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.