For the past few weeks the idea of human suffering has been in the fore front of my mind. It started when I heard a talk given by Ken Overberg, SJ at the beginning of Lent on human suffering and our interpretation of it. Fr. Overberg made it clear that suffering is not God’s punishment upon us. He pointed out that Jesus told his followers that the 18 men who perished when the tower of Siloam fell on them were not being punished for their sins [Luke 13: 1-5] and that Jesus said God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust. [Matt 5:45]. Basically the message is S—-t Happens. So I guess what has been bothering me is the randomness of this s—t and how can we, the recipient of this s—t find meaning or make sense of or even feel safe and loved in a universe where at any moment something can happen and change our whole life?
Last week our brother lost his wife to pancreatic cancer. She suffered and so did her husband and their children. Now she’s gone. I believe she’s in the arms of the creator, at peace, immersed in love and that she is no longer suffering physical pain. But I am not sure how an eternity of joy and bliss plays out, floating on a cloud, singing hymns forever. I believe the departed are still closely connected to the lives of those they loved on earth. The doctrine of the Communion of Saints informs my conviction that we are all in this together. Those of us in physical form and those in spirit are praying, working and accompanying all of creation, which groans toward perfection and fulfillment; moving toward our ultimate goal of rejoining our Creator in a universe we cannot even imagine yet. Maybe this is the vision of “the New Earth” depicted in the book of Revelations? [Rev. 21:1]
So why must we suffer on this earth? Why cancer? Why terrible accidents? Why disease, birth defects, mental illness? Why are humans allowed to inflict pain upon one another? Why murder, rape, suicide? Why the Holocaust? Why Hiroshima? Why the randomness? And how does it all play into God’s big plan? Or does He even have a plan? Is it all about how we relate to one another; being mercy, love and blessings to one another during the worse this world can dish out? Is that all it is?
Maybe it’s about the psychic and spiritual growth we and others obtain by experiencing great trials and pains. Maybe it is the only way we will ever grow or change into the mature spiritual being we are called to be as Richard Rohr, OFM explains in his book “Falling Upward”. This is also at the core of the Twelve Step programs. When the suffering of your addiction is more than you can bear you release your hold, allowing your higher power to take over. The idea that pain and suffering are the forces that motivate humans to change and grow is everywhere. So maybe this is why God allows suffering. So we will continue to grow. Like any good parent, you allow your children to fail so they will learn life’s lessons. You do not, nor can you, prevent all their suffering or stop them from making every mistake.
But what of the terrible evil that people perpetuate on one another? God seems to be indifferent at times. Richard Rohr has even referred to God as the Great Allower. God seems to be saying, “If you can conceive of it and are able to do it then have at it.” If it’s building a rocket to the moon or an atomic bomb, makes no difference to our omniscient creator.
I recently read “The Living Universe” by Duane Elgin and now I have a whole new set of theories to contemplate about the nature of God, the universe and our role in it all. The main take-away from this book is that God is the universe and in all matter, invisible and visible. The tiniest sub-atomic particle to the massive galaxies are infused with intelligence. Elgin uses quantum physics and cosmology to lay the ground work for his theory and then he shows how all the world’s major religions and spiritual traditions are on the same page: God is good, God is everywhere and in everything, and we, the human race, are an ever evolving species on our way to reunion with the universe/God that birthed us. Very heady stuff.
So the three things I know are:
- There are set laws in place that govern the universe (maybe other laws control the multi-verse or maybe each individual universe has it’s own laws, but for now I’ll stick with our universe). And we, with our finite human minds have a very limited understanding of these laws that control time and space and light and matter and all aspects of our world, from the sub-atomic particles that make up atoms that make up molecules, that combine to form minerals and cells and plants and animals and mountains and planets and even the largest galaxies in the farthest reaches of this universe. These laws are in place and unmoving, they have been since the Big Bang or before. The effects of these laws – karma if you prefer – is that s—t happens (good and bad) and we may not like it but it is what it is.
- We and all life on this planet are interconnected and we are all part of the ever evolving whole. We are made up of energy and light and sound; all of us moving through this physical dimension for a short time, expanding as our consciousness evolves. Our purpose and goal here is to strive toward perfection. None of us cannot not be what we are meant to be. A dog cannot be a cat. A rock will be a rock. And each of us will be what we are, a homo sapien sapien -a human who knows he/she knows. As we manifest our consciousness in this particular life it is our job to love and support life in all its forms. Our striving and desiring to do so is enough (in the spirit of Thomas Merton), to propel each of us a little closer to the ultimate goal.
- All are saved: Each of our particular belief paradigms (mine happens to be Christian) leads us to follow the teachings of that religion or spiritual master, (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, ect… or any one or more of the great masters) Each of these persons came to us as a teacher and guide, showing us how to live and be in times of light and of in times of darkness. Each one shows us the same path to follow, although it may come to us in different packaging. We are to love and live and serve the whole. We are all saved. Nothing is lost, not earth nor the plants and animals who inhabit her, not the life-giving water on her surface nor the atmosphere that surrounds her. And most of all we humans are already saved. Even those who are most broken and damaged are valuable to the whole. We are all to be ultimately re-united with our creator.
With all that I have learned and lived, I know that the universe is alive and benevolent and if we are open to it’s energy and love we can and will experience this force for good. I prefer to call this force the Holy Spirit who hovers over all creation, groaning to bring forth all her children.
In conclusion, we have one job. It is given to us to in this time and space to do all we can to relieve suffering, in all its forms. We are to heal, feed, clothe, comfort, and bless all in need. We are to work for justice and peace on this planet and for all creation, to share the light and good news with all.