Why does ‘God’ cause or demand suffering?


By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

Most orthodox religious beliefs advocate the idea that, it is only through suffering can one get close to God and receive his blessing. As the Bible says, ‘the meek will inherit the earth’, implying that suffering in poverty will please God. However, if one accepts that God only intervenes after the believer subjects themself to, or is subjected to, all kinds of pain, sufferings, does that make him a cruel God?

This argument is actually a variation of the more general argument that if an all powerful, all knowledge and all loving God truly exists, why then is there so much suffering in the world? The problem with this argument is that taken literally, it can be used as a justification of all kinds of injustice in this world. Why, because by offering the promise that justice will be given in the afterlife, one diminishes the necessity to confront suffering and injustice in this world/life!

There is a way round this problem and that is the idea of free will. Within the Sikh tradition, like most others, there is a confusion about the concept of free will. Put very crudely one argument goes something like this. If God is all knowing and all powerful, then surely all our actions are determined by him? The opposing argument is that even though God has absolute control over everything, he gives us the freedom to determine our own destiny.

The problem with the first argument is that, if God has already decided everything then what is the point of life? The problem with the second argument is that, if he has given us complete free will, then what is the point of God and for that matter religion?

I think there is another position which is articulated by Guru Nanak in the Asa di Vaar, Guru Granth Sahib p474 when he says:

ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਕਰਣਾ ਕੀਓ ਕਲ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਤੈ ਧਾਰੀਐ ॥
You Yourself created the creation; You Yourself infused Your divine power into it.

ਦੇਖਹਿ ਕੀਤਾ ਆਪਣਾ ਧਰਿ ਕਚੀ ਪਕੀ ਸਾਰੀਐ ॥
You behold Your creation, like the losing and winning dice of the earth.

ਜੋ ਆਇਆ ਸੋ ਚਲਸੀ ਸਭੁ ਕੋਈ ਆਈ ਵਾਰੀਐ ॥
Whoever has come, shall depart; all shall have their turn.

ਜਿਸ ਕੇ ਜੀਅ ਪਰਾਣ ਹਹਿ ਕਿਉ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਮਨਹੁ ਵਿਸਾਰੀਐ ॥
S/he who is the source of our breath of life – why should we forget them from our minds?

ਆਪਣ ਹਥੀ ਆਪਣਾ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਕਾਜੁ ਸਵਾਰੀਐ ॥੨੦॥
With our own hands, let us resolve our own affairs. ||20||

In essence what Nanak is saying is that the divine has infused his divine power into the universe and every person, and it is our purpose as human beings to realise for ourselves our divine purpose. Hence, the act of prayer is not some appeal to an external God looking down but to the divine power within, and this will mean different things for different people.

This act of exercising free will can be manifest in many ways, from realising one’s creative power, as we can see with great art and literature, to carrying out acts of kindness and benevolence.

When we do so, we in a sense become ‘God’ and we create a little bit of Heaven on Earth. Conversely, when we cause suffering or behave in destructive ways, we become ‘Satan’ and we create a little bit of Hell on Earth.

So, to answer the original question, ‘why does God allow suffering?’, following Guru Nanak, my answer is, it is not God who causes anything but it is we that cause/allow suffering, especially so when we fail or refuse to accept the divine potential we all possess.

Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.


Miracles and Godmen (Asia Samachar, 31 July 2020)

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