In this short essay I want to talk about something that has been fundamental to my spiritual development since I was a very young man and first casting about to understand this strange world we are all born into. To put it simply: why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?
I was born into what could be called a Christian family, my mother was a Baptist and my father was a career solder who would from time to time get loaded and quote the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam to me. All things considered this was passing profound for a man from Mississippi with a 5th grade education who participated in his first battle when he was 17.
But not being unobservant even as a young man I realized that the existence of suffering in a world created by a good and almighty God—“the problem of pain”—is a fundamental theological dilemma, and perhaps the most serious objection to the Christian religion.
I did more than my fair share of reading and it seemed to me that most people and most cultures didn’t really see God as a particularly loving, just or fair kind of guy. Most primitive peoples as we liked to call them seemed convinced that what god really wanted was to enjoy our pain and suffering. Killing, torture, and human sacrifice seemed to be almost universal as a means to make God happy. Even today there is a large festival in India were hundreds of people do “hook-swinging” hanging themselves from hooks in a bargain with one of the Hindu god’s trading their pain and suffering for a little help from their God.
The Old Testament describes the Jewish God as both angry and jealous; he is the kind of guy who asks you to murder your son, as a display of faith and loyalty. He instructs the Israelites to commit genocide on 8 different tribes and tells Moses he can’t come into the Promised Land after a life time of toil and commitment. Let us not even discuss wiping out Job’s entire family on a bet with the devil about Job’s character.
And of course just as a matter of record humans through out history of all cultures and religions seem to spend more time killing and torturing for god than any other reason including wealth and sex.
One day I ran across some books by CS Lewis and found him to be a wonderful writer and really came to admire him. So you can image how elated I was when I found he had written a book on “The Problem of Pain”. I had spent a lot of time asking people who said they knew about this and nothing any of them had said made a lick of sense to me.
Now here was CS Lewis that giant of twentieth century Christianty and doctrine, the formost Christian apologist of our age and he was going to straighten it out for me. Then of course I read the book. After the usual introductions and apologies of the first chapter he got down to it in Chapter two. He opens that chapter with the following”
"The possibility of solving [the problem] depends on showing that the terms 'good' and 'almighty', and perhaps also the term 'happy', are equivocal: for it must be admitted from the outset that if the popular meanings attached to these words are the best, or the only possible, meaning, then the argument is unanswerable".
He then spends the next nine chapters redefining the terms “pain” "suffering” “happy” and even what it means to be a “Loving God”. Even at the tender age of 14 I knew this was a load of Bull. You’re not suffering, that isn’t pain and a loving, kind, just God kicks the crap out of you for your own good. I had seen him play this trick in “Mere Christianity” when he told his listeners that these young Christian solders should kill with a joyous and light heart because the Hebrew word for kill in the bible really meant “murder” not kill and killing for your god or your country wasn’t murder. I am sure he pulled that one right out of the crusaders hand book. But this slight of hand was on a whole different level.
So if your not brain dead and your fairly sure that most folks know pain and suffering when they experience it your still left with a world that could not possibly be the construct of an all powerful, just and loving God.
Over the years I have read many books written by authors of many different religions on this subject and they all are more or less just a load of Bull as well.
Then I encountered Buddhism and Buddha’s explanations of “The Problem of Pain”. We are living in a world created by our own actions. Our own delusions and ignorance of how things actually exist cause almost all our pain and suffering. There is not a Devil or vengeful sadistic God behind it all. It’s just us. We have no one to blame for the world and what happens here but ourselves and we are living in a world of our own desires and it is our own creation. We are here because we at some level want to be.
Well now I gave this idea some serious thought. I measured the level of anger, lust and delusive behavior in myself and everyone I had ever run into or read about. Hell this explanation even let God off the Hook. If he was dedicated to the concept of free will, he was totally not to blame. Assuming of course he, she or it existed. We it seems are living in a universe created by our own volition and actions, call it Karma.
Assuming a God with no name, after all a name instantly ties him to a culture and straps a ton of assumptions and baggage to his back, maybe he was just letting us grow up in the way we ourselves chose to. I still have a hard time believing that we singularly or jointly have the sheer imagination to make a flower or a honey bee. So despite our Buddhist belief that there is no creator God, I am willing to let him exist if that’s what he really wants to do.
And I now have no problem taking responsibility for my fair share of the pain and suffering in the world. This was a major factor in my finally saying I am a Buddhist and it is because, what Buddha said was true.
My own suffering over the past year has taught me that suffering like all other mental formations is empty. Buddha said all things proceed from the mind. Suffering is a dependant arising and its first and greatest dependency is my own moment of mental discrimination of that suffering.
Now I have that off my chest, getting old still sucks. But I can live with that too.