Jul 272006

The traditional problem of evil in monotheistic religions goes something like this: If a believer in God believes that…

  1. God is infinitely wise and powerful.
  2. God is infinitely good.
  3. Evil exists.

He is inconsistent. If God were infinitely good, he would want to eliminate evil. If God were infinitely wise and powerful, he could eliminate evil. Therefore, if evil exists, either God is not infinitely wise and powerful, or God is not infinitely good, or God doesn’t exist at all. Most of the attempts to explain this problem try to argue that God has a morally good reason for allowing evil.

I’d like to address how the mystical perspective, which is identified more with pantheism or panentheism, approaches this problem differently.

First of all, remember that from the perspective of the “The Two Yous”, God is not only a being sitting overhead inflicting or allowing suffering on innocent bystanders. He is also every single one of the beings who suffer evil. He victimizes no one but himself. God is the hawk and God is the sparrow. The higher Self of every single victim of an earthquake, or tsunami, for example, chose that experience.

Secondly, everything – even things we perceive as “evil” comes from the Source. And everything that comes from the Source is balanced – light and dark, yin and yang, life and death, good and evil. The only way for a finite material world to exist at all is through the division of the absolute Unity of the Source into its component polar opposites. But the original Source is a unity beyond all opposites.

In what sense then, is this Source “good,” if at all? In this sense – the Source is the goal toward which all its finite expressions are returning. When we move toward unity with this Source, that action is “good” – and when we move away, that action is “evil.” Yet even the movement away from the Source is not a final evil. Everything will return to the source eventually. All leaves will eventually fall to the ground, even if they are temporarily blown upwards by a gust of wind. All roads lead back to the Source eventually – simply by different routes.

Returning to the original premises, where would a panentheist disagree? I’d suggest in two places:

God is infinitely good.

The deeper mystic, as we’ve said, would see the Ultimate Source as beyond mere good and evil. “God” is a unity.

Evil exists.

No ultimate evil exists. Any apparent evils are temporary, necessary, and freely chosen by the one who actually endures them – the higher Self.

A few possible objections:

Isn’t it cruel to tell people suffering from moral and natural evils that the higher Self has freely chosen these sufferings?

Probably no explanation of suffering is completely emotionally satisfying to someone going through a tragedy. But if any explanation has a fighting chance of being helpful, it would be to believe that the suffering has a higher meaning that we have, at some level, freely chosen for some purpose. The alternatives are that we are the victims of blind chance which has absolutely no concern for us – or that our sufferings are inflicted or permitted by another being who has the power to save us and chooses not to.

Why worship a God who is not infinitely good?

First of all, remembering the mystical perspective, the higher Self IS God. This is not some external, distant being demanding adoration in a whiny voice. Indeed, “worship” per se isn’t really a consideration of mysticism. Secondly, if you choose to regard the Source as “God” – isn’t a God who is beyond both good and evil and uses them both a more comprehensive and greater being than one who is quite one-sided and constantly being frustrated in his perfect will by the free-will of his own creation?

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