The Other I

March 31, 2011

The problem of evil: Revisited for the umpteenth time

I was six years old when I first formulated the problem of evil for myself.  Why, I asked my father, if God didn’t want us to commit sins and if he could do anything he wanted to, didn’t he just make us so that we didn’t want to sin in the first place?

My formulations have become more sophisticated in the six decades since then, but in some form or other, it’s a question I can’t leave alone.

I tried atheism as a solution for a short time.  That solved the problem of god but it doesn’t solve the problem of suffering.

For a rather an embarrassingly longer time, I tried sainthood.  I would become a saint and in the process transform the world.  Mother Teresa may have failed.  Even Jesus had not succeeded in eliminating suffering.  But I had some vague notion that I could transform the world.

The next option, using my brain rather than virtue, fell upon similar barren ground.  Being rather well-educated, you might think that even a casual acquaintance of the destruction resulting from world-reformers in the 20th century would have kept me from even starting down the path of utopia creation.

But somehow I kept feeling responsible for the world’s suffering, with a nagging sense of guilt that somehow I wasn’t doing enough.  Here I was – and still am – living in relative comfort and safety.  How can this be fair?

It’s not fair, of course.  I don’t deserve, I have not earned, the good fortune which has graced my life.

And I still do not know why there is so much suffering in the world.  I no longer feel totally responsible for it, but I would like to understand it.

Buddha said that sin is not a positive evil, but is, rather incompleteness.   It is an indicator that we have not yet arrived, that we are still a work in progress.  It’s an idea that resonates with me.

And if I have any tenants of what might be called faith left, it is that existence is good.  To be alive is intrinsically valuable.

Exactly how suffering fits into this I’m not sure.  Except that somehow I believe that it is a creative part of the unfolding of the universe.

This is, I accept, an act of faith.  I can look at my own life and see in retrospect that what I thought was the worst possible thing that could happen was perhaps the best.  But there is much suffering that I cannot imagine being creative.  I find it impossible to look sanguinely as some suffering and blithely sing along with Mary Poppins that it will all be wonderful in the end.

So it’s an act of faith.  Or rather an act of hope.  I trust in the universe as it is.  I trust that what looks so terribly wrong from my small perspective and that I personally cannot fix will, in the end,  lead to greater good.

Having said that, if I live long enough, I am sure to visit this question umpteen more times.

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