Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Why does God allow suffering?

It is impossible to discuss adversity or grief without bringing up the concept of God. When I was doing my B.A. in Psychology, I did an honors thesis on the coping mechanisms of concentration camp survivors. I was surprised to discover that many had relied on religious faith to get them through the horror of the camps. I couldn't understand how persecuted people like Viktor Frankel could trust in a Higher Power who allowed such atrocities, let alone how Frankel was able to find meaning in a place as dismal as Auschwitz.

Some people gravitate towards prayer during difficult times whereas others lose their faith. I'm not religious. I'd like to believe but prayer for me is like dialing a phone number that rings and rings, but no one ever answers. My spiritually-inclined friends tell me that I'm looking for the wrong kind of answer. The answer that I want is an eradication of the worst kind of suffering and torture in this world -- suffering that is distributed so randomly. Of course, I will never receive that kind of answer to my pleas.

In his book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner tackles the tough question of where is God in the midst of our pain and distress. Kushner postulates that God must be either all powerful OR all good, but He cannot be both at the same time. He cannot and does not intervene in our lives because He has given us free will. Our bodies are mortal, therefore, subject to debilitating illness and disease. One person's exercise of free will can interfere with another's. Kushner's argument makes sense to me intellectually but is of no comfort emotionally.

Kushner says that we shouldn't ask God to heal our cancer, protect our children from pedophiles, or prevent Africa from sliding off the face of the continent due to HIV infection, famine, war and other calamities. These are the wrong types of prayer. Instead, we should request qualities from God such as strength, courage and tenacity to deal with hard times. Even Jim Morrison said, "Do Not Petition the Lord with Prayer!"

Some Eastern religions and New Age groups believe that the right type of prayer is to simply give thanks for all of the good things in our lives, and to learn to accept the more challenging ones.

The way I see God or a Higher Power is as a neutral force. I believe that there was a creation, and hence a Creator, but I view the Creator as neither benevolent nor malevolent. If the Creator made all things, then it made everything -- the good, the bad and the ugly. I find it strange that people attribute all of the goodness in the world to God, and all of the bad things to someone or something else (Satan, humanity itself, Rush Limbaugh. LOL.)

A good friend of mine is a Christian Scientist. Once she told me about a hurricane in Florida that had hit a particular area but had missed all of the Christian Scientists' homes! She thought that was amazing and wonderful, but I thought it was ridiculous and discriminating. Why would God choose to allow a fierce storm to destroy the homes of the non-Christian scientists? Why is it when parents pray at the bedside of a desperately sick child that they thank God when that child recovers? But they don't blame God if the child dies.

I don't blame God for anything. I don't think He or She exists, but I'm certainly in the minority. 90 to 95% of all of the world's people believe in some sort of power greater than themselves. I wish that I were one of them. I would especially like to believe in an afterlife -- to think that I will be reunited with my father, my good friend, Meg, who killed herself at the age of 25, my uncle and my grandparents.

Belief in the hereafter has sustained many families of murder victims. In her book Lovely Bones, Alice Seybold describes the graphic murder of young Susie Salmon, who narrates her story from Heaven. It's an interesting concept and by and large, Seybold did a good job. My Mothers Against Drunk Driving group had a spiritualist at one of their functions last year. They were widely criticized for doing so but this man brought comfort to those who had lost a loved one at the reckless hands of an inebriated driver. Who am I to judge the ways in which the injured derive solace?

What are your thoughts on God? Where is He when women and children go missing?

Sigrid Macdonald

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