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“Why me?” I asked the universe. “Why not you?” the universe replied.
It’s easy to blame others or “things” for our problems, and not look at ourselves first. Avoiding personal responsibility for our actions—whether being fired from a job, losing retirement savings in the Great Recession, or the actions of an errant child—our first tendency is to look for external causes, and not finding a clear one, blame the mean boss, “the system,” the doctor, or even God.
I’m not saying we are the cause of all the problems that affect us, for at times we are not.
Often we get caught up in events and circumstances beyond our control. But at times, depending on the problem or issue, especially when others take umbrage with us, we are the cause, directly or inadvertently. Unable to see ourselves as the source of the problem, we retreat into denial and the blame game.
Once we realize the limits of our actual control over life events, it can comfort us to know that we do not bring all horrors on ourselves. The sinking of the Titanic in the frigid Atlantic Ocean in 1912 was a tragedy, but was it caused by human error—or an iceberg? Daily tragedies beset us, like the recent devastating earthquake in Ecuador, or one a year ago in Nepal, or in Haiti in 2010. We naturally ask, “Why did this happen? Why must so many men, women and children suffer so? How could God let this happen?”
The corollary is, “If God is loving and kind, how could He allow this to happen?”
I’d like to suggest a simple answer: He didn’t, and He doesn’t, and He never will.
If God did wreak havoc and disaster and suffering on humanity, how could He be All-loving, All-Merciful, All-Forgiving? Can we even conceive of a God who is All-Evil, All-Vengeful, All-Diabolical? No. He would cease being God, according to all religious traditions.
In the case of natural disasters, science and our own intelligence teaches us to neither blame God nor mindless and relentless nature. When we understand God as the initial impulse for all creation, we also understand God as the creator of our self-motivation, self-determination, self-awareness and free will. We know that God gave human beings those intelligent and creative attributes to overcome the myriad forces imposed or exacted by nature. We know that we can anticipate disasters, prepare for them and save lives as a result.
God is not responsible for our personal problems or deficiencies, whether individually or collectively, because we each and all are products of our environment—the natural order we find ourselves a part of, and nature’s environment, beginning at birth. Is God responsible for the pain in my left shoulder caused by a fall? Or for the mentally deranged who hear voices and murder? Or those who incite others to violence as “religious” terrorists? Most would agree not.
The difference, of course, is motivation. Nature has a rigid motivating force–to grow, shift, change and adapt. Nature is not concerned with justice and fairness and the altruism we see in humanity. People all have an animal nature as well, which motivates us to do things from one extreme to the other, some extremely kind, others evil. But even though the animals live according to circumscribed natural tendencies, we can rise above our animal nature and control some of these decisions—we have the free will to act on our conscience and choose justice or injustice:
Certain matters are subject to the free will of man, such as acting with justice and fairness, or injustice and iniquity—in other words, the choice of good or evil actions. It is clear and evident that the will of man figures greatly in these actions. But there are certain matters where man is forced and compelled, such as sleep, death, sickness, failing powers, misfortune and material loss: These are not subject to the will of man and he is not accountable for them, for he is compelled to endure them. But he is free in the choice of good and evil actions, and it is of his own accord that he performs them. - Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 287.
So why, although I try to be good, does trouble still assail me? Tune in for the second part of this essay, when we’ll try to answer that big question.
Next: Why Does God Still Pick on Me?