Perhaps the most trenchant spiritual question that’s haunted the hearts and minds of people over the ages is: “How can there be a God that would allow the terrible suffering seen in wars, let alone a God that would permit religions to send millions of people to kill one another in the name of God?”
With all due respect, the question of how God could allow atrocities such as occurred in Rwanda in the mid-1990’s, when nearly a million people were slaughtered with machetes, many by their own neighbors, is deeply mistaken. “How could any God allow such atrocities?” is the wrong question.
Framing the most disturbing existential quandary that way is a non-starter because it’s full of unexamined premises. To begin with, it presumes the existence of a separate, omniscient “Supreme Being” that allows or doesn’t allow human events to occur.
The more accurate question, I submit, is: If, as mystics throughout the ages say, the universe is permeated with the love of an immanent Intelligence, why do the evils and horrors of human history and the present age exist?
This question places the onus of the dilemma squarely where it belongs, on us, not on some projection of a cosmic deity that ‘allows’ terrible things to happen.
Only by bringing into sharp and uncomfortable relief the contradiction between the actuality behind the phrase ‘divine love’ and the reality of human condition can we begin to understand the existential gulf, and begin to fill it with the compassion that flows from the ‘mind of God.’
I don’t particularly like using Christian terms like these, but if one can go beyond the words (and we need to continually remind ourselves that the word is not the thing), perhaps we can gain some insight into this immense conundrum.
The need to draw meaning from the meaningless, to even see human disorder and pathology as somehow part of a greater plan is very strong, even in we post-moderns who should know better.
I sympathize more with atheists in this respect than spiritual contortionists that say things like, “It is through the breaking of the heart a thousand times over and the relentless pursuit of the one Beloved that eventually one experiences a glimpse of peace as one’s own true essence.”
“One’s own true essence,” like one’s own true self, is ephemera, an illusory attempt to short circuit facing and passing through the collective human darkness in which we are all embedded and all share, to one degree or another.
The contradiction between the human condition and transcendent love cannot be papered over by subsuming nature and human existence into some idea of a larger natural intelligence directing the whole kit and caboodle. The contradiction is ours to face and resolve, and the notion of a God that “allows terrible suffering” completely misses the truth of both transcendent love and human darkness.
In short, there is no overseeing deity that “permits” horrors like child soldiers hacking off limbs and cutting fetuses from pregnant women. The locus and responsibility of such evils rests entirely within the human mind and heart. The conundrum is this: how, in a human context, does evil exist in a universe suffused with intelligence and love?
We don’t have to ponder African leaders turning children as young as eight into killing machines. We have horrors as deeply vexing to the soul as the slaughter of first-graders in Newtown, or the massacre in Las Vegas.
The FBI determined that “the 64-year-old shooter, who rained a hail of bullets from a window of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino into the crowd below, was not driven by a religious, social or political agenda, nor did he have an accomplice to help him carry out his deranged mission.”
“There was no manifesto, no suicide note, nothing left behind to explain the attack, but investigators believe part of Paddock’s motivation was his ‘desire to die by suicide’ and to ‘attain a certain degree of infamy via a mass casualty attack.’”
The former is self-evident, while the latter is speculative, and fits the narrative in the USA that evil is committed by deranged individuals, and the lie that there is no pattern, just a long, horrendous series of ‘isolated incidents.’
“Numerous spiritual teachers, the ancient yoga meditation tradition, and trips to India and Nepal, along with mystical experiences in divine love” can’t give peace to the heart or clarification to the mind for why child soldiers and mass murders exist.
Old Testament stories notwithstanding, cosmic intelligence cannot and does not interfere in human affairs. If there is such a thing as divine intervention, it can only occur through human beings.