Annoying Question? What to Do

Epistemology is the most thought provoking class I have taken so far in my three years of studying philosophy. For those of you who have not yet studied it or who will not study philosophy, epistemology deals with questions such as how do we know what we claim to be true? How do we know God exists? How do we know there is a heaven, a hell or a purgatory since those who die never come back to confirm these things? How do we know we exist? You get the idea, right? This simple sentence—how do we know-causes us to delve in an interminable debate started since humans’ first interaction. Due to that, we fail to agree on burning issues like when life really begins. All answers are never sufficiently satisfying. We become like a child who just started to use his intelligence. We never stop asking how we know things like a child who never stops asking why regardless of the answer. The truth of that matter is, and sadly so, there is no clear cut answer that can satisfy everyone. If that were so, people who were committed to finding ideal answer to poignant questions would have provided the answer to us already. Was there anything that the philosophers (the ancients) did not discuss? Had there been a non controversial answer, they would have provided it. The truth is that there is none apart from what revelation tells us. So a secular point of view about this matter is and will always be controversial. Forgive me for saying that; religious documents (the Bible) are the most reliable truth here; there is no great answer.

Does that mean we don’t have to answer questions about the beginning and end of life? Does that rule out these kinds of questions out of the picture? Absolutely not! These questions are too big to be ignored. If we fail to shed the natural light, some would act according to their selfish desire. They would fail to see that human life is intrinsically valuable and so we cannot afford to trample over them. Since they already fail to see the goodness that comes from believing in the existence of an afterlife, we don’t expect them to provide a good answer to such burning questions. They don’t know that society (globally speaking) works best when people believe in the existence of God. They fail to see the peace, joy, and contentment that religion brings to society as a whole. They deny that all knowledge start from some kinds of beliefs before reaching any absolute certainty. therefore, we, not they, must respond to these questions.

Of course, in attempting to give an answer, we must not raise our voice too high because we have a lot of daredevils out of there. They call themselves risktaker. Some issues are too important to dare take any risk about them because we could almost never see the damage they caused (in this life). The damage is penetrable only if we could see as God sees, which is impossible. So what must we do? When it comes to question we don’t know the answer to, the most prudent way of acting is conservatively. (I am not using the term from the Republican Party’s viewpoint). When burning issues becomes controversial, we must not give up on it by saying that people may act as they see fit. We (authorities) must decide as conservatively as possible in order to avoid any kind of unknown disaster.

Let me give just three reasons why we need to take the conservative road over any other ones. For one thing, we don’t know it all. Though we have achieved unbelievable things in the past centuries, we remain powerless when it comes to question involving life and death. We vacillate when it comes to moral questions. Mysteries remain a territory unexplored by us. Since we are evidently limited, it would be sage to avoid making decisions whose outcomes are unknown and unpredictable. Secondly, I would advise that we follow what is called Joebrice’s wager. If taking a risk can be disastrous while not taking one involves no risk, the best course of action should be the latter. It ain’t like eating ice scream when asking to give a report of our actions on earth. We may not be praiseworthy for not taking action, but it is not blameworthy avoiding the risk of taking action in this case. There is too much at stake. Finally, why should act against nature? Parts work for the sake of the whole. Who should dare troubling the outcome decided by providence? It is clear that nature works hierarchically. Where are we placed in the scale? Not on top, so we must not act as if we are the sole decider. if we don’t know how something comes about, we should not do things that can destroy it.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Leibniz, in his metaphysical work The Monadology, argues that this world is the most perfect of all the possible worlds. God being perfect, loving and all-knowing could not have given to us a bad world had there been any better than this one as he understands it. The classic question arising from this argument is why is there so much evil in this world if it was chosen by God? Well, simple answer, the other ones are worse than this one. So there would even be more evil had we had a different one.  That is a very depressing answer because many of us believe that the God we know and obey must be able to do better than this, so why this evil one? It seems, from this view, that God did not create the world. He only had to choose the best of many worlds. People like me believe that though the big bang happened, God was its author, and so He had control over what emerges from it. If He only had to choose from many worlds created from the big bang, it would seem that He did not monitor the big bang as we understand it.

It seems to me that that question, though it has taken many different forms over the centuries, has been a concern for many generations before us. We see that St Augustine, who was very well versed in philosophy before converted to Christianity, had tried to provide an answer to this classic question. For him, a good God could not possibly create evil. Evil could not be if good is not. “All things are good because their maker is supremely good”, he says. But in these things goodness can be increased or decreased. As he sees it, all things were created good, but when its good decreases, we call it evil. So evil is a diminution of good. Evil is corruption of the good. Though things are created good, they can be contaminated by evil/corruption. Since all things are created good, they can never be totally deprived of goodness. So no matter how evil a thing is, it has some good in it. Evil would be unable to exist if there were no good for it to exist in. I know that answer may make you edgy, but it’s a very apologetic answer that may not satisfy objections such as by what mean did the first evil/corruption enter the world since everything was originally good? Why did God, the author of all, allow the good to dwindle and so become evil? These are concerns that don’t make us comfortable with St Augustine’s very insightful answer. Keep reading!

Another way that question surfaces is through reflection from the creation story. If God is the creator of all things, God must be the author of evil. If God is not its author, where does it come from? If God is a loving, merciful God, why in the world does He need to allow or create so much evil? The way I see it is that God is not responsible for the evil in the world; we are. It’s only because we misuse our free-will that evil exists in the world. Our free-will is given so we can choose the good, but we don’t always do so. When we don’t, it has consequences. All of us have at some point misused our free-will, so we all deserve what happens to us. Does the evil that happens to us proportionate to what we do? You answer that. Is evil a consequence of sin, or does it occur even when we don’t sin? Who can say he does not sin?

The third way that question emerges is why do bad things happen to good people? The most classic and puzzling writing about this question is the book of Job. May that book be our guide in our endeavor to answer that question.

The book of Job seems to provide the most straightforward answer to the problem of evil, and why bad things happen to good people. According to the book of Job (one of the books in the Bible), there are things that transcends our understanding. So we don’t know why bad things happen to good people. Though Job deemed himself good, God actually boasts of Job’s goodness, evil almost destroys him. Job, before then, never expected evil to happen to him since he served God so well. God only allows evil to happen to Job to teach (him) a lesson. Who knows whether each one of us must not learn that lesson about life? Maybe through experiencing suffering ourselves or seeing someone suffers. Who says that suffering is not part of life’s cycle? Job’s friends attempted to convince him that he must not be as good as he thought he was. He rightly rejected that. Job maintains his integrity and uprightness despite what his friends say. He believes that his suffering is not on par with his sins. He refrains from cursing God, though his wife suggested it. Finally, God intervenes and condemns Job’s friends for acting as if they understand the way of God. He makes Job understands that there are mysteries surpassing man’s knowledge. Job repents for having spoken too arrogantly.

There is such a thing as mystery. We don’t know why bad things happen to good people. It is so easy for you and I to determine whether someone is good or bad. A kind, generous, loving, peaceful person who loves God and neighbor is undoubtedly a good person. Children are undoubtedly good people. We cannot access someone’s conscious; we only judge from appearances, and so make assumptions. We assume a lot when we ask why bad things happen to good people. First, we assume as if we can really say who’s good or bad. Does not good or bad in this case depend solely on our own standard? Such assumptions kick God’s standard, whom we cannot thoroughly know, out of the equation. Secondly, we act as if we understand God’s way. He says in Isaiah 55, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts”. Thirdly, we assume that suffering is bad. Well, bad for us I know. What about God? Did Jesus not conquer the world through the most humiliating suffering? So we should stop blaming God for the way things are. It is best to say that they are that way for a good cause.

Now it is understandable these kinds of questions are asked. We are, after all, weak human beings unable to understand our own self. So it is no surprise we cannot crack open the mysteries of God. Shall we say then evil happen or sufferings are the cause of our own condition, or our innocent loved ones suffer because  of our own wretchedness?

From a purely secular viewpoint, suffering is a curse hampering us from living life to the full. However, only when looked at from a religious’ perspective does it make sense. Only when we add God in the picture is suffering bearable. Only then is there a reason to suffer. Without the cross our suffering would be meaningless. There would be no reason to endure it. It is no surprise the unbeliever committed suicide as soon as the doctor says his illness is incurable. The believer, though he may not know the reason for his particular suffering, knows it is a good one and can make use of his suffering and be transformed by prayer. More importantly, the God the sufferer is calling upon is not a distant God who does not know what suffering entails. He went through it himself and so is capable of helping those who are undergoing similar things.