by Stephen Lampe
The tragedies caused by the dastardly terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 must rank among the most dramatic and traumatic. Since then, there have been several other tragedies and catastrophes, both man-made and natural. There have been disasters caused by floods, fires, and drought around the world, and numerous civilian casualties of wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere and, in addition, personal tragedies occur all the time. All these raise in the minds of many people the question “Why does God permit tragedies and catastrophes?” It is a question that is repeatedly asked whenever there are natural or man-made catastrophes and disasters. As it is now well-documented, catastrophes and their human and economic costs are, unfortunately, increasing. Thus, among serious-minded people, this age-old question has become more insistent. But it is not only the deaths of people presumed to be innocent that elicit the question. More generally, people wonder why God, who is described as Love and characterized as omnipotent allows human suffering. Others put the question differently; they ask: why does God allow evil? Sometimes the question takes a very personal form when disaster hits. Victims ask: why me? Generally, people in the latter case are unmindful of the implication of their question, which is that it is probably fine for other people to be victims of calamities.
This question gives rise to several other important issues. These include the nature of the Love and Justice of God. In other words, is our understanding of the Love and Justice of God correct? Does the correct and true concept of Divine Love differ from our human conception? If so, in what way? The Omnipotence of God is another issue. The contemporary human understanding of the Omnipotence of God is captured by the popular saying that “to God nothing is impossible”; by which people mean that God can do and undo anything. In the light of tragedies, natural disasters, and widespread human suffering, what are we to make of this conception of the Omnipotence of God? Is it possible that our idea of God’s Omnipotence is wrong? Surely, if God were omnipotent in the sense most people think, He would banish suffering and tragedies and even sin. I do not intend to address these very important questions in this essay. But I must hasten to state that, indeed, the popular contemporary conceptions of Divine Love and of the Omnipotence of God are wrong. This new millennium will be the age of true wisdom during which the numerous errors in our concepts will be highlighted and corrected and the gaps in the knowledge of those who seek in humility will be filled. I am convinced that the correct conceptions and the new knowledge will increasingly be accepted and become the basis for a new worldview for all humanity, and thus guide social and political relations as well as economic activities. It is to this goal that essays on this website are dedicated.
On the occasion of the “National Day of Prayer and Remembrance” in the United States on Friday, September 14, 2001, there was a solemn interfaith ceremony at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC attended by President Bush, former US Presidents, and other prominent members of the American society. Participants in the worship at the National Cathedral were Muslims, Jews, Catholics, and Protestants. Among those who addressed the audience (those in the Cathedral as well as the many millions of television viewers in the US and around the world) was the American evangelical icon, Rev. Billy Graham. In his message, Rev. Graham raised and tried to answer the question “why does God allow evil?” “But how do we understand something like this? Why does God allow evil like this to take place?”, he asked. He went on to say: “I have been asked on hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer totally, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says God is not the author of evil. It speaks of evil as a mystery.”
There is in fact a clear, simple, and intelligible answer to this all-important age-old question. First, it should be noted that those who ask the question assume that the omnipotence of God is of such a nature that He could intervene at will in any matter, anywhere, and at any time. Such a conception of omnipotence implies the possibility of arbitrary action. But God does not act arbitrarily; His Perfection precludes all types of arbitrariness and arbitrary actions. The truth is that God does not at all intervene in the great and small affairs of men, be it wars, accidents, terrorism, floods, fires, famines, etc. From the very beginning, God has woven into Creation His perfect Laws, which acting somewhat like a computer program, carry out His Will immutably and irresistibly. God’s Work is without flaws and, therefore, requires no interference. His Love and Justice are built into His unchanging and unchangeable Laws. It is through these Laws that Creation and all creatures came into being and it is through them that everything is maintained.
The Will of God and the Laws which manifest this Will in Creation are perfect. Because they are perfect, they cannot be improved upon and they cannot be subjected to even the minutest modification. All that God does is to permit His Laws and their applications to be brought to the attention of human beings dwelling on earth and in other parts of material Creation. This is the role that various earthly prophets and spiritual teachers have played over the ages. By adjusting to these Laws voluntarily, human beings receive the immeasurable blessings that are inherent in God’s Creation. When we deviate from His Laws, we invite on ourselves suffering, tragedies, etc. In the light of this, instead of asking why God allows tragedies, the question really should be: why do we human beings allow tragedies? Why do we not learn the true Will of God and live accordingly so that only blessings will be our lot? God wills only joy and peace; He has no hands in our suffering and calamities! Having brought into being His flawless Creation, God does not need to intervene in the specific affairs of His creatures, including the wars that groups and nations wage against themselves and the terrorist acts they commit.
Other questions logically follow from what I have stated above. One would be the following: why is it that human beings are capable of doing evil and, therefore, bringing about suffering and tragedies? The simple answer is that human beings as human spirits are endowed with Free Will. This means that they are free to make choices, but they are compelled to experience the consequences of the choices they freely make, in accordance with God’s Law of Reciprocal Action, which ensures that we reap whatsoever we sow in thought, word, or deed --- good or bad. Unfortunately, many of us too often make bad and wrong choices. It should be noted that, normally, there is an interval of time between sowing and reaping. The length of the interval depends on the nature of what is sown and the part of the material world in which the human spirit resides. Sometimes, the nature of what is sown is such that the harvest is not due until the next incarnation on earth of the human spirit concerned.
Following up on this answer, one may quite logically ask: why did God allow us Free Will? Again, the answer is simple. A magnetic quality is inherent in the nature of the human spirit and, therefore, it necessarily attracts. To counterbalance the spirit’s ability to attract, it is endowed with Free Will as an inseparable part; the Free Will ensures that the spirit does not overwhelm itself through indiscriminate attraction. Consider: ordinary magnets are valuable only because of their selective attraction. They attract iron but not stone and not wood; therefore, they may be used, for example, to separate iron from a mixture of iron, wood, cloth, and stone. In an analogous fashion, the human spirit is enabled to be selective in the experiences it attracts to itself through its Free Will. By exercising its Free Will through its volition, thoughts, words, and deeds, the spirit builds its own fate. Tragedies and suffering are the consequences of the wrong and bad choices we human spirits have made during thousands of years of existence involving many incarnations in various parts of the earth and as members of various races, ethnic groups, and communities. But there are other causes of tragedies, which I will mention in other essays pertaining to human tragedies and the spiritual lessons which they offer.