Thursday, 4 June 2015

How is the suffering of animals compatible with a loving God?

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Readers Question: Is a belief in a loving God in conflict with the experience of an enduringly hostile natural world? [See below^ for full question]

My Answer: It is unwise and unconvincing to try and explain the reason behind every cause of suffering. But the framework for explanations can be given. 

First, we need to recognize that earth is not Heaven, is not meant to be Heaven - earth is not a failed Heaven.

In other words, if we consider why we are present on earth, for a finite time during a mortal incarnate life - I think we will see that:

1. Part of it is to experience and learn from bad things (or else we would simply have been created into Heaven/ stayed in Heaven).

Past societies did not find suffering such a challenge - partly because they did not regard mortal life on earth as perfectible - while modern man has grown-up with the idea that any imperfection, of any size, in the whole known world, can be and should be corrected; and if it has not them somebody is to blame!

2. Different individual people have different individual 'destinies' - I mean we are here for different reasons, to experience and learn different things: to make different choices.

In other words, while our lives are neither dictated nor controlled - we are not born randomly with respect to place, time and parents; there must be a reason for it.

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So, what are we called upon to explain? Everything, or just some things? The destiny of Men; or of animals; or all living things; or everything there is? In general or in detail?

How much of life is supposed to be spent asking questions - and waiting for answers?

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^Full Question: I say this not in relation to things like natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, etc. which you have already covered extensively but more in response to observations of the natural world that 'jar' unpleasantly with the notion of a primarily loving creator e.g. parasites that burrow into the eye balls of young children, lions tearing apart and eviscerating pray (and humans historically always living in conflict with wild animals as hunter gatherer's) on the plains of Africa, 'innocent' animals starving, perishing in agony in their natural habitats, etc. I enjoy wildlife programs enormously but they often make very uncomfortable viewing and invite the question 'would a loving God create a natural world that is so ruthless, stark and violent?' Presumably not? And so are the animals fallen too? Or are there still lions in heaven somewhere dragging down a weak infant elephant that has strayed from the group? (If lions would have a place in paradise at all would it not require a very different creature?) Does God enjoy hunting? I expect many a Victorian and modern alike might see a certain virtue in the 'sport' of the kill but I can't see this somehow as an attribute of loving heavenly father? As a Christian again I now tend to assume their must be an explanation for all of this and accept I am just ignorant about such matters but I know I'm not alone in having made these observations and responding with revulsion towards the natural world when I approach it from a position of love. I can empathise with naturalists like David Attenborough whom I have heard make similar observations in their case for agnosticism. It certainly seems like ancient humans especially had a great deal of experience that would counter a belief in a single loving God and instead draw them to a spontaneous animism comprised of multiple oppositional intelligences with vastly different intentions towards humans and more often than not demanding propitiation and devotion to prevent a natural world of bad things damaging or denying human interests or intentions.