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God in the Shadow, Leading On!

The issue of suffering is so pervasive and important to human beings that it is the focus of two of the world's five major religions: Hinduism, the earth's oldest coded faith, and Buddhism, derived from Hinduism.

Why we humans suffer and what can be done about it are only partially solvable. The Hebrew book of Job is built entirely upon those two questions. From my point of view, Israel's ancient answer: "We suffer because we sin" is nullified by Job. Job, an obviously dedicated person, remains faithful to God and God to him. God does not disappear during Job's pain. And, in the end, Job is doubly blessed in family and possessions. Quantity is restored, but the dear ones he once knew are forever gone from earth. Yet Job, in his suffering, learns about life and death. He believes that this life is not all there is, that the soul will rise and he will see God after death. But there is more, he comes to experience the living reality of a present Lord whom he had "known" before only in the sense of sacred teachings. He cries: "Now my eyes see you!"

Buddhism and Hinduism both teach that it is our self-centered wanting, our desires that stand in our way. As Eve might have said: "I want what I want when I want it!" And making her will and desires superior to those of God, is to make herself her own god, and her self-centeredness more important than anything else. There is not any major religion which does not say that it is this self-centeredness that is our arch problem, and the Abrahamic religions call that selfishness "sin." It is the root of all evil, but the evil is not always ours.

Furtheremore, although evil always causes suffering, there is suffering that is not caused by evil. We do not always cause our own suffering (although Hinduism, Buddhism, and the New Age would disagree). Much comes simply by the culture we live in and its values, the imposition of another's will upon our own, the genes in our bodies and our inherited tendencies, physical and spiritual weaknesses which leave us prey to confusion and pain, and random accidents. (Even science believes in randomness even though the public sees it as working with unchallenged "proofs.")

Wars and pogroms and holocausts have shown that we are deeply inter-dependent, that people we don't even know and will never encounter can cause deadly pain to others. Forgiveness, inclusion, encouragement, dignified treatment, prayer, and working concern for each other, on the other hand, lead to reconciliation, at-one-ment with each other. Atonement is not just something done for us. It is something in which we participate and receive. "Without God, I cannot; without us, God will not," Augustine is quoted as saying, and, according to John 15: 1-5, it is surely true.

Religion has not forgotten the down-to-earth disciplines and ways of life that lessen pain and suffering. The recognition that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit can change our patterns of life; of exercise; of eating; of choices made regarding our focus, our intentions, our continued learning and growth, our values, our friends and, perhaps greatest of all, our desire to give love and life to others.

God goes to hell for us, walks through the valleys and faces our enemies with us, suffers our pain, wills that we be healed in our deepest depths, and is pervasively present. That truth becomes reality only from time to time for some of us in deep Receptive Prayer, in the care of a friend, or in a flash of understanding and the experience of a moment. But so real is it that, if we choose, we will never forget it. I believe that we can go through anything if we go experiencing that God is not only with us, but withn us. That can come from frequent remembering, coming to "the Center," and practicing the awareness of the Presence of the Holy.



Suffering cannot be "sent" to us by a truly loving parent or by a God of love. It cannot be "sent" to punish or teach or strengthen us. But even if God does not cause our pain, God can USE it for good. Why do we blame God when we KNOW that so much suffering is the consequence of someone's greed, jealousy, or lust for power - or of ignorance or random accident? I believe that God, unseen, walks every valley with us and hangs on every cross. "There is no place where God is not."
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