” For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep insideBruce Springsteen
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”
The other day JP asked me a question that I was not able to answer. He asked “Dad, why are mosquitoes even a thing?”. Behind that question are so many essential assumptions that really force you to reflect on what you believe. In JP’S eight year old mind, he begins with the assumption that things ought to be a certain way. That is because unlike many adults he has not yet suppressed the innate knowledge that there must be something greater than ourselves. I hope he never does.
The 17th century mathematician Blaise Pascal correctly described a “God-shaped hole” in the heart of humanity. The problem is that if we are to believe in this God, we want desperately to believe God is benevolent and has our best interests at heart. So why then are there mosquitoes, and why do family pets get old, and why do daddies get sick?
The problem of pain is probably the most difficult theological question, and I suspect this is why so many lazy thinkers have come to equate atheism with intellectual superiority. But even the most aggressive deniers of divinity just create a new paradox by turning around and discussing the way things ought to be without any foundation or authority for their intellectual principles.
If it seems like I just glossed over and insufficiently defended my position, it’s because I did. The point of this blog is not to debate the existence of God, but I thought it was important to briefly explain that I believe in a benevolent God. But how do I address the problem of pain? I accept that I am a child.
If I tell Kip he can’t have a second hoagie, he does not understand. It all seems so unfair and maybe even…painful to him. It is a decision I make because I have a broader perspective and more knowledge than Kip that lead me to the conclusion that a second hoagie will do more harm than good. I have faith that in my pain I also lack a greater understanding and knowledge of a bigger picture. I fully admit this comes down to a personal choice.
More importantly, we have to ask ourselves who we would be without our pain. Think of it this way. Everything is relative and what we experience as reality is actually just a never-ending stream of our own interpretations of sensory inputs and value judgements. Like the zero to ten pain scale that the doctor shows us with smiley and sad faces, it is completely based on our subjective assessment. All things being relative, if you remove pain from the top end, it would only shrink the scale. And that means less magnitude for joy at the opposite end of the spectrum.
The reality is that we are not our pain or our pleasure. We are the experiencers of both and so much more. If you step on a Lego with your bare foot, your attention is immediately on the resultant pain and probably some anger at the person guilty of leaving the Lego in your path. But you are neither the pain nor the anger. The more you separate yourself from what you are experiencing, the more you realize that you are an observer with a ton of freedom to make choices on where your attention rests. In this regard pain ceases to be something that has to be the fault of God, or science, or the kid who forgot to clean up his Lego even though you reminded him a thousand times. It just is. And you control the only thing in the world you ever could, your choice.
In the 14th century there was was a woman named Julian who lived in the city of Norwich, England during an incredibly brutal era. In fact, everyone she knew and loved was killed by the plague, or during one of the several wars that ravaged the city. Stricken with poverty and alone Julian came to live in a gap in the wall of the city’s church. There she meditated, and prayed and she wrote. In fact, she wrote the single most self actualizing statement I have ever read. She wrote that ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ I understand that this will mean different things to different people, but it is what I have chosen to believe. This belief has allowed me to keep living my life with Faith, Hope, and Love.