The Problem of Evil — Who Suffers?

In addressing the problem of evil in various theological formulations, it is often said that God feels our suffering but there is still an ontological divide between God and us. In those formulations, God doesn’t literally do the suffering. But what if God is literally doing the suffering? In a divine idealism and aspect monism ontology that is the case. I talk in-depth about the problem of evil but here let me offer a metaphor to illustrate part of this.

When a woman becomes pregnant and the baby grows in her body, if the baby has some distress, the mother literally suffers that distress. The baby is an aspect of the mother’s body so she literally experiences the suffering of the baby. Even after giving birth, the mother also suffers when the child suffers. Is that just because of an abstraction within the mother’s mind or is there also a deep ontological connection between the mother and the child? I think both.

In the Divine Life Communion, both parts of the metaphor can be illustrative. The child in the womb is illustrative of the ontological unity of God with each individual life – an individual life of God-as-living. When we suffer, God literally suffers as that life. The child after birth illustrates that life is finite and constrained. There is a distinction to be made between God-as-transcendent and God-as-living but not as some ontological divide. Instead, it is a decision of God to take finite life into God’s self.

If God chose to take on the suffering of finite lives, that must mean there is something so very valuable about what constrained being can offer. (See here) When we or others suffer it can be difficult to understand the reason for it. But perhaps knowing that God is suffering as us can help us through it and feel there is some positive meaning at work. It also means that we are never alone in that suffering.

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