The Reason Why We Suffer

I am a panentheist and I believe that God is everywhere, and in everything.  God’s being permeates the entire cosmos, and even more than that, God is the active agent in all of existence – God is “doing” everything.  There is not a single atom in the entire universe that is separate from God.

If what I have said in the preceding paragraph is true, it means that God must be responsible for all human action.  After all, God is “doing” human action as well as everything else.  This means that God is in control of our emotions and actions.  We experience life through choices God makes for us to experience things in a certain way.

Admittedly, I am describing God as the cosmic ‘puppeteer’.  This is an unpopular idea amongst those who believe in free will, but nevertheless, I believe it is the way things really are.  There is so much evidence that we are not in control of ourselves.  I can raise my arm or nod my head; I can grow my nails or my hair; I can beat my heart and flow my blood – yet I have no idea how I do any of these things.  The reason I have no idea is because God is doing them.

On the whole, human beings seem to experience both the yin and yang of existence; the ups and downs, highs and lows, joys and miseries.  Why is this?  Why do we not live lives of pure happiness?  Why must we suffer?

I believe the answer to this problem lies in God’s own nature.  If the panentheistic view of the world that I believe in is correct, then really there is only one being in the universe, which is God.  God is eternally alone.  What must that be like?  I can imagine that there are two poles to God’s experience of being alone.  There is the bliss of having infinite power and infinite awareness, but there is also the misery and suffering of being always alone; of never having another being with whom to interact.

Perhaps the reason why God makes creatures is because there is such joy in interaction.  Making creatures that interact is as close as God Himself can get to interacting with other beings.  And perhaps the reason why God gives us negative emotions as well as positive emotions, and bad times as well as good times, is because this is an honest reflection of God’s own predicament.  God’s creatures each get a taste of the real thing; of what ultimate reality is like for God.

So we suffer because God suffers.  But I believe that God is ultimately merciful, and doesn’t want us to suffer too much.  God is deeply aware of how painful suffering is, and so He gives us enough suffering for us to taste what it is like, without ever letting it become unbearable for extended periods of time.  God could, if He so wished, inflict infinite enduring suffering upon each of us, but He chooses not to do so because He is loving and merciful.

When we suffer, God is not punishing us for right and wrong action.  That is illogical because God is in control of all action.  But God does want a varied and interesting universe in which His divine nature is expressed in all its complexity.  That is why He has made creatures, and that is why He chooses for us to suffer.

For more on the subject of God and suffering see this post entitled The Agony of God.

26 comments

  1. Interesting ideas

    Admittedly, I am describing God as the cosmic ‘puppeteer’

    I’m curious, do you think that God is a puppeteer in the sense that he intervenes in our actions, or do you think it is more a purely deterministic world and God is in control in the sense that he set everything in motion so things will play out exactly as they have?

    There is the bliss of having infinite power and infinite awareness, but there is also the misery and suffering of being always alone; of never having another being with whom to interact.

    This reminded me of the secret wars 🙂 A fun read but probably fairly difficult to find all of the relevant comics now.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_Wars

  2. Many thanks for the comment.

    More than intervening in our actions, I believe God is actually doing them. When I click my fingers, it is God doing it. When I walk, it is God doing it. When my heart beats, it is God doing it.

    Funny that my post reminded you of Secret Wars comics! I wasn’t familiar with them but I checked out the Wikipedia link. I would probably need to read more about the comics to understand where you’re coming from!

    Best wishes, Steven

  3. I believe God is actually doing them

    Oh wow. So in a sense we are appendages of God it seems. A number of questions come to mind that are probably too long for a comment at the end of a blog post. (perhaps you have talked about it before and you can link me there or you can do a post about it later). I’m curious how you came across this idea and also why you believe it. (There are other related questions, but I think they generally fall back to those 2)

    Funny that my post reminded you of Secret Wars comics! I wasn’t familiar with them but I checked out the Wikipedia link. I would probably need to read more about the comics to understand where you’re coming from!

    I should have explained it a bit more. As I recall (been a while since I read it) the beyonder lived a perfect solitary existence in his own universe and he was content, then he got a window into our universe and saw other people and suddenly realized he was all alone. And that is what got the story started. (Now that I think about it, that might have been more touched on in the secret wars 2.

  4. Yes, you could say that we are appendages of God (!), or expressions of God. I haven’t come across this idea anywhere in particular, it is just my experience of God and the way I observe the world to work that makes me believe these things. You might get a stronger idea of why I believe what I believe if you read my book. I am not just trying to plug my book! It’s just that understanding my journey through life might help you to understand my philosophy. The book isn’t out until July, but there will be extracts on this blog, and I can always send you a copy for free when the time comes.

    My post on free will (which is an extract from the book) might also help:
    https://perfectchaos.org/2012/02/05/free-will/

    I’m not sure that my God is like the Beyonder, however I can see why you made the connection!

  5. Interesting way of viewing suffering. I do believe that God is merciful, but my question to you is, do you think God’s mercy is selfish? As in, he only grants mercy because he knows how bad if feels. Or do you think God’s mercy is selfless? As in, he grants mercy because he loves us dearly and intimately? Thanks for the exploration!

    1. Hi Tyler,

      Many thanks for the comment. If anything I would say God is empathetic, and by that I mean that God knows how painful suffering is and therefore chooses to limit suffering. I wouldn’t say that is selfish – more compassionate. I agree with you that God loves us dearly and intimately.

      Steven

  6. “God is deeply aware of how painful suffering is, and so He gives us enough suffering for us to taste what it is like, without ever letting it become unbearable for extended periods of time.”

    What about staving children in Africa who die of hunger? Or people who get limbs blown off in war and slowly bleed to death in agony. What about people that are murdered and slowly tortured. What about people who have illnesses that are so painful they beg for their life to be terminated? Your argument is so full of holes it’s laughable.

    1. Hi James, thanks for your comment. I am deeply aware that suffering can be terrible, but in the context of what suffering could be like (eternal agony) I believe God is merciful to everyone. I’m sorry you think my argument is laughable, feel free to explain the ‘holes’ that you perceive and I will be more than happy to justify where I’m coming from. Best wishes, Steven.

  7. Unfortunately you cannot justify where you’re coming from because you have no concrete evidence to back up your theories. Provide that first, then if it is found to have any foundation – other than being just an “idea” – we could perhaps analyse your belief system further. As is stands, you simply come across like all the others – weak, afraid, confused.

    1. Thanks James. Concrete evidence is a subjective thing. What is evidence to one person, is nonsense to someone else. I can’t help but wonder whether your assertions that I am weak, afraid, and confused, are a projection of your own predicament? You certainly seem to be expressing all of those qualities in your confrontational tone. Not that there is anything wrong with that – all of those things are quite natural and just part of life. I am actually quite confident in myself and my beliefs. Maybe you are confident in your beliefs as well? Take care, Steven

  8. Belief is subjective, evidence isn’t – ever heard of science? Even religious people believe in scientific method. Your statement is an example of you trying to fit flawed logic into an illogical belief system. Sorry if you thought I was being confrontational – I don’t have any beliefs, therefore there’s no necessity to be confident in them or otherwise.

    1. Well, we clearly disagree about this. You believe in the “evidence” that suits you, but I’m afraid saying the word ‘science’ doesn’t justify anything – we are still in the realm of opinion. You will find that what is factual to one person, is questionable to another. And the facts of one generation or group of people are often the nonsense of future generations or other groups of people. You say you have no beliefs, but you appear to believe in what you call “scientific method”.

      I’m pleased to hear that you weren’t being confrontational, thank you for clarifying.

  9. Not all evidence is opinion. Scientific theories and conclusions can be observed and the results reproduced. A camera takes a photograph, fact. In case you don’t believe it’s possible, I can show you and operate a camera to prove it. The science behind how the camera was created and how it operates it is right there in the camera for you to observe. Whereas, belief is a presumption – it is not based on any quantitative or observable model. I can justify my belief in the camera doing its intended purpose, you cannot justify your belief in God as it is only modelled on unobservable thoughts and unprovable declarations.

    Just saying everything is in the realm of opinion discredits your own belief system, for how can you “believe” in something – itself supposedly an expression of proposition of confidence in something’s existence – when you yourself admit that “future generations might consider it nonsense”?

    1. James, I believe that where there is order in the universe (e.g. every camera works the same way) it is only because God chooses to reproduce certain effects on many occasions. God could choose for a camera not to work at any time if He so wished. Many things appear to be mechanical because God is able to create order.

      The reason I say everything is opinion is because everything comes from a person’s perspective. I don’t doubt that many people will see my ideas as nonsense, so I don’t know what your argument is really. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe many of my ideas are true. Incidentally, I’m not 100% sure that God does suffer, but I think it’s realistic to suggest that He does. I am very sure there is a God.

      1. Don’t mean to be harsh, but your assumptions are completely malformed and childlike. There is no logic or reason to anything you write, and you cannot substantiate your beliefs with anything other than bizarre, meaningless statements.

        1. Well, yes, you can just fire a load of insults at me if you like, but I don’t think that makes me the one being childlike…

          My statements aren’t meaningless, they are full of meaning. You just have a very different perspective so you can’t see their meaning. There is a God, and maybe one day you will get a revelation of that truth.

          You are always welcome here but try to be constructive, please.

  10. James, you do come off as pretty confrontational. One of the difficulties of communicating through the internet is it is very hard to properly convey tone.
    “Your argument is so full of holes it’s laughable.” is the kind of statement that makes it look confrontational.

    You said that you don’t have any beliefs, I really doubt that is true. I imagine that what you meant is that you don’t have any supernatural beliefs or you don’t have any beliefs on faith or something. I am an atheist, I don’t believe in any gods, but I wouldn’t say I don’t have any beliefs, I believe in a lot of stuff.

    James, something you said jumped out at me.

    I am deeply aware that suffering can be terrible, but in the context of what suffering could be like (eternal agony) I believe God is merciful to everyone.

    Do you believe in hell? If so how do you square that with your idea that god doesn’t want us to suffer too much?

    1. Hi Hausdorff. I think the last part of your comment, which you addressed to James, was meant for me, so I will reply. I don’t know whether God makes people suffer after death in what we might call hell, but I hope that He doesn’t! It appears to me that God chooses to be merciful. I don’t doubt that God could make people suffer in hell if He chose to.

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