What about all the suffering in the world?
So yesterday, I, along with the writer of the Ecclesiastes, was advocating mindfulness. A deep contentment with what we have and a mindful enjoyment of everyday life. Nice.
But what about those who cannot do that? Who are hungry, poor, exploited, abused, sick, dying…? What about all those who are suffering in the world? No way can they ever find contentment and enjoyment in their situation.
Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed –
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors –
and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
But better than both
is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 4:1-3
The writer of Ecclesiastes cannot help but feel that for some people, dying would be preferable to the awful torment they are being subjected to in life. Or even better, it would have been better never to have been born at all.
So how can we explain all the evil in the world? What are we meant to do with it? We can hope that everyone that is doing evil in any shape or form will be ultimately brought to justice, but that does not always seem to be the case. We can hope that everyone that is doing evil in any shape or form will be ultimately accountable to God, but that does not always seem to be the case.
And I saw something else under the sun:
in the place of judgement – wickedness was there,
in the place of justice – wickedness was there.
I said to myself,
‘God will bring into judgement
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time to judge every deed.’ Ecclesiastes 3:16-17
We can hope that humans will finally come to their senses and act as more than animals. Even though we are all born and all die like the animals, we are more than the animals, aren’t we? We are made in the image of God. We are not always great examples of that.
I also said to myself, ‘As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: as one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?’ Ecclesiastes 3:18-21
More than one question there, sorry.
I don’t have the answers any more than our writer does. I do know that those of us that own pets or work with animals would probably all agree that heaven would not be heaven without animals. They give us so much joy and amaze us every single day. Far more than humans some of the time. And sometimes we are challenged by the compassion and understanding and faithfulness of our dogs (or cats or stick insects…whatever).
I also trust that heaven is far beyond our imagination and far better than our hopes and dreams, and I am happy to leave it at that. God knows best.
So where does that leave us? Ecclesiastes is certainly a roller coaster! Now we are in another dip.
What about all the suffering in the world?
When will the evil ones be made to pay for what they have done?
Are we better than animals?
The writer of the Ecclesiastes drags us back to the only thing that we can do. Be mindful. Deal with what is in front of us today with gratitude and enjoyment. Deal with who is in front of us today with compassion and love.
So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them? Ecclesiastes 3:22
Those big questions need to be asked but they can mess with our minds. They can obsess us and paralyse us. They can distract us from the purpose of living every moment to the full. We may not be able to explain the suffering in the world, but we can listen to and begin to understand the suffering of our neighbour. We may not be able to do anything about the suffering in the world, be we can do something to alleviate suffering in our community.
And this isn’t a cop out. It isn’t about becoming blinkered to the needs of the world. Some of the decisions we make in our everyday lives do affect lives on the other side of the world. We need to be mindful in all of our decisions.
TO DO: Let us think about how we can spread light today, you in your small corner and I in mine. Be intentional. Decide (thoughtfully/prayerfully) to connect with one person today who needs some light or comfort or fun…and do it! It doesn’t have to take all day. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could make a massive difference.