One of the greatest challenges to belief in God is the problem of suffering. But it’s not just atheists who struggle with this challenge. Most everyone is conflicted by the fact that there is so much unnecessary suffering in the world, and it would seem that God, if God exists, is often apathetic.
I’ve approached the problem of suffering once before in another article entitled “The Problem of Suffering”, in which I primarily addressed the nature of suffering, but I want to approach it again with further insight. And I want to be clear that I’m not addressing this issue with any intent to convince anyone of God’s existence. It doesn’t concern me whether one believes in God or not. But like any good-hearted person, the problem of suffering does concern me, and perhaps I can help shed some light on the matter.
When one raises the question, “Why doesn’t God do anything about suffering?,” one must ask why this is such a concern. Why do we presume that there is anything wrong with suffering? Where does that sense of wrongness come from? When we see there is so much suffering in the world, what is it that we feel in regard to it? I’m not just talking about the frustration and outrage, but what do we feel even more deeply than that?
What is underlying that frustration and outrage? When you see a child who is starving, you may feel outraged. Maybe your outrage is directed at society, or maybe you’re outrage is directed at God. But what about the child? What are you feeling toward that child? Are you angry with the child? Why does the child’s hunger concern and disturb you? What is the feeling behind that concern?
What is behind it is compassion and love, is it not? But why? Suppose you never met the child. Suppose you’re only seeing an image on television or a photograph of a starving child in some far off country. Why does it concern you? What is that love and compassion you’re experiencing for someone you don’t even know? Unless you have some connection to that child, it shouldn’t be any concern to you.
Suppose for a moment that there is some underlying connection between you and that child. Again, I’m not asking you to believe anything, but consider, just for the moment, that consciousness is not something confined to the brain, but is actually a unifying field that connects everything in the universe. If you don’t think this idea is scientific, you must not be familiar with modern quantum physics. And if these physicists are correct then the only distinction between your consciousness and that child’s consciousness is relative to your material experience. But underlying this material experience, all consciousness is one consciousness. What this means is that at some deep level there is no distinction between you and the other. There is only the one consciousness experiencing itself through many forms. And that might explain why we feel empathy. That might explain why we seem to experience the suffering of others as if it were our own. That might explain why we find the child’s suffering so bothersome. Because perhaps in some sense we are that child.
But that still hasn’t answered the question, “Why doesn’t God intervene?” If you’re still willing to keep an open mind then consider that this underlying field of consciousness is what some have come to refer to as God. Forget about any other concepts of God you might have, and just consider this one. You don’t have to take it as fact, but just consider it as a possibility.
When we ask why God doesn’t intervene we tend to presume that God exists separately and externally from us and the universe; that God is somewhere out there. If God is going to intervene, we imagine, he will have to come down from heaven and show himself. But the idea that I am offering is the idea that God is not something that exists separate and externally from anything, but is something which permeates all things, including you. And it may be that God does desire to intervene, not from high above, but from deep within.
When we see suffering in the world and it stirs something within us, could it be that what is stirring in our hearts is what some have come to call God? Could it be that God is desiring to intervene through us? And if this is so, then a better question might be, why don’t we allow God to intervene?
When we see suffering in the world, what prevents us from intervening? What can we do to better the situation? What can we offer? Perhaps when we ask, so cynically, why God doesn’t intervene, we’re making an excuse in order to avoid having to do anything ourselves. We’re putting all the responsibility on what we believe to be an external force instead taking that responsibility upon ourselves. And perhaps in doing so we’re preventing God from intervening.
When I say that we’re not taking responsibility, it’s not to suggest that we are necessarily the cause of someone else’s suffering. But, if we have the opportunity to intervene and we choose not to, then are we not in someway responsible for the continuation of their suffering?
There might not be anything we can do for that child who is in some far away country, but there is suffering everywhere, and life will present you with countless opportunities to offer kindness. It’s up to you to allow that compassion to work through you.
You might start with yourself, with your own suffering. You might begin by offering yourself love and compassion, acceptance and forgiveness. Perhaps that love in you is somehow blocked, and the more you learn to love yourself, the more love you will have to offer others. Perhaps then, instead of wondering why God has not intervened, you will become an instrument of love and compassion.