Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Problem of Evil and Suffering – A Worldview Analysis

Rev. Sudhakar Mondithoka

All of us encounter the problem of evil and suffering, which is almost as old as humankind is. Yet, it continues to draw the attention of philosophers, theologians, artists, novelists, and common men and women alike, because it touches all, ravages many, and perplexes thinking people. So everyone thinks and wonders about the existence of evil and suffering in the world, their own lives, and the lives of their dear ones. Vanauken thinks it is the hardest subject in the world, which is the tears and groans of mankind, the existence of pain and suffering, the problem . . . the mystery of suffering.

The last five decades have seen an unprecedented amount of philosophical and theological work on this topic. Whitney published a bibliography of over 4, 200 philosophical and theological writings on the topic, which were published from 1960 to 1990, one publication every two and a half days. This shows that the problem we are considering is a very serious and ever relevant one.

In this article, I will focus on how different worldviews respond to it and on which response makes sense of suffering and holds out hope.

Worldview Analysis of the Problem – What do Different Worldviews Say about it?
There is a whole range of responses to the problem of evil and suffering. Some deny God’s reality (atheism), some deny God’s power (polytheism, dualism, finite godism etc.), some deny God’s goodness (Satanism, Pantheism, and Deism), and some deny evil itself (Idealism, Pantheism at one level, and Christian Science). There are two dominant responses – the theistic and atheistic or naturalistic. Before zeroing in on these two, let us consider the Buddhist, Pantheistic, and Polytheistic responses.

Buddhist Response
Response: Buddhism is a system that is centered on the problem of suffering, because it is based on Buddha’s answer to this problem. When he encountered suffering, he started wondering why people fall sick, grow old, and die. While thinking about the question What is the Cause of all this Suffering? he saw a sanyasin and thought that he might unravel the mystery of suffering if he became a sanyasin and became one. Then he sat under a Bodhi tree determined to read the great riddle. After he became enlightened he annunciated his Four Noble Truths, which constitute the essence of Buddhism:
Life is suffering (dukkha) – we are born in and live in suffering, and we die in suffering. Suffering is ‘having what you wish you hadn’t and not having what you wish you had’.
Suffering is caused by desire (tanha, greed or craving or selfishness). When there is a gap between desire and satisfaction, there is suffering (the gap itself).

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The Problem of Evil and Suffering – A Worldview Analysiswritten by Sudhakar Mondithoka.

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