Upsetting God

Sunday, October 14, 2007

When we think of blessings, most of us think of events, things and people that make us feel good. We think of “interventions” that come our way and bless us with good fortune or tidings like winning the lotto, a promotion, a bonus, an unexpected windfall of cash or other material gifts. We look at them as special because they are desirable and being the recipient of such bounty can be wonderful. And because of this, we have no problem seeing the hand of God bringing these to us as we profusely thank heaven for smiling down on us. God has answered our prayers.

But when we experience unpleasant things, we think otherwise. We are convinced that bad luck has befallen us, and some may even think that it came from the devil or some malevolent spirit to test us. In short, what we experience is not from God because the God we know would not do such things to us — unless, of course, we are being punished.

Watching the Emmy awards the other week, I was jolted by the acceptance speech of comedienne Kathy Griffin. To be honest, even if she was just being irreverent in “dissing” Jesus, I found what she said to be quite insightful, even if cynical, especially when she pointed out that it seems fashionable for celebrities to thank God for the awards they get, as if God did not have better things to do than bestow them on the denizens of Hollywood. She added that it is no wonder God does not seem to be in Darfur because Jesus is too busy showering awards on celebrities. Basically, she said that Jesus had nothing to do with her getting the award and thanked herself. It’s not surprising that her speech upset a lot of people.

But I saw no reason to get upset. In fact, I found it thought-provoking. Why? Because I cannot imagine God getting angry over something like that, when it seems He/She/It does not seem to get upset over so many other more serious things happening in the world. If God, who is all-mighty, powerful and omnipotent, was upset over Darfur, or Iraq, or 9-11, or the Abu Sayyaf, wouldn’t we know it by now?

By definition, you’d need an ego to get upset or affected by anything someone has said, and I really do not believe God has an ego. Therefore, He/She/It never feels sensitive and upset like we do, never feels personally attacked, never feels the need to protect or defend Him/Her/Itself from anyone or anything.

We, as humans, like to think that God is like us. But people usually get upset because they have egos, and ego can do only three things: attack, defend or promote itself. Our lives are ruled by our egos and we believe the temporal world is everything. Thus, a lot of us build up wealth and power to feel superior to others, and by doing so, we think we can buy security and safety, and perhaps eternity.

I know I will get negative reactions for this, but I find some of the Old Testament and Holy Text of many religions hard to fathom, especially when they describe an angry, vengeful God who gets upset and feels compelled to kill, maim or punish. It just does not fit with the simple understanding of the God I know. Only people with needy egos have temper tantrums.

The best three “starting truths” I have learned in my catechism have been my guiding light. And they are truths I accept with no hesitation: that God made all things, that God is everywhere, and that God is love.

But you may ask — and rightly so — if God is indeed love, and He is everywhere, then why is there suffering everywhere? Does suffering come from God? Why did God allow the 2005 tsunami to happen? Why do children die? Did God, who is the source of all, give my wife cancer four years ago? The subject of suffering is one of The Questions of All Time.

I have pondered over this many times and in the process I have had to change my conclusions about my concept of God quite often, especially what I believe He/She/It would or would not do.

During some dark moments, hints of the answers to why there is suffering have appeared to me fleetingly, but have not stayed long enough for me to proclaim it as universal truth. As hard as men throughout the ages have tried, I know God is difficult to fathom and the only thing I can say is, the answers I have discerned to this question are real to me (as of now), and there are two plausible ones. Here goes.

God allows suffering in the world, the loss of property, lives, limbs and loved ones because the temporal realm does not rate highly in God’s value system. And there lies the true message. If you’re looking for something lasting, the world is not the place to find it. Nor can you depend on it to ultimately save you because it is unstable. Unlike us, God does not feel a sense of ownership or attachment to anything, much less to the world because God does not have an ego.

That’s how I think the world was designed. We are not made to last. And our ego causes our suffering because it wants to believe the world is all there is.

When I don’t get enough comfort from the above reason, I turn to reason No. 2 since it seems to always make sense when something unpleasant happens and rocks me out of my shallowness and complacency.

The second reason God gives us challenges is because He wants us to become deeper and discover our strengths and weaknesses, our spiritual depths — things we usually wouldn’t bother with during “normal” times.

We turn introspective and forget our fixation with attacking, defending and promoting when faced with suffering. Especially when we find ourselves helpless, we realize that the security walls we’ve built up can’t hold back the tide. For what reason does God allow suffering then? Because God wants to break us, to take us out of our ego trance and force us to explore the depths of being human and to expand our understanding as much as possible. Otherwise, few of us would leave the temporal comfort zone of ego to discover the truth that we also have qualities that are God-like and eternal within us. And those parts of us are more interesting to God and are the terms by which He/ She/It wants the conversation, the relationship, to eventually proceed.

In many instances in my life, I’ve felt that the bad times have actually helped shape me into a better version of who I was. Joseph Campbell was right when he said, “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Those instances have built my character, for one, and forced me into a deeper quest, and a greater curiosity and relationship with the divine, even if it was just to make sense of what was really happening.

In this light — and this may sound funny — shouldn’t we praise God as well when we get cancer, get into an accident or when we are beset by misfortune?

“I got sick. Praise the Lord.” Crazy as it sounds, I have done so many times.

* * *

Special Announcement: Due to unavoidable circumstances, I am postponing the 37th run of the TCU workshop in Makati this month. The next run will most likely be early 2008. Sorry for the change of plans.

15 thoughts on “Upsetting God”

  1. While reading your post, I remembered what Morgan Freeman said in Evan Almighty when he played the role of god. He said something like: “god doesnt give u what u pray for, but he gives u the opportunity to get what u pray for. when u pray for patience, he doesnt give u patience, but the opportunity to be patient…”

  2. i find the blog thought-provoking indeed. it may even be offending in some aspect. but then again, who really knew God well? people like you jim challenges our thinking and i think you have a very good point here.

    God is mysterious and so it really helps when one like you writes about him (good or bad) so that our human mind gets to realize other aspects of him (he’s a he as i’ve been taught) and hopefully we get to the real truth. But i still believe that however you get to know him, he is for sure a God of love and who is also just – and we may not feel it right now, but sooner we will.

  3. How profound and how true!

    Your thoughts/revelation support part of Luke 6:

    To the suffering…

    20And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

    21Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.

    22Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.

    23Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

    And to those full of ego….

    24But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.

    25Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.


    In everything give thanks for this is the will of God for you in christ Jesus (to give thanks). 1 Thessalonians 5:18

  4. Everything and anything we say about God is but tiny aspects of what God is. I even don’t know what pronoun to use since God seems to be so many things to so many people and cultures throughout history.

    A Jesuit priest who was from India said it so well when he said that even the word God is just a concept. We needed to make God smaller and manageable to talk about the experience and thus by reducing ‘God’ to a word, we can. The reality cannot be encompassed by the spoken word. Only through silence can we feel God’s presence. In the end, all of us will have to go through and come from a personal experience of God.

    In many cultures and religions, they do not allow statues and images of God. Why, because any image is too constricting. God is the unknowable. The reason Christians do (vs Jews and Muslims) is because the geographical route Christianity took passed through the Greeks and so it adopted the Greek tradition of making statues of their pre-Christian God.

    hal05–Even if I did not mean to, I know it can offend some since we wish to identify God with the good and pleasant things–not pain and suffering. But my point is, it is the ego that causes the suffering. Things are as they are. Going past ego, we conquer suffering and even thank God for it since it awakens us to higher realizations of who we are and who God is.

    cacofonix-The Beatitudes is one of my favorite verses. I made a “Modern Day Beatitudes’ which I included in my book. Have patience. Medyo mahaba. Read on:

    Blessed are the strange, the weird, the people we laugh at, those who do not fit our mold, especially the socially wretched and despised. By their presence in our lives, their mission is to expand our reality—on our part, reluctantly and on theirs, so painfully—by forcing us to look at them in the hope that we see God in them.

    This I believe!

    Blessed are the depressed and the addicted for they are called upon to demonstrate the healing miracles of God through their own awakening.

    This I believe!

    Blessed are the broken, those who fail, those who fall below our expectations for they are asked to show the rest of us that not being perfect is part of the human condition—that accepting our imperfection is the first step in our realization of the divine perfection of all that is, as is.

    This I believe!

    Blessed are the nameless, the faceless the dispossessed—the refugees, the homeless and the poor for they point us to the way to compassion. By their sheer numbers, they tell us that ultimately, the experience of compassion is inescapable.

    This I believe!

    Blessed are the cruel, the calloused and uncaring, for on some deep unconscious level, they choose to delay their own liberation so that others may be ‘enlightened’ by their example.

    This I believe!

    Blessed are those who arouse us to anger, who bring out the worst in us, for they force us out of the denial that we harbor within—that we are hooked on them, that they resonate with something hidden inside us, and to break free, we must let go of our misguided moral superiority.

    This I believe!

    Blessed are those who cause us to suffer repeatedly by their mistakes, for they are our tutors who spend valuable time so that we learn our lessons well.

    This I believe!

    Blessed are those who do not seem to have a life, and especially those who do not have a choice—those who are physically debilitated, paralyzed or in a coma and cannot move, for they bring us a message that is lost in this age of frenzy—that to be worthy of God’s love, we need not strive to do or achieve anything, but simply be.

    This I believe!

    Blessed are all of us, for whatever condition we find ourselves in, we can choose to remember our true nature, our original blessing, our timeless
    grace—anytime, any place, and always—and be happy in our Oneness.

    This I believe!

  5. We think that suffering and pain cause us to have a stronger faith in God. Without these, we will only rely on ourselves and believe in our own strength rather than God’s. Therefore, suffering is made to make us remember God and acknowledge his presence and power.

    Through suffering, we appreciate God’s love for us. We feel how God truly treats us as His children, how he carries our burdens, how he saves us from evil. Then we see that suffering is made to see God, as black is necessary to see white, as evil is present to appreciate the good.

    If God can see everything including the past, present and future, did he eventually know that this world would be the result of Adam and Eve’s sin? Let’s shorten the time span: did he know that there was a serpent in the garden and that Adam and Eve would surely fall? Why didn’t he stop it when he could have? Then it could mean that he allowed them. Why? Maybe it was in God’s plan for us to experience suffering for Him to be exalted.

    Why does He need to be exalted? If God is all powerful, why don’t He just exterminate Satan right away instead of risking billions of souls in hell? Is this some sort of gamble between God and Satan?

    And again, why does God need to be exalted? Why does he have this need to be looked up to? Why did he make man?
    Indeed, we will not know the intentions of God. It may be answered that God has His purpose, etc. etc. But really… what is the reason for all of this?

    Imagine the first heaven where all was happy and there was no suffering. So Lucifer began to think of his greatness and became proud. Why? Because he was not grateful to God for anything. Jesus didn’t suffer for him. Lucifer was just a creation. Because of this, he thought of his own prowess and became proud, thus the rebellion. It also what happens to humans who do not acknowledge God. They become proud and believe in their own strength. In addition, this heaven has not experienced pain, suffering and evil that’s why the fallen angels could not be grateful of their state in heaven.

    Then think of the second heaven where there are going to be souls who are grateful for Jesus who saved them from sure hell. They will not cause a rebellion and be proud because they will acknowledge that it is God who has delivered them from their sins. Perfect. Then the souls has already experienced pain and suffering in their lives as humans. In this way, they will be grateful of their state in heaven. Everybody knows how to live in suffering and nobody would want to go there after experiencing heaven in God’s presence.

    Is this God’s plan?

  6. Hi Sir Jim,

    I just recalled reading an interview article on Deepak Chopra many years ago on WHY magazine in Toronto in which he defines “GOD” as Generate, Order and Deliver. The GOD acronym stuck to me like glue.

    I admire your courage and guts to ask all of us deep seated questions regarding sufferings and it’s correlation to God’s love, presence and creation. It’s a good reminder that “we are all spiritual beings on a human journey” to borrow the quote from Stephen Covey.

    For me, living and experiencing GOD is such a highly personal experience…I cannot even explain and even rationalize it to others. All I can say is if you want to experience GOD, be GOD…I hope this makes sense, Sir Jim.

    Hanggang sa muli,

    Bass Poet

  7. Hello. I read your blog a lot, but am rarely moved to comment (in other words, dakilang lurker po sa blog niyo)…but this one really really got me.

    thank you for these thoughts. ang galing talga. your answers to one of these questions of all time will probably become two of mine too.

  8. ‘All I can say is if you want to experience GOD, be GOD…I hope this makes sense, Sir Jim.’

    It sure makes a lot of sense. That is exactly how I feel although I know that some conservatives will be troubled if they hear anybody express it this way.

    toni- you are welcome

  9. Some are caused by the natural world that we don’t seem to fully understand yet, but a few hundred more years and probably our technology would give us humans a way to avoid these things. But see, most of these sufferings are man-made. Blaming a God for a plight of our own making is nonsense.

    Just like in sports, while I see no harm that opposing sides would pray to their own God to win, I never actually see nor imagine a just God in “making” the other team win. God does not play dice.

    He might be a watcher, but a fair one. That also means we have to do it on our own.

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  12. I like your reasons to explain suffering. It’s very refreshing considering that most religion would break it down into good vs. evil (God vs. the devil). Good comes from God while the Devil is the one responsible for everything bad and for all the temptations around us. It has somehow confused me because if Satan (who was created a perfect being, being an angel) could turn evil then good and bad is within all of us. So striving for perfection/goodness is possible but may not be the case at all times no matter how hard we try.

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