Monday, January 10, 2011

Surrender To Good

A few months ago, I challenged us to consider the question, "Why is there suffering in the world?" Our first answer came from Bart Ehrman's scripture analysis--humans suffer because they are being punished by God for their sin(s). Responses to this idea were strongly negative. I'm still reading Ehrman's book, but came across another idea.

In Lyn Cote's book Her Healing Ways, Lon and Mercy, the hero and heroine, are discussing why God did not intervene to stop The Civil War. Mercy, a Quaker, says,
"...God cannot make humans do something they do not want to do. The Confederacy would not surrender until it could no longer go on."
"So evil exists because people won't surrender to good?" Lon asks.
Mercy answers, "Yes...If we all put our efforts into doing the good for others that God wants for us, this world would be a better place."

Her Healing Ways, pg. 214

In this view God does not have any hand in suffering. God does not intervene. Humans bring suffering on themselves. I have also heard this concept illustrated through the American Indian story of "Feeding the White Dog". A young Indian battles good (the White Dog) and evil (the Black Dog) in his dreams until the elder explains, "Feed the White Dog".

This concept does not cover the suffering that comes from illness or natural disaster, but I believe that it covers quite a bit of the world's suffering instigated by one of the Seven Deadly Sins (greed, lust, gluttony, sloth, envy, pride, and wrath). These are all propagated by humans. It also covers the internal suffering we bring on ourselves--holding a grudge, clutching to past injuries, choosing to live in pessimism instead of optimism.

What do you think? If we all "surrender to good", would suffering be eliminated from the world?


  1. My closest friend in all the world is a Trappist monk. While he was recently undergoing some health problems, he made a distinction that is, perhaps, useful here. He said that a woman who frequently comes to worship at the monastery chapel had commiserated with him by saying, "I'm so sorry you are suffering." He responded to her, "Thank you, but I'm not suffering. I'm just in pain."

    Suffering, then, as distinct from pain, is completely within the province of the human mind. We suffer because of the way we think about our experiences. We may or may not be able to control the various types of pain that come into our lives. But we have the power to avoid suffering (at least we do so long as there is no major clinical depression).

    Suffering is a construct of the human mind and is not caused by external reality. So maybe we don't have to surrender to good to eliminate suffering. Maybe we just have to refuse to surrender to the absence of good.

  2. A friend of mine was deported by the Red Army as a child with his three bothers and sisters to Siberia. He was 8, the oldest 12. Their mother joined them six months later after her release from an NDVD prison.

    His two youngest siblings died in Siberia and the bodies could not be buried until the spring thaw.

    19 years later his Father rejoined the family in Chicago after years in Soviet Labor camps. God had nothing to do with this as he tells me.

    The Russian NDVD did it. The Russian Communists who invaded his home in Riga and his family suffered greatly.

    It's not all that abstract sometimes and my home of Chicago is filled with refugees of this sort. All with their own very specific stories. Their suffering all real.

  3. Hi Laverne,
    I was interested to see your quoting my characters. I don't think my Quakeress heroine Mercy completely covered this huge topic. But in this case I think her view fit history.
    The Confederacy could have surrendered at any time, but they fought on. In fact I think that they really fought an underground war for the next 100 years through Jim Crow and other ways to continue white supremacy. It's interesting to be writing about this on MLK Jr's birthday. I also think that the New South didn't rise till the underground war finally came to an end.
    Well, I need to wrap things up and head to bed! Nice to meet you, Laverne! Thanks for really reading my book!
    Lyn Cote