Archive for November 18, 2009

Finding Meaning in Suffering

In Christian & Jewish theologies a lot of time is spent on theodicy, or “the problem of evil/suffering”. That is, why would a good, loving and all-powerful God allow suffering? Since polytheists generally don’t believe their deities are all-powerful we don’t have this theological problem in the same way.  That doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with these questions however. Sometimes in fact I wonder if Christians get more comfort out of their belief in a savior than we get out of our religions.

For most of my life I haven’t worried about this much. While I had my ups and downs, in general I was still a fairly sheltered and privileged child of the white educated middle class. I had everything I needed, and I didn’t need to worry. Everything was taken care of by my parents. I had more of a concern for others who were less fortunate than for myself. But for the past year or so I’ve been beset with chronic unemployment, poverty and various other problems. Many people around the States and the world are dealing with these things too, often for the first time.

Emotionally and spiritually I’ve responded to this with frustration and anger at myself, Divinity and society around me. And I’ve been completely lost and confused. Do any divine beings care about me? Does any sort of divinity exist? Is there any purpose or meaning in my life?

I’ve been realizing this is a very counterproductive approach that won’t solve anything. I’m taking a step back to look at the big picture. Are there things I can learn from the whole experience?

Maybe this is both a  mundane & spiritual ordeal of initiation into adulthood. Shamans or their equivalents in various cultures often go through a crisis of some kind. One can respond to suffering by becoming  more loving and compassionate or more embittered and cynical. It can give a new perspective, as someone like me from a relatively privileged background gets a new understanding of poverty and working-class experience. I’ve long been an idealistic and altruistic person working for various social justice issues, but how can you truly be an advocate if you don’t know what the people you advocate for go through?

This crisis has also taught me strength, toughness and self-reliance. All values that Celtic and other warrior cultures embraced, but that I really had little appreciation for.


November 18, 2009 at 1:52 am 3 comments


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