The Problem of Suffering

It’s a big conundrum for many theists, particularly monotheists like Christians, Jews and Muslims: if God is good, why is there suffering in the world?

Such folk will go through incredible gyrations to try to resolve this dilemma. Thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of pages have been written in attempts to address it. Everything from blaming a demigod “devil” to chalking it up to bad choices made through human free will has been put forward as an explanation for tragedy and hardship.

Polytheists may not think their gods are necessarily “good”, which solves the suffering problem but raises another: then why worship them?

As Atheopagans, we have a much easier and more sensible approach: in a naturalistic Universe, there is no invisible force which “wants” things to be “good” or “just”. There is only the unfolding of the insensate Universe through the laws of physics. It doesn’t think, doesn’t feel, doesn’t care one way or the other.

Living in this context presents its own challenges. We must come to grips with the idea that the Universe does not care about us and that justice or progress are not inevitable long-term outcomes of history. If justice is to be achieved, if suffering is to be reduced, it is we who must do the work of making them so.

How to orient to the nature of reality is an important philosophical question in every religion. Some simply punt: “It’s God’s will,” or “God works in mysterious ways.” Others, like many Buddhist traditions, have elaborate cosmologies in which all suffering is supposedly balanced out in the end.

My approach is simpler—and, I believe, much better grounded in factual truth. I have three elements in my personal orientation to reality, which I call “The Big OK,” “The Big Thank You,” and “The Big Wow”.

The Big OK is acceptance of the Universe as it is. It simply is that way. There is nothing right or wrong about it. It is as it manifests itself, and that’s all there is to say about it. Hard though losses and tragedies are to embrace, they are a part of the fabric of reality, and we must accept this without resistance. If we want what we see as good to flourish in the world, it is on us to create it.

The Big Thank You is gratitude. This is embodied in Atheopagan Principle #3. It is a humble thankfulness for life itself, for the experiences of living and the many blessings that it brings upon us daily, from air to water to food to sleep to love to beauty.

Finally, The Big Wow is about awe at the magnificence of the world as it is. Hard though some aspects of it are to swallow, the Universe is simply, unimaginably beautiful. That humble sense of reverent awe is a major driver of my spirituality and a feeling I seek to cultivate.

Within these three simple concepts, a peaceful and joyous orientation to living can be found. At least, it has been so for me.

To the Universe—to Life itself— I say,

OK.

Thank you.

Wow.

 

3 thoughts on “The Problem of Suffering

  1. I like the big OK, thank you, and Wow. And yep, as Terry Pratchett wrote, “there’s no justice, there’s just us”. We have to fix our own mess.

    Just to add, relational polytheists don’t worship gods, we have relationships with them; and gods are not omnipotent, so they can’t necessarily fix everything. They have a different perspective on reality. They need our perspective as much as we need theirs.

    (I can’t speak for the devotional polytheists and don’t intend to.)

    Liked by 1 person

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