Suffering by Choice

The problem of evil or suffering is often given as a powerful reason to reject the idea of a good and powerful God. The problem of suffering is a significant problem for theism. If God “stands from afar” and watches creatures suffer when God could do something about it does seem to be cruel.

So, I’ll raise the question of who is suffering? In many forms of theism it is we creatures who do the suffering while God (although maybe feeling our suffering) does not literally suffer (God’s impassibility). However, in a divine idealism and aspect monism ontology, it is literally God who is suffering. This is because God literally lives each life in this reality. Here one might think of the stories about the incarnation in Christianity or the avatars in Hinduism. God self-empties (kenosis) and takes on the constraints of life. For instance, in the story of the Cross in Christianity, it is literally God who suffers and dies. There is a powerful truth to this except I think the incarnation should be expanded to include everything in this reality.

However, if God is literally suffering in each aspect of the Divine Life then the question could be why? Since God is the creator, why would God choose to suffer? Let’s take a look at what suffering is about.

As I’ve said in the ontology, I’m characterizing life as constrained being. There is a finitude to life. This means that at some point a certain life will end. From an evolutionary standpoint this promotes change. The old dies away and the new takes its place. Biological systems try to stay alive. If they do then their genes get promoted into the next generation. If they don’t then those genes do not move on. This is the process of selection that has led to life in this world. But since there is a built-in impetus to live, there is also a pain or suffering that, at least partially, is included in this impetus. So there is suffering. If life is constrained being, then suffering is inevitable and necessary for life as a whole to proceed and change (hopefully for the better).

So, God’s choice to suffer is part of choosing for there to be life. No suffering, no life. I think that is part of the choice. However, I think there is also another part.

Let me offer an example. Many people enjoy learning or being creative. However, don’t those endeavors also create suffering. Every creative act entails both creation and destruction. The old dies (to some extent) and the new takes its place. I’m sure anyone who has tried to learn new material, feels the pain involved. There is a struggle and some amount of pain involved. But we do it anyway. Why? Because there is a goal in mind that accepts the momentary pain to reach that goal. The famous mystery writer Dorothy Parker once said “I hate writing, I love having written.” As a writer myself, I have also found this to be true. However, it’s not just the end of the project that is fulfilling but every step along the way has it’s own reward when something is created.

The thing about finite being is that it offers opportunities for things we admire so much. What do we admire so greatly? Love, beauty, courage, resolve, creativity, justice, self-sacrifice, honor, hard work, integrity, etc. All of these would not be possible without some level of risk and suffering. It is the carrying on “in spite of” that we admire so much. I speculate that God admires these things as well and therefore chose to enter finite being and suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” because God saw such great worth and value in facing finitude where those admirable traits could become real.

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