via Strange Notions
by Fr. Robert Spitzer
It is somewhat easier to understand why God would allow suffering to occur through human agents than it is to understand why He would allow suffering to occur through natural causation. After all, it would seem that if God creates the natural order, He could have created it perfectly – so perfectly that there would be no possibility of human suffering. He could have created each human being in a perfectly self-sufficient way, so that we would have no need. Or, if we had need, He could have created us with a perfect capacity to fulfill those needs within a world of perfectly abundant resources.
So why did God create an imperfect natural order? Why did He create a natural order which would allow for scarcity? Why did He create a natural order that would give rise to earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis? Why did He create a natural order which would permit vulnerabilities within the human genome that allow for blindness, deafness, or muscular degeneration? Why did He create a natural order which would permit debilitating diseases?
The brief answer lies in the fact that a perfect natural order would leave no room for weakness and vulnerability; yet weakness and vulnerability induce many positive human characteristics, perhaps the most important human characteristics, such as (1) identity transformation, (2) stoic virtues, (3) agape, and (4) interdependence and human community. This list of characteristics represents the most noble of human strivings, the propensity toward greater civility and civilization, and glimpses of a perfection which is unconditional and even eternal. Though weakness and vulnerability seem to delimit and even undermine human potential, they very frequently detach us from what is base and superficial so that we might freely see and move toward what is truly worthy of ourselves, what will truly have a lasting effect, what is truly destined in its intrinsic perfection to last forever.
A perfect world might leave us content with pure autonomy and superficiality, and would deprive us of the help we might need to deepen our virtue, relationships, community, compassion, and noble striving for the common good. The “perfect world” might deprive us of the impetus toward real perfection, the perfection of love, the perfection which is destined to last forever. We will now discuss each of the above four positive characteristics of weakness and vulnerability induced by an imperfect world.
Human beings tend to move through four levels of happiness or purpose:
(1) happiness arising out of external physical and material stimuli;
(2) happiness arising out of ego-satisfaction and comparative advantage (such as status, admiration, popularity, winning, power, and control);
(3) happiness arising out of making an optimal positive difference and legacy to the people and world around me; and
(4) happiness arising out of being connected with and immersed in what is perfect, ultimate, and eternal in Truth, Love, Goodness, Beauty, and Being (for those with faith, God).
It so happens that the lower levels of happiness/identity are more surface-apparent, immediately gratifying, and intense than the higher levels. They tend to more easily attract us and hold our attention from without (instead of requiring discipline from within), so we more easily gravitate toward them. However, they are much less pervasive, enduring, and deep than the higher levels of happiness/identity. For example, making an optimal positive difference to others and the world with my time, talent, and energy (Level 3) can have effects far beyond my ego-gratification (Level 2), so it is more pervasive than Level 2. These effects can last much longer than the acquisition of a new car, the enjoyment of an ice cream cone, and the enjoyment of status and power – so they are more enduring than Levels 1 and 2. Finally, they are deeper than Levels 1 and 2, because they involve my highest creative and psychological powers (i.e., my powers of intellection, moral reasoning, ideal formation, love, spiritual engagement, etc.).
The difficulty is that only one of these levels of happiness/identity can be dominant. The others will become recessive. Thus, if the desire for physical pleasure and material goods is dominant, the desire for ego-satisfaction, optimal contribution, and spiritual connection will be recessive. We will therefore live for what is most surface-apparent and immediately gratifying, but neglect what is most pervasive, enduring, and deep (and therefore, what could express our most noble purpose in life). Alternatively, if we want to move toward what is most pervasive, enduring and deep, we will have to allow Levels 1 and 2 to become recessive; we will have to let go of them (enticing as they are); and this is where suffering frequently comes in.