the problem of suffering: what the hell can we do?

April 16, 2013

this, and this, and this, and this. I have no adequate words. I feel like I woke up today in a world graver and worser than my own. I feel like someone switched my own familiar, insular, everyday birds-and-books-and-daylight world with a twisted, horrific dystopia where awful, unspeakable wrong happens to people, and other people are the cause. where justice is a word nobody knows how to put on right, a word people fumble desperately with to bandaid the disease; where people are faced with and put into situations of terrible, terrible wrong everywhere, all the time, and there is nobody to help or hear them and they’re alone with their horror and questions that are never answered.

and then I remember that it’s the same damn world I went to bed in and these things have been happening the whole time I was awake and sleeping and eating and reading and writing essays, and I recognise that I am deeply ignorant and very sheltered.

and then- how quickly does this feeling of horror fade? will this go away, soon, and how long will it take before I forget and go back to cycling within my own small everyday patter of dresses and study and weddings to go to and planes to catch and people to meet? what about the problems of the people around me, the lonelinesses, the individual sorrows, the homeless guy on a bench with a sign that said I’m hungry, my own fears, my depressed or heartbroken friends? where do these wrongs I respond to fit against these huge things happening everyday, all the time? what about poverty, here-and-right-now, the friend who barely has enough to eat and pay rent? or poverty, wider, all the kids cold and without breakfast or warm clothes in winter in this country? or poverty, bigger still, poverty there-and-huge, the women being raped for money, whole third world countries, refugees, lack of clean water, the output of all the wars happening now, the people dead, dying, being killed, doing the killing?

what do we address? there’s so much, there’s so much, there is so much wrong with the world and are there any tactics, are there any rules that say work with the people you can affect first, start small, work big, or go for the gravest, most horrible, most immediately necessary issues first, or- or what? there is so much that is wrong: what is there that we can do about it? can we do anything about this? is there anything we can do?

it’s so easy to stand here helpless in the face of the sheer weight of evil, of suffering, of everything that is wrong with the world, because the world is badly, terribly wrong. but because we don’t like pain and we don’t like thinking about pain in ourselves or in other people- particularly since evil is so enormous and widespread it feels like it can never be fully, properly tackled and you’re just one person and where does one person even start?- it’s so much, so much easier just to  not think about it. to close the difficult tabs and skip the posts that your activist friends keep putting up and forget, and feel sad sometimes when you remember, and then forget, and go on watching movies that make you laugh and eating good dinners and arguing about the price of pancetta and being gleeful because you’ve picked up a really nice pair of leather boots and having fun playing Mafia with your friends and having birthday parties with people and reading good books and really, really

do these things actually matter when there are people dying in horrible ways

and yet and yet and yet somehow good things must still exist, right? are we allowed to enjoy ourselves when other people aren’t? are we allowed to be happy when other people aren’t? what about guilt? is it possible to know all these things and be working for these things and still not feel constantly guilty? should we feel guilty? what about the importance of joy? what about affirming the existence of good in the face of evil? what are the pitfalls of that? why don’t most people think about these things? why haven’t I thought about this before? why don’t people do something? why don’t I do something? why doesn’t God do something?

the problem of suffering. the problem of evil. not just personal, but huge– the vastness, the enormity of it, the huge wretched tormented ugliness of it, the wrongness of the whole world all the way back to falling. I’m well aware this is wrestled with in theology; I just haven’t read enough about it. I’m well aware I’m going to, that I’m going to need to. from the little I’ve read, I think the answer is that God has done and is doing something and that something is Jesus. and I don’t entirely know what to think about that but I know I can’t assess those claims until I learn more about them, learn more about the impact this has and what this means. I’m going to need to read a lot more because I’m aware I don’t understand nearly enough about anything. and I know I say that a lot but I can’t do anything if I don’t understand.

also, I could talk to people. I know a lot of Salvation Army folk; people up to their elbows in local justice, local righting-of-wrongs. I could ask them about their beliefs. and there’s a paper next year on Humanity and Hope and I don’t know yet if I’m studying next year but that will definitely have the problem of suffering in it.

other than all the thinking that needs to go on behind the action, what about the action? what can I do now, now for the things that are wrong in the world, while I learn? where do I even start?

my current method-of-tackling is smaller, closer things first: the things around me, the people around me, the opportunities and issues that my life can directly affect, the people I can help with my hands, my words, my thinking, my money, whatever I have. individual injustices, individual instances of larger injustices. I’m not yet entirely sure how to deal directly with the huge organisational, legal, social, political sweeping issues that affect these individuals, but I’m going to have to figure that out- because where do I fit into those? those run on individual volunteers themselves, and individual donations. in fact, at what level should one begin to work? personal, local, national, international? which level is the most efficacious? who has answers for these things? who can I talk to about this? and where do I begin working?

maybe some of it has something to do with what I was chatting to Annaliese about the other evening; we need many people all over the board at all levels addressing their own specific areas that their capabilities are targeted for, working in partnership with the others on the board in their different areas. maybe it’s not that a few people need to try and take on everything, maybe it’s that a lot of people need to be faithful and excellent in whatever level and area they’re working at, and work with others who are being faithful and excellent in their own levels and areas. maybe this way we can cover everything well, instead of individuals trying to cover everything themselves haphazardly and getting exhausted and burnt out at the sheer scale of the onslaught.

in most instances, trying to be a lone vigilante tackling All Injustice Singlehandedly means you die early and waste the opportunities you were given. I think working in community and partnership with many others may have greater effect.

I always preferred superhero or action movies where people teamed up.

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