Monday, June 02, 2008

685. Suffering

Because I can't resist a challenge, I'm responding to this theodicy meme recently posed by Rachel aka the Velveteen Rabbi (and originating here). Theodicy is a branch of theology that tries to explain the existence of evil. The meme wonders:

1. if the nature of god is omnipotent, benevolent, and anthropomorphic (that god is a person, who sees suffering as wrong, and can change all of it), why does god not act to relieve all suffering, or at least the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest amount of people the greatest amount of time?
2. if you were god, and you were omnipotent and benevolent, how would you respond to suffering?
3. if this is not the nature of god, what is the nature of god, that allows suffering in the world?
4. if these are the wrong questions to ask, what are the right ones?

I agree with Rachel that is it certainly too big a topic to tackle in a blog post!--but a few thoughts will fit. Beginning with question 4, these are not the right questions because they assume we can define the nature of God. I believe we cannot; the main definition of God, to me, is "that which is unknowable." I like to believe "omnipotent" and "benevolent" make up part of that definition as well, but who knows? Only God. The beautiful mysteries of the universe--everything I don't understand--are what awe me most deeply and I find more "powerful" than other more obvious expressions of God-like activity (creation of life, war, etc.). I disagree with "anthropomorphic," which presupposes human beings are more important than, say, mountains or birds. I believe all forms of existence mirror God, not just those who walk on two feet and go bald or hate their mothers-in-law.

A more useful question in terms of reaching greater understanding of the meaning of life might be, "How can we live with suffering?" I believe our existence is meant to embrace pain as well as goodness. I wish I didn't believe this, and could pull the wool over my eyes and ignore how evil appears to come naturally to our species, but I can't. We yearn for goodness; our lives are better and more fulfilling when we move in that direction, and I think God has much to do with the existence of that part of our natures. But just as the universe is comprised of opposites, night and day, sea and land, so is suffering an inextricable part of humanity. Just as God cannot remove night, neither can God create pain-free lives. That is one of the jobs with which we humans have been entrusted.

These days I think of God as a big quilt, with the different pieces of fabric residing in each of us. We can see God in a more whole and meaningful way when when we come together, reach out, and bind ourselves to one another. And to forget that the faces of God can be seen in our own is to dilute God's power, however we wish to define this.

I am tagging: anyone reading this who wants to try to summarize the meaning of life in a blog post.


rbarenblat said...

What a beautiful response. I especially love the image of God as a big quilt -- that's a stunning metaphor. Thank you for doing this!

alto artist said...

Thank you--and also for giving me a reason to think and write about this!