Friday, 3 October 2008
Existence is Suffering
Sitting in the Chapel of Our Lady by the Martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral yesterday morning, I was wondering about my present difficulty. Then, looking at the carved crucifix which hangs behind the altar, and wondering what it might mean, I had a thought. Existence is suffering, say the Buddhists. It is no use an atheist protesting at the suffering in the universe: the atheist simply has to accept the world as it is, having no God to protest to. But it is no use a theist protesting either. The world is as it is, whether or not the word "God" has any objective meaning. Just because there is a God, that doesn't mean that the world could have been made in a different way. A universe is a complex thing, and to assert that it could have been done better is a ridiculous pretention. If existence is suffering, then how much more is creation suffering? Even if you attempt to ditch all Paul's theology of atonement, the death of Jesus still stands as a central feature of Jesus's ministry, his most dramatic acted parable. And a parable must have a meaning: the Lamb slain at the foundation of the world. God knows that the world suffers, and in some sense he suffers with it, and in his death Christ shows us that he suffers with it.
Maybe my next heavy book (if I can face any heavy book soon) must be Paul Fiddes's The Creative Suffering of God. For the moment, I shall work my way through Rowan Williams's Tokens of Trust, which I picked up at the Cathedral bookshop. The first chapter is promising: he manages to discuss belief in such a way that the 'existence' of God become almost a non-issue.