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EVIL AND PAIN – A Human Experience

July 25, 2012

Being human means that we are part of an evolutionary development that still includes in our DNA a huge heritage from our animal lineage. But what seems to set us apart from other animals and life forms is the development of our remarkable brain. Our human brain has given us the capability of imagination – to conceptualize events in time, both in the past and in the future as well as the ability to think symbolically, giving rise to language. Moreover we have developed a sense of awareness not only of our surroundings but also of our selves separate from our surroundings – a self-awareness, an awareness of an inner self, a “me” to a degree that seems unique in humans. With this sense of consciousness of self, we have also recognized that life includes much suffering and pain – plus an awareness that we shall die. Although all living things have a finite life span and will die, we humans seem to be the only ones who are aware of our own eventual death. Coping with that awareness, coupled with our inborn fears and insecurities in life is the probable source of the religions that seem to a part of all human societies. And that human brain also gives us the curiosity to ask the questions “How? and “Why?”

The Hebrews, over 2,000 years ago, answered those questions in terms and language that reflected their understanding of the world of their time. They saw themselves in a world of gods that lived above them just above the sky, of the earth where they and the animals lived, and a nether world below. The stories in the Bible all reflect this cosmology of a three-tiered universe – as does much of our present church liturgy and the words of our hymns. The story of Adam and Eve is primarily their explanation of evil and pain in this world. The first creation story in Genesis tells the story of God creating the world and all in it, including humans – and everything God creates is good. But the second creation story in Genesis explains that the humans – created perfect by God – chose to become imperfect, i.e., sinful, as a result of evil influences and so now humans experience pain and suffering.

But we now know that the universe is one of galaxies and vast distances and that life has evolved gradually over long stretches of time. And when we look at life in all its varied forms, we see that the primary drive in every unit of life – whether a strawberry plant, an oak tree, an amoeba, an ant, an elephant, or a human – is one of survival. And it is not easy. It is a struggle. One result of this struggle for survival has been the instinct of fear and distrust of strangers. Animals developed herd instincts for protection. Tribal instincts developed in humans. And it is this struggle for survival that is the source of much suffering and pain. Pain and death is certainly an integral part of being an individual human being. But in human interactions with others, our individual and tribal instincts too often take over, and we react with suspicion and rejection and violence. We humans even go to war! How can this be anything but evil in action!

I see evil as a human construct. To many it is still considered a separate being in the world – the Devil – causing all the trouble and suffering we experience as humans. To me that’s a cop-out. Evil is the direct result of our own human capacity to let our animal instincts take over, both in our individual lives and in our social and political societies. We humans create the evil in this world. That is our real sin. We can not blame evil on an outside being. No longer can we say, “The devil made me do it.” We ourselves do it to others as well as to ourselves. Letting our survival instinct take over, we discriminate, we exclude, we hate, we hurt, we kill. Is that what it means to be human?

No! Because our sense of self-awareness has also provided us with sense that there is more to the “me” within each of us than just animal instincts. Our brain has evolved with a capability to experience more than just sensory stimuli to which our instincts react. Human language is inadequate to express fully in words the experiences of that “more”. We use words such as compassion, justice, steadfastness, love to describe those experiences. These are words that express some of the feelings that make us more fully human than just letting our animal instincts control us. And these are the same words that we use to describe God. That is the God that is within me, that is the “me” inside me. And it is the human Jesus that showed the disciples those same attributes of God so that they could only respond by saying that “God was in Jesus!” And after Jesus death, they experienced within themselves what they could only explain as “Jesus was still alive in them.”

So I must accept pain and suffering as companions to my being human, and part of my charge to be more fully human is to assuage and alleviate pain and suffering in others wherever I can. But I cannot accept that the pain and suffering that we humans inflict upon other humans is anything but evil itself, and that only by each of us living up to our potential of becoming more fully human will the Kingdom of God truly come on this earth.

Loren Bullock
July 20, 2012

From → Being Human, Beliefs

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