A friend posed a serious Facebook question: Is God involved with suffering? My friend is an atheist, I’m a Neopagan/Unitarian/Quaker/Atheist with a statue of Dionysus on my altar—though neither of us being intrinsically anti-Christian. He asked for serious answers, though it’s a bit of a Zen koan: Is a God I don’t believe in responsible for anything?
Like a koan, its answer can only be found in a seismic shock to your definitions—in this case of “God” and “belief.” Certainly I believe those are words in the English language, but like many words—such as “love”—they’re slippery, wormy things with as many meanings as there are tongues to waggle.
For me, “God” is what is. You might call that pantheism, but for me that’s always conjured the image of little rocks with neuroses. The Gaia Hypothesis posits that Earth is a conscious organic being, with a vast interplay of forces promoting its life. Yet again, as soon as we say “conscious,” we’re drawn into another shell game. Our puny consciousness is our model of all we define as consciousness.
And we have an instinctive urge to project our own experience of consciousness onto the outside world, whether it’s “God loves me” or “my computer hates me.” No problem with that as long as we don’t live too rigidly by the metaphor or try to pound it into another’s head like a railroad spike.
I believe there are commandments, though no voice to utter them. The law of gravity is a big one: even if my dream takes me flying, my head stays firmly on the pillow and my butt in place. “Entropy” sounds pretty bad, as does “Death,” but it’s part of the deal. Is there conscious will behind these, or behind ebola, AIDS, Covid-19, or bubonic plague, or are those just Nature’s way of culling the burgeoning herd?
Some would seek to propitiate the god of the volcanic eruption by sacrificing a goat; I’d just run like hell. That’s the ultimate test of belief.
To my mind, the greatest disservice that monotheisms have rendered us (among many arguable gifts) is that they’ve perpetuated a primitive image of a humanoid god with a high IQ and lots of fire-power, when—to me—an unknowable Universe very slowly becoming known is immeasurably more awe-inspiring. Scientists with their methodology and artists with theirs are groping toward it, though like snails on I-80 aspiring to reach New York.
Like it or not, we all live within it. And yes, it’s created some range of behaviors called “Love,” at least among the higher Earth vertebrates, though it may extend to slugs or fishes who just piss on the other fish’s eggs. But if a rock falls on your head, that’s God too.
Call it God, call it Nature, call it the All, or just say “Wow!”
George Eliot has something to say about it I find deeply true and meaningful.
“DEAR BROTHER SETH — My heart is knit to your aged mother since it was granted me to be near her in the day of trouble. Speak to her of me, and tell her I often bear her in my thoughts at evening time, when I am sitting in the dim light as I did with her, and we held one another’s hands, and I spoke the words of comfort that were given to me. Ah, that is a blessed time, isn’t it, Seth, when the outward light is fading, and the body is a little wearied with its work and its labour. Then the inward light shines the brighter, and we have a deeper sense of resting on the Divine strength. I sit on my chair in the dark room and close my eyes, and it is as if I was out of the body and could feel no want for evermore. For then, the very hardship, and the sorrow, and the blindness, and the sin I have beheld and been ready to weep over — yea, all the anguish of the children of men, which sometimes wraps me round like sudden darkness — I can bear with a willing pain. For I feel it, I feel it — infinite love is suffering too — yea, in the fulness of knowledge it suffers, it yearns, it mourns; and that is a blind self-seeking which wants to be freed from the sorrow wherewith the whole creation groaneth and travaileth. Surely it is not true blessedness to be free from sorrow, while there is sorrow and sin in the world: sorrow is then a part of love, and love does not seek to throw it off.”
As a fellow pantheist, I find that all of my Gods and goddesses are involved in suffering, because it and joy are the two sides of the coin of life, and to fully spend that coin, we must know both of its faces. I like it that you ended with the most sacred of words: “Wow”