By Jug Suraiya
Why do bad things happen to good people? That question – as old as the dawn of humankind – has assumed even greater poignancy in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the deadly reach of which has touched practically every household in the country.
At the heart of the question is a conundrum that has haunted theologians for millennia: Why does an omnipotent and supposedly beneficent God visit a tragedy upon people least deserving of it? Why should innocent children be made to suffer?
But those who do believe in a merciful creator must face this question which threatens to undermine the foundations of their faith.
The answer often given in response to this question – that there is a Grand Design which is perceivable only by an omniscient Being and not by mere mortals – is dodgy at best. What Grand Design based on the never-never premise of Eternity justifies the pain and torment of innocence in the here and now? A more subtle explanation is sought to be provided by a branch of religious philosophy called theodicy, which attempts to justify why an all-mighty God would allow the existence of evil and suffering in the world.
If God is the ultimate cause of everything, right down to the fall of a sparrow, why can’t God intercede to avert tragedy?
And the answer to this provided by philosophers is that were God to miraculously intervene in earthly doings, we as humans would lose our capacity of free will. Of all species it is only humans who can differentiate between good and evil and choose one or the other.
The pan-India belief in the dynamics of karma and reincarnation is an extension of this argument: We can choose between right and wrong, and these choices will determine the course of our future lives. But if we don’t buy into reincarnation, how do we reconcile ourselves to the pain of losing a loved one in this life which is all that we have?
A world-renouncing ascetic would say that it is not God who causes our suffering but ourselves who are responsible for it by forming attachment to things or to people, the loss of which brings sorrow. No attachments, no suffering.
But not all of us can, or want, to be world-forsaking hermits. And just as well. Because if we all did, goodbye science, and art, and commerce, and households, and families, and future generations. There’s a quote doing the rounds in social media which succinctly sums up the subtle equation between Divine Will and human freedom of choice: God is in everything, but everything is not in God.
My understanding of that is that God, spell it DNA if you like, forms our genetic destiny, our nature and in that nature there is a small but all-important space which we call nurture, and which is our freedom of will.
We are free to choose between all things, including love and the denial of it. And if it is love that we choose, we are held to ransom by the fear of losing it. The pain of loss is the price we pay for the blessing of love.
That’s the bargain of the negotiation we call life. Take it or leave it. You’re free to choose.
For hope in the time of Covid-19, send your questions to spiritual masters, scan the QR Code or visit https://bit.ly/3eGSfvo
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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