Saturday, December 6, 2008

Understanding God "why bad things happen"

I've decided to write a little bit about the question of "why do bad things happen," also asked in the form of "why does God allow evil" before continuing in the series of describing God's attributes. This is because everyone pretty much sees that the world is in a crisis place where this is on the mind of many, and whenever I think of an aspect of improving human self awareness and faith, I present it. That is why I wrote the little perspective in the post before this one about the problem of thinking one is "righting a wrong."

Just now I had read some commentary and comments on about the problem of understanding why God allows evil, which is obviously an ongoing philosophical and theological question for those of the Jewish faith, who have endured much, culminating in the Shoah (Holocaust). Obviously with the terrible loss in Mumbai, this is on everyone's mind anew. So I thought to use those events and some other things from the news to put forth one layer of understanding in this particular blogging. By "one layer" I mean a set of facts that one must always keep in mind while contemplating the question of evil and "bad" things.

When one reads the news, one quickly sees that there are crime victims that are newborn (sometimes even pre-born if their mother was assaulted), ranging in every age to the eldest, those in their nineties of age. So there is no age that is immune from human on human crime. You'll also see that crime victims include men and women, boys and girls. They are of every race, legal citizens or undocumented, of every faith, or even atheist. Crime victims are rich or poor, or the vast middle class. They are "good guys or gals" or "bad guys or gals." So crime, one can observe from the facts, is something that no group has a free pass from.

Let us also look at natural disasters. In the earthquake in China, we saw many school children die due to shoddy school construction. Again, though, people of all ages, faiths, gender, goodness or badness, occupations, all were vulnerable to suffering or dying in the quake.

At the same time the cyclone hit Myanmar and again, the vulnerable were of all types of people, but like the children in China, it was location, location, location. The cyclone hit the fertile rice paddy areas and thus the poor farmers were the most wounded.

In wars, both combatants and civilians die.

And then let us look at terrorism. When the World Trade Center twin towers collapsed, it lived up to its name of being "world trade," since many people of different nationalities or cultural backgrounds perished, mingled together without discrimination in the rubble.

In Mumbai, despite early reports of westerners being targeted, investigations show that creating havoc by killing indiscriminately was the priority. Thus we read about poor and rich, different faiths, different nationalities, children and adults, Jews, Christians, Hindus, probably Muslims too (since passers-by were shot without any "identity checking") and those who were "spiritual" and those who were not.

Even the Holocaust was not just about Nazis and their sympathizers killing Jews. Millions of non-Jews were also killed through activities of extermination.

In World War I the "cream of Europe" was killed in conflict by the millions. The young men of an entire generation were wiped out in many areas, and society to this day is very different than it would have been as a result.

Why am I presenting all of these facts? To help you better understand what exactly it is that you are "asking God."

Humans do not, as a whole, no matter how noble they think that they are, spend a lot of time contemplating "why evil" and "why bad things" until it happens to their special interest group. Suddenly one wakes up and notices crime, when a family member is harmed in a crime. Suddenly one notices drunk driving, when a friend is killed in a wreck caused by one. Suddenly one notices genocide when it is directed against your own group. Humans do not hold weekly meditation sessions and prayer groups about "why is there evil" and "why bad things happen" until it happens to them. Yet obviously "evil" and "bad things" were there all along, throughout human history.

So if you ask God, "why is there evil" or "bad things," do not be surprised if God first asks you (knowing the answer of course), "Why do you ask?"

Not being able to lie to God, you'd have to reply with what example of evil or bad brought it to your attention. God might then ask, "So why did you not care about the bad and the evil in the world before now?"

Ah. Yes. You see? That is part of the problem, and part of the answer. Humans tend to not care about evil or badness until "their own ox is gored," to use an old expression.

One reason why "the bad" and "the evil" exists in the world is that until it strikes close to home, humans just don't tend to notice or care if it happens on the other side of the world, or to "the other guy or gal," or even on the "other side" of your own community.

Bad and evil are like weeds that flourish because people only tend their own personal garden (if even that) and ignore everyone else's lot in life.

Therefore, while I'm not giving as yet an answer about the "why" of badness and evil, I am explaining their obvious popularity among humans. Here is a summary of the facts and associated concepts I've presented here.

1) No human of any category has ever been immune to the possibility of being the victim of evil or badness by another human, or by a sad tragedy or natural disaster.

2) Humans tend not to care about individual or group instances of evil or badness until "one's own" cohort group is harmed.

3) Despite the above facts, human have an unspoken but real assumption that somehow immunity from badness or evil is possible (e.g. "how can God allow this car crash to happen to such a good person?") This is an especial problem among wealthier countries where prosperity have both physically and mentally insulated people from so many of the risks of life, an assumption has crept in that there are ways to avoid bad things happening by belonging to certain "protected groups." I know for a fact that there are many people who secretly think they can evade badness and evil by belonging to the "right" spiritual "system." Yet the facts constantly demonstrate otherwise. The most wicked people in the world sometimes are themselves victims of badness or evil, just as the most innocent and saintly are victims too.

4) So when people challenge or question God in their minds, or out loud, there is no problem, that is understandable, but to be intellectually honest, you must confess that sometimes you are thinking "Gosh, she belonged to the 'right religion'" or "He has done so many 'good deeds'" so how could bad things happen to them?? Human history has constantly demonstrated by the facts that the only genuine democracy that humans have achieved seems to be that everyone everywhere has the potential to be victims of human-on-human (or human-on-animal) "badness" or evil.

This common basis for understanding what exactly you are asking will help you find the answers in your dialogue with God.

Just to leave another thought in closing, you have to understand that human beings having a very high tolerance for wickedness, bad or tragic events, and outright evil is, in part, a biological and psychological defense mechanism and survival instinct. So God does not condemn people for their own human nature, which is to ignore evil so long as it is going on in someone else's back yard. God understands (for sure more than humans ever could understand themselves) that it is a survival trait to "mind your own business" and "shut out the crying and suffering of other people." But that is exactly what Jesus most strongly warned people to beware of, and that is the meaning of "loving one's neighbor as one's self." You should not think that terrorism or oppression, or crime, or the suffering of poverty and illness is silent and "not on your radar" so long as it doesn't hit your own family or circle, and the suddenly you wake up and demand to know from God "Why is there badness and evil? What were your 'reasons' for this human bad behavior?!" God understands that is human nature, and that is why Jesus taught what one must do to be not only more "human," but more humane, and closer to the divine in truthful honesty, and not in your own hypocritical imagination.