PM Vladimir Putin (1952-) lighting a candle in Church… VVP is a believer, as are most Russians.
A recent poll conducted by sociologists upset many in the Church… amongst Russians who consider themselves believers, only a few have confidence that there’s an afterlife. Modern man is at an impasse. As it’s May, it’s appropriate to bring to mind how many millions of people stretched out their hands to heaven, asking God, “Why?” Why did He allow the Nazis to kill millions of innocent victims? Why didn’t He intervene? Why didn’t He punish Hitler and save humanity from the bloodiest war in history of war and the extermination camps?
Misfortune should occur only to unjust and dishonest people, those who have done evil before both God and man. Why should those who lead righteous lives suffer and perish? The world is full of blood and tears. Innocent people die at the hands of criminals, or they fall victim to auto accidents, fires, and earthquakes. What, then, is God’s justice? Professional theologians can easily find an answer to this question, arguing that evil is a necessary part of the world… good without evil is inconceivable. This answer satisfies inquisitive students, but not the parents who have lost a child. You can certainly argue that there are very few righteous people on Earth, that those who suffer have committed this or that transgression, and that God has the right to punish them for that. However, are such minor misdemeanours worthy of such harsh punishment?
Look around you… grief and suffering falls on the most ordinary sort of people, ones that you couldn’t call great sinners. Yet, some start looking for faults in their behaviour, they come up with all sort of small faults such as failing to go to services or random blasphemes. Somehow, people think that their guilt was the reason why a car hit their son or daughter. This is our attempt to explain to ourselves an often brutal and incomprehensible world. Even a not-very- religious mother who loses a son in an auto accident agrees that God punishes sin, so, she often takes the blame on herself. If she had been less selfish and gave more thought to the soul, if she had observed the fasts, if she had went more often to services, then, her son would still be alive… but the death of a child… isn’t that an overly harsh penalty for failing to keep the Lent?
Good people should live happily ever after. In spite of that, throughout the 20th century, millions of good people died, and real criminals lived happily ever after… One can readily see that a person who doesn’t know much about the universe sees only chaos, leading many to question why this person died young, but this other one lived to a ripe old age. Some think that God operates according to a definite plan. However, the question arises… how can we unite such an assumption with the religious idea that every human life is of value? If someone sacrifices their child in the commission of a grandiose plan, we send them to prison. Are we ready to acknowledge that God also uses severe methods?
Some believers think that God specifically sends suffering to improve people. Sometimes, parents must punish a child that they love dearly. Similarly, so does God. He treats us as a wise and loving father does, cautioning us against major errors and misfortunes. One of the clergy gave us the following example. If a person who’s clueless about medicine visits an operating room, they conclude that surgeons are a gang of criminals, who torture an unfortunate victim. Therefore, by causing pain, God actually helps us. Some say that if your house burns down, that means that God doesn’t want you to be rich. A young man, who beat up a criminal, said, “You only thought about money and cars. God doesn’t want you to do that. He wants you to become better, more spiritual”.
It’s a strange way to make the person better… to prevent them from walking without help, to become disabled, tied down to a wheelchair. Of course, the surgeon takes up the scalpel to help people, but not everyone who thrusts a knife into a person is a surgeon. Perhaps, sometimes, by causing pain to the people we love, we help them. Nevertheless, not all suffering is a blessing. When a child is born handicapped, it’s hard to believe that that this was God’s plan… that He wished by this to elevate the souls of the broken-hearted parents. If a newborn baby dies, whether by chance, or, due to someone’s negligence, is this also part of God’s plan? Still, what it is for? Is it to teach a lesson to the baby? What is the rationale of a lesson in which the student dies? Is it to instruct negligent parents or incompetent nurses in the way of truth? Isn’t that an outlandish price for this lesson?
Modern theology offers us a different view. Yes, innocent people suffer in this world. They lose loved ones, they fall into misfortune, and they lose their health, work, and well-being. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t seek a meaning for this in God’s Will. God doesn’t punish people this way. Perhaps, we need to accept the fact that some things happen for no reason… the universe lacks order; it’s chaotic. Of course, it’s easier to see things as the cruelty of God than it is to see them as a result of the world’s disorder. Having survived a serious accident, sometimes, people say in consolation, “I’m convinced that God exists. I survived only because He wanted to save me!” What should we think of their relatives killed in the same accident? Were their lives less valuable to God than they were? People’s lives depend on unbelievable turns of fate. Tectonic shifts generate hurricanes and tsunamis, which leads to accidents at a nuclear power plant. Complex processes in the atmosphere cause a drought, resulting in a lost harvest, which brings on a famine. One piece of equipment on an airliner fails, and a hundred people die…
It wasn’t God’s Will. It wasn’t a deliberate killing of specific individuals as a warning to the world. Randomness, chaos, and uncertainty rule the world. Nevertheless, we must fight the chaos, not dropping our hands in surrender to it! Natural phenomena aren’t moral or immoral in nature. If an airplane crashes into a house, we shouldn’t think why God wanted to kill some and leave others alive. We must engage our human intellect in the pursuit of the knowledge of the laws of nature to search for an answer to the question of how to prevent such disasters and save lives. Sometimes, it suffices to find out who built a house in violation of the housing code and to discover those who didn’t properly prepare the aircraft for its flight. Of course, such recognition is disappointing. It’s much easier to cope with life if one thinks that He knows everything, He can do everything, and everything happens according to His plan… but there’s another side to this view of the world. If the troubles pursuing us in our times don’t come from God, then, He’s on our side. Believers don’t turn to God due to eternal rewards or punishment… they’re looking for God’s comfort and assistance in their everyday affairs. That’s an important point. Sometimes, when faced with tragedy, we console ourselves by saying that what happened isn’t as bad as it seems to us, because it’s not the only one of its kind in the world, there are many other examples of the same thing out there. Everything will work out in the end…
This public opinion poll regarding the afterlife shouldn’t upset the Church’s hierarchs. In reality, many churched and unchurched people just rely on the hope of a very different and better life, with a changed order of justice, where they’ll receive a reward for enduring the current chaos. This allows us to do nothing in this life. Once one realises that everything’s predestined, it’s not particularly worth it to do anything about it. Everything happens by itself, it’s according to the Supreme Will. Unfortunately, none of us living on Earth can confirm the reality of another world. We know what happens to the bodies of the deceased. We believe that the human soul doesn’t die. However, in that other world, does the soul exist without a body? Once there, how can we find souls, if they aren’t incarnate? Moreover, what happens with mentally retarded children who die young? Are they whole there?
Faith in a world where suffering will find surcease in peace and tranquillity, and where we’ll find reward for all that we suffered in this world, certainly, helps one to keep one’s sanity. However, does that faith eliminate the need of having to do something in this, the terrestrial world? Isn’t such an idea the outgrowth of a peculiar fatalism found in Russian society, synonymous with apathy and mental laziness? Isn’t this the reason for our amazingly indifferent attitude to the current confusion in Russia and our reluctance to make the changes necessary for a better future… whether of our own or of our children’s? Perhaps, the afterlife exists in a form that isn’t perceptible to our mundane imagination. However, since we have no solid evidence for the existence of another world, shouldn’t we live and act as if it doesn’t exist, leaving nothing undone in this world?
13 May 2011
Московский Комсомолец (Moskovsky Komsomolets : Moscow Komsomol Member), as quoted in Interfax-Religion
This is NOT an anti-religious or irreligious piece, despite the last sentence. Let’s look at it, again:
However, since we have no solid evidence for the existence of another world, shouldn’t we live and act as if it doesn’t exist, leaving nothing undone in this world?
This is NOT a statement of disbelief… rather, it’s a statement that we shouldn’t excuse inactivity using the excuse of God’s justice (“pie in the sky when you die”). It’s a statement of radical belief in Free Will… which is the foundation of Orthodox Christianity. Supine submission in the face of a predetermined course of events ordained by an all-powerful Divine Will isn’t Christian; it’s the Muslim concept of Kismet (fate). Yet, note how the Sectarian scummers harp on “God has a plan for your life”. They’re just like Wahabbi Muslims in that! That’s howlingly funny; as the Sectarians hate Muslims… but they’re the closest of all “Christians” (it’s open to question whether Sectarians are Christian… I’d say “No”) to them! Just look at their iconoclasm and bibliolatry… it’s identical to the attitudes found in the more radical currents in Islam.
Let’s be blunt. The Church teaches us that we live in a fallen world, and that we live under its laws. Why? We chose it! Pure and simple… there’s no other answer. God respects our choice; He gave us what we wanted, even though it wasn’t good for us or for the created universe. That’s what Free Will is all about… we aren’t puppets manipulated by a Divine Puppeteer. Not only is faith not an excuse for inaction, it’s a goad to active pursuit of justice. We have the option to act or to be passive… if we choose not to act, we’re culpable before Almighty God for that abuse of our Free Will. He lays this obligation upon all of us, without exception. Therefore, to be silent in the face of egregious abuse by either secular or ecclesial authority is sinful… it’s spitting in the face of Almighty God Himself. We not only have the right to speak out, we have an outright obligation as Christians to do so, or face the Divine Wrath as unbelievers.
Denise’s death wasn’t God’s punishment for her sins… it was due to the nature of our fallen world. My loss of a good-paying job wasn’t God’s judgement… it was due to the greed of the shareholders of the corporation that I once worked for. We must accept the limitations of this fallen world, and, at the same time, put right the things that we can. God will bless us for that. Joe Hill has a place in heaven…