anger does not make the humanly perceived injustices, tragedies, and unlucky happenstances of life any better. Either accept that you do not understand the will of your deity, or realize that eventually your anger will either harm you physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The important part is to settle with yourself, be able to accept the tragedies in whatever framework you choose to believe, and let yourself find your own peace, without the anger that simply sits in your mind and hurts you. Pain is a reminder of our humanity, and though it sucks big rocks (technical term there), pain allows us to celebrate our joys even more fondly. We are blessed in the amplitude of our experiences, with the highs allowing us to celebrate, and the lows allowing us to wallow, each showing us the fact that the other is the end of the spectrum that it is, and showing us the appreciation for life we are capable of.

    Choose as you will, but let yourself be at peace with it so that you may find the happiness in whatever you choose to live with. You are worth your own happiness….:)

    1. I really do try to put the anger away, but it’s hard. Of course, you already know that.

      In my case, I tend to feel anger when I can’t understand why there doesn’t seem to be any real fairness in life, but then again, I suppose the universe – or God – doesn’t really owe an explanation to me or anyone else.

      I struggle to find a reason and the purpose of it all because a very large part of me is desperate for that. I believe in God (and definitely *not * necessarily the typical “Christian version” of God) because by doing so, therein lies at least some semblance of that reason and purpose. And as I alluded to in this post, my faith is very much an intellectual component that has been nurtured by my studies in philosophy.

      But philosophy – to the extent of what I have read – can’t seem to adequately explain suffering any more than religion can, at least for me. Fortunately, both of those tracks help remind me of the very real existence of mystery and that there simply are many, many things that we are not capable of understanding, at least while we “tread the mortal coil.” And it’s that presence of mystery that gives me the hope to keep going.

      In the meantime, I’ll probably keep throwing a temper tantrum once in a while, but occasionally God at least talks back – like that email that was waiting for me when I got to work, which was more or less the defining point of my post. 😉

  2. Something else that also popped up on the Intarwebs with strangely unerring timing: God’s Master Plan.
    But to leave it at that would be mean.
    Were I still a theist I think I would take a deistic approach to God, combined with an expression of God written of by Tolkien in The Silmarillion:

    Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’

    If we’re really going to claim not to understand God’s plan, we have to recognize that said plan must be occurring on a scale incomprehensible to us: a scale as vast as the universe itself. What we view as God’s mistakes are nothing more than a portion the microcosmic unfoldings of a cosmic tapestry beyond our meager vision.
    You type, “…I cannot – either intellectually or emotionally – subscribe to the idea of creation without a creator.” Consider this: That which is within the scope of your imagination is interesting precisely because your mind can apprehend it. But might it not be even more interesting to consider what you can’t imagine. It wasn’t all that long ago in terms of human history (and only an eyeblink in cosmic time) that we couldn’t imagine a universe that we and our world weren’t at the center of. Now we know better, and the universe is so much more fascinating as a result. Is there a future you cannot imagine yet where you might think of God differently than you do now?
    In the meantime, stay groovy. And when you do get angry, do you best to find a focus for that anger that does good for yourself and those around you. (People don’t always give credit to anger for the good properly directed anger can do in the world.)

    1. Funny you should quote Tolkien, since he was a contemporary and a friend of C.S. Lewis. It’s no secret anyway that Tolkien’s work is saturated with spiritual themes. And your selection from Silmarillion is dead-on target here.

      In any case, you are right – God’s plan, if there is one, is something that no one has a handle on, anywhere and anyhow. It’s always been my contention that God is much more than we can perceive, even on the deepest, most profound spiritual level – and I think that’s the point – that much of God’s essence is simply beyond our perception. Therefore, it stands to reason that any plan he may have is also not something our puny human brains can ever get around.

      You asked, “Is there a future you cannot imagine yet where you might think of God differently than you do now?” – and the answer is yes, I think. Although it seems a bit paradoxical. But I see where you are going with it. I am quite comfortable with the idea that my understanding of God may be quite different in the future – in fact, I actually hope that will be the case.

      Because I sure as hell don’t really understand him now!

      And this: “What we view as God’s mistakes are nothing more than a portion the microcosmic unfoldings of a cosmic tapestry beyond our meager vision.” Yep. And my brightest hope is that the cosmic tapestry ultimately holds something amazing for all of us once we leave this torrid, horrible and wonderful ball of dirt and rock beneath our feet.

      Purpose and reason. It must exist.

  3. I can not argue with Mr. Carter, especially seeing as how he has invoked the almighty Tolkien reference….lol….:) I would say that he is right, I think, (in many ways, but this is the one part I will focus on since it hearkens back to my post…) In that focused anger is actually very important in human endeavor, just as long as you drive the focus of the anger, and do not let the anger drive your focus. And that eventually, that tool gets let go of.

  4. I believe that we do experience anger, as it is a human emotion, as love, hate, fear, and others. Anger at God is our way of realizing that there are problems that are not easy or concrete to “fix”, so I am with you and Mr. Carter that we can’t conceive what the Universe has “planned”, that our need for predictablility and a “plan” is also part of our human mind’s way of making sense of reality.

    1. Good point. Human needs are often short-sighted and painfully self-centered. Predictability might be comfortable, but it also diminishes mystery – the divine carrot on the stick, so to speak…..

  5. OH, and on perception. Consider this, albeit I am sure you have before. The sense which propels us along, by which we navigate many of our lifes’ endeavors, is so severely limited (we can not see several spectrums of light, and our perception of visible light is based SO very much in our mind “coallating” a little data in to a lot of picture), that the fact that we use it to guide our lives to the extent we do is an exercise in zaniness. And then we can begin to see the perceptions we seem to value so highly are like using clubs to pick up single molecules, clumsy and darn near worthless. It’s amazing we can walk and chew gum at the same time…. some people can not even do that…..LOL

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