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Understanding Evil in Human Experience

Meredith J. Sprunger12/25/85


The ultimate mystery in theism is the problem of evil. How can one reconcile belief in an all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful God with the destructiveness of nature, the seemingly unjust and arbitrary suffering of people and animals, and social evils like Dachau, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki?

The history of religion is replete with attempts to answer this question. All of these theodicies have more or less failed. Finite attempts to understand such incongruities we recognize must go beyond our limited knowledge and find resolution in a transcendent leap of faith or voice the frustration of existential meaninglessness. Nevertheless, deep within human nature is the imperative to probe the mystery of ultimate questions century after century. Periodically, with the advent of new knowledge, past answers are glaring in their inadequacy.

We are entering the Space Age where new frames of reference are giving enhanced perspectives to ancient dilemmas. Traditional religious answers to the problem of evil are rooted in a geocentric and pre-scientific understanding of the nature of the universe. These prophets and seers of the past perceived great spiritual truths but understood them in terms which today are, at best, simplistic and at worst, erroneous in fact.

Carl Jung observes that human beings can suffer anything if they know its meaning. When contemporary humanity contemplates the cosmic picture now available to the growing edge of twentieth century planetary vision, there will be a far greater understanding and appreciation of the meaning of evil and suffering. Through the insights brought about by a more comprehensive view of universe reality we also intuit an enhanced perspective of the great truths and eternal purposes of an all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful Creator. As we discover that the imperfections of the finite universe are indigenous to the divine plan for evolving unique, experience-tested mortals with unimaginable potentials rather than some incapacity or deficiency of God, our entire conceptualization of imperfection and evil is transmuted into a life view of glorious opportunity and intriguing possibility.

Before we can comprehend the authentic meaning of human experience we need to understand the basic nature and methodology of reality. Without a view of the underlying dynamics of universe phenomena, the immediate experience and events of life may be grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted. The part gains true perspective when it is viewed in relation to the whole.

Our understanding of experience begins with an examination of the sources of knowledge. We have three basic sources of information: the perception of the material world, the awareness of our own inner consciousness, and the realization of values. Psychologically, therefore, we experience reality in three categories or forms: matter, mind, and value or spirit. We must know the nature and operational dynamics of these reality manifestations if we are to comprehend what is happening in our lives.

Our knowledge of the material world has exploded in modern times. We no longer live in the circumscribed, provincial, geocentric universe of our forefathers where the basic elements were thought to be earth, air, water, and fire. The cosmos in which we live is extensive beyond human imagination where distance is measured in millions of light years. There are billions of suns in our local Milky Way galaxy and billions of such galaxies exist in outer space. The microcosmic world of the molecule, the atom, and the quark is equally incomprehensible. Each breath we take contains a trillion trillion atoms and each atom is a complex universe of its own. Our astronomical-nuclear, material-energy continuum made up of physical materials and living organisms is billions of years old and is directed, controlled, and integrated by countless material-physiological mechanisms operating in an overall ecological system. As we look at this complex, many-faceted universe observing its many interacting laws and principles, one basic dynamic appears to dominate the entire cosmos: the evolutionary process. Whether we look at the formation of galaxies, the development of organisms, or the events and struggles of human society, evolution appears to be the key modus operandi of the universe. Nothing in universe function or human experience can be adequately understood apart from this underlying, indigenous dynamic conditioning all things.

How can we understand mind in which we psychologically live and move and have our being? Our knowledge of mind is still in its primitive stages. We must, therefore, understand it largely from the standpoint of experience and function. Although mind activity is related to electro-chemical activities, its universe function is all-encompassing. In the broadest sense the term "mind" can be applied to any control and guidance function which operates in things, mechanisms, organisms, or persons. Mind activity in the inorganic world is that energy function which produces the regulative behavior of matter. Those aspects of the nucleus of an atom which causes it to capture one electron (hydrogen) or ninety-two electrons (uranium) and to behave in a chemically characteristic manner is due to some regulative or mind characteristic of matter.

In the organic world, mind is that energy function which produces adaptive behavior. Here we see mind operating in differential levels of complexity starting with one cell organisms, proceeding through plant life to lower animals and reaching its highest expression in man.

Human mental activities culminate in self-consciousness, rational and creative thought, superconscious insights, and God-consciousness. These descriptions of mind function are, of course, abstractions because in nature mind and matter or body activities are inseparably linked.

While our scientific knowledge of mindal reality is in its infancy, our understanding of values and spiritual reality consists almost entirely in experiential discovery and philosophic conjecture. We are material beings endowed with minds through which we perceive truth, beauty, and goodness. We have a limited awareness of cosmic realities of a spiritual nature; we are lured and guided by a subliminal God-consciousness which at times focuses into conscious awareness to direct and transform our lives.

Faith must always transcend our knowledge if we are to grow and progress. We now stand at a moment in history when our creative future depends on our courage to follow the larger vistas of truth opening to us and leave behind the naive and provincial conceptions of spiritual reality held by most of our forefathers. The old simplistic three-story cosmology of heaven-earth-hell is hopelessly outdated in our contemporary astronomical universe. Experience suggests that there is a parallel between material reality and spiritual reality; the cosmos appears to be designed in an integrative, unifying manner. We must begin to conceptualize spiritual cosmology along the lines of our expanding knowledge of the celestial universe of astronomy. This spiritual cosmos must be perceived as even more limitless than our material universe and the substance of spiritual reality must be infinitely more complex and powerful than the microcosm of the atom.

If the spiritual universe has any meaning for human experience, there must be an analog in spiritual cosmology for the billions of galaxies of outer space. Just as we conjecture in our scientific hypothesizing that there are millions of inhabited planets, so must we assume the spiritual cosmos is populated with countless creations and myriads of intelligent beings and personalities with capacities and abilities quite beyond human imagination.

The integrative dynamics of such a material-mindal-spiritual cosmos appears to be structured and controlled by an overall operational system in which matter is ultimately subject to mind control and mind is eventually directed by spirit purposes, all functioning in the context of the evolutionary process. These, then, are the universe realities in which human experience takes place. To more adequately understand the suffering, ambiguities, and mysteries of the human condition, it is not only necessary to view our lives in the context of these realities but we must also deduce some conceptualization of the spiritual purposes for human destiny and the divine methodology for achieving those objectives.

We see from the nature of man that it was God's plan to create with intelligence, including truth, beauty" and goodness perception integrated by personality. Although we are conditioned by biological heredity factors, environmental conditions, and social-personal experience, basic in the purpose was to create mortals who had free will in value decisions and were autonomous in spiritual identity and destiny determination. To accomplish this objective we observe that God initiated an indigenous, creative evolutionary process involving physical mechanisms, biological organisms, and ecological systems which eventually produced intelligent beings of free will dignity and spiritual development potential. All of this evolutionary creation, although broadly directed by spiritual overcontrol, is entirely the outworking of natural laws, mechanisms, and processes.

The culmination of the divine plan was to provide for the inner motivation, the environmental stimuli, and spiritual guidance whereby these free and independent mortals, these material sons and daughters, could evolve immortal souls-- supermaterial or spiritual reality identies--which could survive the death of the material body and the chemical-electrical brain-mind. By following inner spiritual guidance these children of time through free will decisions and actions predicated on their sincere understanding of truth, beauty, and goodness (spiritual reality) may evolve living souls and transcend their material animal origins. This endogenous divine-human partnership factualizes the supermortal soul which at death can abandon the physical body as the cocoon is left behind by the emerging butterfly.

God's methodology in actualizing these creative purposes coincides with the world of human experience. Both the finite limitations of human nature and the imperfections of the material universe which serves as the stage of this divine-human drama are so structured because of the wise and perfect plan of the Universal Father, not because of any limitations or imperfections in the divine nature. God has established the conditions for fashioning a unique quality of universe personality--a being which could only be created by mortals of free will capacity participating in their own growth toward perfection. Such persons will be quite different and have many potentials not possessed by beings arbitrarily created perfect.

Evolving such indigenous and innate qualities of character requires certain inevitabilities of environmental conditions. If evolutionary mortals are to develop courage, then must they live amid surroundings that necessitate struggling with hardships and danger in order to survive and effect favorable conditions for living. If hope is to evolve in human consciousness, then must man be constantly confronted with insecurities and uncertainties. In order to establish the love of truth in the human heart one must live in a world where error is present and the evils of falsehood experienced. Unselfishness is acquired in human experience when we repeatedly discover the unhappiness brought about by an ego continually clamoring for pleasure, honor, and recognition. Humankind would be unable to develop the spiritual qualities of love and service unless the evils of hatred are experienced and there were the anxieties and emptiness of the egocentric life to forsake. Evolutionary man must live in an environment of relative and potential evil to experientially be certain about and indigenously acquire the higher spiritual realities of the universe through personal freedom of choice.

In addition to these environmental stimuli of imperfection the Creative Process inculcated into human motivation a hierarchy of developmental values" insightfully described by Abraham Maslow. Beginning with the biological and safety needs, proceeding through the social, self-esteem, and independence deficiency needs to the self-actualizing and transcending meta needs, human nature is dominated by the urge to grow toward spiritual reality achievement: truth, beauty, and goodness identification.

Capping and guiding this broad-based environmental education and motivational directionalization the Universal Father has placed his own Spiritual Presence in the superconscious mind of man. With all of these potentials for transcending our animal heritage we are given sufficient freedom to shape our own destiny. Through personal decision and action in this human-divine partnership we have the opportunity of evolving souls or reality identities which will no longer need the material scaffolding mechanism which brought it into being.

As we view this finite universe of designed imperfection, with spiritual overcontrol, we see that it is fashioned to operate largely as a closed educational system whereby human beings have the opportunity to evolve a quality of being which is supermaterial. Here through identity formation and action spiritual realities such as truth, beauty, goodness, love, and righteousness become the dominant aspects of being. When this takes place we become more God-conscious and more real and effective as persons.

This transformation, usually so gradual that it is unconscious, takes place in the, so called, natural world. The old religious dichotomy of the natural and the supernatural is an illusion resulting from a lack of knowledge of how God acts in the finite universe. It may be meaningful to speak of material, mindal, or spiritual reality but anything which the creative action of God precipitates in any of these categories is an indigenous, lawful, or "natural" event. In the finite and material cosmos God maintains an immanent, endogenous presence and control. We sense his presence largely by the inference of faith insight. Even in the one place where we have a direct and personal experience of God, our inner consciousness, his presence in our superconscious minds is an immanent presence. All spiritual ministrations to finite beings must be a downstepped or immanent type of ministry. This is the essence of the incarnation message.

All this means that God does not relate with us as a cosmic puppet master nor as an anthropomorphic trouble shooter that we must call on or plead with to change the realities of creation and experience or shield us from problems and suffering. The design and purpose of finite creation is to encourage and enable us to meet and cope with the problems, frustrations, and tragedies of mortal experience. God's purpose for our lives is to help us evolve into the spiritually mature type of beings that are stimulated by perplexities, frustration, and suffering and who believe that in partnership with God all things eventually work together for good.

Between the hammers of anxiety and suffering and the anvil of necessity God is helping us to develop into strong and resilient personalities who can cope with imperfection and evil through our own resources as his finite sons and daughters. This requires a life predicated on courage, invigorated by hardships, and inspired by divine fellowship and guidance.

In view of these universe realities and divine purposes for human existence, we see that our traditional use of prayer in the hope of escaping evil or suffering has often been simplistic and immature. While such childish use of prayer may comfort the human mind and sensitize it for the reception of spiritual truth, twentieth century humanity would do well to engage in more intelligent forms of prayer.

Prayer is not a technique of magic nor a way to enlist divine help to alter nature or arbitrarily shield us from suffering and evil. Divine supplication cannot be used to escape facing the hard realities of human experience and soul growth or avoid expending rigorous effort in facing the problems of life. Since God has chosen to relate in a personal way with man almost exclusively in the realm of mind and consciousness, praying for the change or delivery of material things is not reality oriented. Human life is lived in the context of a natural world order which is not ordinarily miraculously modified as the result of prayer. The divine purpose of such a seemingly closed natural system is to require man to grapple with the problems of survival and the opportunities of soul growth through the use of his own resources.

Prayer, rather, is a mighty psychological-spiritual aid in developing such resilient, effective, and spiritually mature personalities. Communion with God is a major resource for struggling with and eventually mastering the planetary human situation. Through prayer we establish a fellowship with the Indwelling Presence of the Universal Father which undergirds, sustains, and inspires us as we wrestle with the problems and challenges of life. Since the Spirit of God is resident in the human mind we not only develop a partnership in our soul evolving adventure but when our human resources are exhausted in this struggle we can and should seek divine insight, guidance, and direction in finding a way to solve our human dilemma.

When we are courageous in facing reality, have exhausted our human resources and make a wholehearted decision to follow the Father's will and way such living faith prayers are reality oriented and efficacious. In these situations when we experience our existential finitude and impotence and yet do not surrender to spiritual doubt and despair unusual things happen. We discover fresh sources of comfort and inner peace which sustain us in the midst of chaos and tragedy. At times when the human situation looks bleak and foreboding fortuitous events happen, inexplicable contingencies take place, the form of reality changes. These experiences are always mysterious. Were they simply chance happenings or the result of spiritual ministry? They defy objective analysis and elude logical and rational explanation.

With this view of universe reality as a background, let us focus on some of the aspects of the problem of evil in human experience. We see the divine plan designed the finite universe as an imperfect creation which is, in the main, a closed evolutionary system where indigenous laws and mechanisms operate instead of direct Deity control. This self-limitation of God is basic to the actualization of a great and good universe plan to evolve in mortal man a unique quality of being. Through rigorous experience, often involving trial and error learning, we are making decisions and creating life styles which are evolving souls that are sui generis in the universe.

Man is actually participating in his own creative growth toward spiritual maturity. Starting at the bottom of the universe and experiencing growth from the lowest form of life having truth perception to the eventual perfection of human potentials, we will possess an experiential appreciation of reality, a functional wisdom, impossible to any beings created perfect.

Experience is a finite quality which always adds to and alters all other forms of universe reality.

Through the educational process encountered in the vicissitudes of human experience the creative evolutionary process is forging out of man the beginnings of a noble, strong, and thoroughly experienced being whose potentials transcend our fondest dreams. Human anxiety and sorrow, our trials and suffering, are just as much a part of a wise divine plan of universe education as the lessons of childhood, the rigors of school days, and the psychic suffering of adolescence are necessary in developing character in our contemporary family life. There is historical, scientific, and experiential evidence which gives considerable support to this purposeful view of the problem of suffering and evil.

Nonetheless, many troubling questions remain unanswered regarding catastrophic and irrational aspects of the problem of evil. Why do the innocent suffer? How does one make sense out of mass destruction and horrendous pain which, in themselves, seem to serve no constructive purpose? These are problems to which theists down through centuries have, in the main, failed to find rational answers. Probably the closest we can come to discovering a meaningful answer to this enigma is to again refer to the reality picture previously presented.

God has a glorious plan for lowly man that required the creation of a finite universe of imperfection which operates largely as a closed system. Such self-limitation by God eventuates inevitable evil and involves great risk. The Universal Father in his great love and desire to share as much of himself with other beings as possible initiated the finite creation in perfect wisdom knowing its wonderful culmination and supremely confident that his immanence and over-control in the evolutionary universe would eventually overcome all breakdowns and catastrophies which might beset the divine plan.

Let us look at some of the risks which such a self-contained finite creation involves. First of all the creation of limited atomic and molecular, matter in an imperfectly balanced ecological system of this evolutionary universe results in periodic upheavals of nature. The inherent balance and control forces and mechanisms take aeons to consolidate their effect. Built upon the limitations of matter, living organisms exhibit similar characteristics of imperfection. Gradually through the trial and error randomness of biological phenomena such as mutations organisms with survival capabilities proliferate. This slow evolutionary development produces biological disharmony, destructive bacteria and organisms, as well as harmonious adjustments and interrelationships. Centuries and centuries of time are required for the indigenous integrative and synergistic influences to become dominant

Even after intelligent beings of a human order evolved their imperfection coupled with a degree of free will inevitably results in decisions and actions which precipitate evil. This evil is socially compounded resulting in brutalities like Dachau and Auschwitz and wars with the mass destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over and above the imperfections of planetary phenomena and the evil perpetuated by human error and sin the divine plan is also thwarted by the misadaptations and rebellion of supermortal beings who are native to the finite universe.

The traditions of the Lucifer rebellion and the Adamic default suggest catastrophies of major proportions in which the divine plan was abrogated.

When we contemplate the pervasive openness and uncertainty of universe phenomena along with the colossal problems actuated by evil (imperfection) and sin (knowing rejection of truth, beauty, goodness: God), we begin to catch a glimpse of the enormous forbearance and love of the Universal Father and the infinite resources he has for salvaging and saving his wayward children. And this he does by methods which are in harmony with his perfect plan of autonomy and self-determination for the finite creation. Through immanent techniques such as incarnation into the human condition, periodic epochal revelation and indwelling the mortal mind, his loving ministry is slowly but surely winning the struggle with evil and sin without violating man's complete spiritual independence. God's creativity in the evolutionary cosmos begins at the lowest levels but is destined to achieve the highest ends.

We have seen that the divine plan for the finite universe is to create beings of a unique spiritual quality through evolutionary experience. This requires an environment of imperfection in which the principles of reality are immanently present in the material-mindal world of experience.

Here man can discover the spiritual verities in daily living, taste the bitterness and suffering of evil and sin, and repeatedly verify the fulfilling and synergistic character of truth, beauty, and goodness. In this educational atmosphere we are free to make our own value decisions and evolve immortal souls.

The unsurpassed educational character of planetary experience is the reason that even in the face of intense, widespread, and irrational suffering accompanied by seemingly hopeless international confusion the Universal Father does not arbitrarily "step in" to alter his evolutionary methodology for overcoming evil and sin. Error and spiritual rebellion are more clearly seen for what they are they are allowed to run their evolutionary course. More good will accrue in individuals and society by this experiential process than would occur through forced, arbitrary, or revolutionary solutions.

The final answer to the problem of evil for the individual resides in the Spirit of God which indwells the human mind. Although we live in a world where Immanent Intelligence is detected by inference, where knowledge of God is mediated through all reality, we know him personally only through inner experience. By faith and spiritual fellowship we establish a God-consciousness and a living partnership with the Universal Father. As we then face the problems and perplexities of life we are aided by divine wisdom. When suffering and tragedy enter our experience and we have exhausted our own ability to cope, an augmented inner peace, a new understanding, a fresh combination of resources undergird our life. Those who establish this inner relationship are invulnerable to life's most crushing blows. They are learning "to feast upon uncertainty, to fatten upon disappointment, to enthuse over apparent defeat, to invigorate in the presence of difficulties, to exhibit indomitable courage in the face of immensity, and to exercise unconquerable faith when confronted with the challenge of the inexplicable. They are discovering that "in liaison with God, nothing--absolutely nothing--is impossible." (The Urantia Book, p. 291)

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