My very first memory is of a small injustice I suffered as a three-year-old boy when my family lived in Santa Barbara, California. Apparently, my brother and I had been turning on the gas stove in our kitchen, which, of course, our parents told us not to do. This particular day, my parents were in the front room socializing with visitors while my older brother and I were in the kitchen. He pushed a chair from the table over to the stove, climbed up, and turned it on. Apparently, he was fascinated with the ability to control such a dramatic thing as fire. I scolded him and reminded him that we were not supposed to turn on the stove. He got down from the chair, leaving the stove on, so I climbed up on the chair to turn it off. My brother then ran into the other room, loudly proclaiming that I had turned on the stove. Of course, when my mother rushed into the kitchen, my protestations of innocence were overshadowed by the evidence of me standing on the chair next to the stove. My mom spanked me and sent me to my room. After she left, my brother stepped into my room and snickered. Oh, how this injustice hurt!
It is interesting that the substance of my very first memory is that life is not fair. This certainly was not the last time I experienced injustice in my life. Indeed, injustice has been a familiar companion, and looking around, I see that it intrudes into the life of practically everyone. It seems that when it is least welcome, injustice disrupts an individual’s quest for a tranquil existence and often inflicts the greatest pain a person endures.
We are all children of God, the Great Lawgiver, so we all have an acute sense of justice. But bad things happen to good people. Some things—actually, many things—in this world are not fair. Consequently, life itself sets up a great internal conflict. Something is wrong, terribly wrong. Life should be fair, and justice should prevail, but it doesn’t. This tension between one’s basic beliefs regarding reality and what one actually experiences is called cognitive dissonance. People cannot remain in a state of cognitive dissonance, so they will either deny or reinterpret their convictions in light of their experiences or bury or transform their experiences so that they can live in a fantasy world in conformity with their beliefs.
When we suffer unfairly, we confront the classic theodicy problem of how suffering, injustice, and evil can exist if God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good. Some people attempt to resolve this dilemma by asserting that suffering is fair: that whenever misfortune befalls someone, it is simply payback for something this person had done and gotten away with until God or an eternal force executes justice through this suffering to return balance to the universe. Most Eastern religions are based on this concept of karma, and the friends of Job in the Old Testament also espoused this proposition. It is often easy to see the direct connection between bad choices and their dire consequences, so it is natural to project this observation onto all adversity. But is this correct? What of the innocent child who endures unspeakable abuse? These Eastern religions teach that the child was not innocent but deserved this mistreatment as a result of some misdeed performed in a prior life. What does this belief do to the believer? Does this idea elevate the soul? Does it engender feelings of charity, the pure love of God? Does this concept bring us closer to God? No! It leads to a callous, judgmental society full of prejudice and misery as exemplified by the caste system that India still struggles to relinquish. So, even though we often create our own problems, life is intrinsically unfair.
The traditional Christian response is the free-will explanation: That when God created man, God gave him free will, and humans misuse this freedom to create evil. So, it is not God’s fault that suffering exists. Wrongs are simply the absence of God and his influence. To a great extent, I agree with this argument, but it is still lacking. I fully concur that a lot of suffering results from individuals misusing their freedom to make choices. However, the free will explanation does not address the horrendous suffering caused by accidents, disease, and natural disasters. Even though our modern secular self-absorbed world often looks for the human cause of every tragedy, in reality, usually these “acts of God” are simply caused by natural forces outside human influence. Additionally, misfortune often results from innocent human error, not evil choices.
Another frequent Christian response, which I also agree with to a large extent, is the eschatological explanation: In essence, in the end God will make it all better. Every tear shed will receive comparable recompense in the hereafter.
Others resolve this dilemma by asserting that God is not a supernatural being involved in our personal lives but is simply the force that set things in motion and does not play an intimate role in human and worldly affairs. God is basically like a great watchmaker who created the clock, wound it up, and lets it run on its own. In essence, God is not all powerful or all knowing. This approach echoes the teachings of the early Greek philosophers and the Deists during the Age of Enlightenment. God, however, is a caring, loving being and not some impersonal mechanical force.
All these approaches have some merit and attempt to explain why injustice exists, but they do not adequately explain why it is God’s will that suffering exists. We will explore this issue and the impact of injustice throughout this book. This imperfect world is God’s perfect plan for us to become more like God by creating an environment for us to develop our divine capacity to love. This unjust world does this in three ways: 1) it creates the quest for meaning, 2) it provides opportunities to feel empathy, and 3) it creates the need to forgive and be forgiven.
One of the main reasons for a flawed world is to create our quest for meaning itself. The quest is the purpose. Without it, we will not seek God. The unreasonableness of injustice creates the quest to find meaning or, in other words, to find God. Is this explanation a lame excuse for a sadistic egotistical god? Is the quest really worth all of life’s suffering? I propose that we once thought it did and we even agreed in a pre-mortal existence to participate in this plan involving pain and sorrow because we knew it would facilitate our ability to develop love so that we could experience greater joy. Maybe God can really heal our soul. Maybe the quest is actually worth it.
I believe that free will is an essential element of human existence. I believe that God’s glory and our ultimate divine destiny is to achieve unity with God by developing our capacity to love, and love requires free will. Without free will, love cannot exist. So, the freedom to love (and hate) are essential to God’s eternal plan for our ultimate realization of indescribable joy. With human free will, individuals invariably are injured by unwise and evil choices. Combine this with natural phenomena and you have a formula for endless opportunities to feel empathy, which motivates us to sacrifice. Empathy and sacrifice are essential elements needed for love to grow.
Love also grows through forgiveness, which would not exist in a perfect world. We all repeatedly have the need to forgive and to be forgiven. We feel gratitude when we experience the grace of forgiveness from those we offend. When we truly forgive, our understanding of those who hurt us increases, leading to a softer heart. Indeed, unity between a victim and an offender is only possible through forgiveness and the love it creates.