Thursday, 31 July 2014

RE.: The Problem of Pain


Life sometimes feels like a free-fall. There is no control over where we drift, what we collide into, or where we land. At least, that's what it feels like. But most of all, it feels like our death at the bottom is imminent. Hopeless. The question that arises from this sentiment is why are we in this free-fall and why would an omnipotent deity, of absolute love, toss us into this state of hopeless, boundless desolation? It takes a great deal of courage and sympathy to answer the question because, otherwise, the question probably hasn't been answered. In fact, it can be doubly difficult (and beneficial) to try figuring out a solution because that one question connects so many others to itself. The answer lies, however, to this Problem of Pain, in the deep study of life, pain, pleasure, and God Himself. If the realities of these things and persons can be unraveled, then one will probably find God to be a more compassionate, merciful entity than originally perceived.
     When the universe was in its initial state, its first moment, its first breath, it was in perfect entropic form. Perfect order. Similar to how the first couple chapters of Genesis describe the world in its initial condition. Good, safe, perfect. What Genesis details is that humanity was given the luxury of total freedom of the will. This was so that our will would cause us to love and purposefully enjoy God in all His glory and perfection. Yet, the natural path of the universe is from order to chaos and as a dead corpse goes from warm temperature to cold, a natural consequence of freedom is pain (perhaps it's more appropriate to say this is the natural consequence). This becomes the reality when Adam and Eve broke the seal of trust and loyalty and chose the path of independence. The result of this broken state of being is that pain and death are permitted to exist in its wake. It is this result which we reap to this day. It is so incredibly obvious, our corrupt nature, and its tie with suffering. Yet some of us would pin the responsibility of salvation on God and blame Him from not saving us from our own actions or from not creating a "better world", which calls into question God's rights and freedoms.
     God is the pinnacle of power, the supreme authority, and the paradigm of goodness. Before anything was, He was, and His essential love. All of what we see, started from God's hand. As creator, the original mastermind, nothing in all creation can excel Him or exceed His greatness (the ontological argument). He is completely autonomous and independent. He is omniscient and omnipotent. This is the nature of God's existence. He is. Considering this, and the fact that no governing legislation had been written and that all that God does spawns from His nature, it can be concluded that God hasn't a moral obligation to anything or anyone. He is indebted to no one. Whatever God does, it is done out of His sheer will. So when He creates mankind, He does so willfully and with a purpose. But He is not obligated to maintain His creation. It is God's right to do as He pleases; He is God. So if He allows my suffering, it is His right to do so. It is not immoral nor is it wrong of Him. If we blame God and accuse Him for wronging us, we do so according to another standard which is, perhaps, unknown to us but our emotions endorse it.
     Consider this, though, referring back to my first point (second paragraph), it is in humanity's nature to oppose God's. Our corruption tears our children apart. Our greed commences wars of bloody consequence. The core of all that is wrong and immoral about this world resides in our bloodstream and indwells our minds. Under the gaze of almighty God, the maximally great being, there is no moral standard you or I have reached. It takes a proud individual with a hyper-tolerant definition of sin to disagree. What, in Heaven or on Earth, does any human deserve? We toil for power and reject the hand of God. We reject our conscience continually. What does any human deserve? I am inclined to think naught, at least by God's perfect standard. Now referring to my second point, consider what we do have: life, possibly a consistent situation, maybe a decent pay, friends, family, freedom. Maybe you don't have very much at all, but when one thinks about what they do have and what they deserve, on the other hand, one can consider it an act of God's mercy that they have anything at all.
     God's priorities have been a problematic quarrel for many, inside and outside the church, and it's on this topic where many conversations, and lives, go astray. One can accept that, by definition, God's will is supreme and absolute but the pickle is what exactly He does with this sort of power. We're all very confused and mystified. Even infuriated. As it turns out, the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition as outlined by our source, Biblical scripture, isn't all that hard-pressed to grant us the American dream, a good pension or a decent living arrangement. Of course not. Why would an infinite, eternal being want for us, primarily, finite, temporary stuff? Convenient, easy-going lives. Comfort. Pleasure. It's all Earthly stuff that'll stay in the grave when we die. The apostle Paul, a missionary of sorts, lived much of his life in persecution and destitution. The man who gave the Church Romans 8 also lived a considerably painful life, often solitary. Yet he wrote, in response to his sorrow, that he can "do all things through Christ who gives him strength" (Philippians 4:13). The prophet Jeremiah, and many others devoted to God, watched as their home nation was ravaged, captured and exiled. Jesus, himself, was mocked, scorned, and crucified. So evidently, the battle for pleasure isn't on God's radar. No. God is interested in a deeper, more pertinent quest. The quest for internal, personal change from one undeserving of Heavenly life, deserving of Hell, to a redeemed, reconciled and renewed individual, justified in the eyes of God. God is interested in a heart-change from stuff-seeking to truth-seeking because that carries over into eternity.
     If pain could further the cause better than pleasure, then would it not be better to suffer? But what good could come out of any suffering? But think about the transformative power of hardship or the way pain amplifies triumph or the way evil highlights good. By some strange mysticism that beguiles me, less-than-ideal situations have a way of bringing out the best in people, even changing them for the better. A hard heart can be softened by a heavy hammer. A slanderous mind can be permitted progress towards compassion. It tends to be in the direst of moments that the hero arises. God, outside of time-dimension, has the script and knows it. The greatest good will be achieved in each individual at the end of it. Suffering God uses to advance towards this end goal, this final state, like a catalyst of a reaction. God uses pain to accomplish good. Not all of us will understand or realize this good during our lifetimes. The script remains a mystery to us. But we are promised that it shall be realized in the life to come, should we believe. This to me is what it truly means to be blessed. We are not blessed by our successful situation. Neither are we cursed by our failing situation. Neither circumstance has any eternal worth. But real currency is in our hope in Jesus Christ. God, swapping royalty for servitude, took upon himself the penalty that corrupt humanity utterly deserves and conquers death that we also might live in perfection. The suffering of this world is not the end. God has a plan to redeem and restore order to it.

This is why, in spite of my pains, I place my faith and trust in God.

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