The Pope’s reference to suffering struck me. (Google [Pope Benedict stumped by Japanese girl’s question about suffering inflicted by the Tsunami].) Briefly, a young girl asked him, “Why do children have to be so sad?” Benedict admitted: “I also have the same questions: why is it this way? Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease?”
This illustrates a strikingly incomplete aspect of the Christian worldview. How does a believer reconcile the inconsistency of a God that favors humans, from Adam and Eve up to us today, and the ruthless reality of nature? As chapter 5 put it, Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs. Not surprisingly, Christians can’t bridge this gap, and must always fall back on faith. The passion seen in Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions is almost certainly symptomatic of this underlying quandary. It reminds me of what “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” alludes to, i.e., underlying insecurity drives a bold facade. . (See Are you out of touch with nature?, p.50)
As a Taoist, I would tell the young girl that this is simply nature’s way. There is no reward or punishment, no evil or good, no sin or salvation in nature. Those are human myths. If she were familiar with biology, I’d also add that we have a fairness social instinct from which these myths arise in the first place (1).
When lightening strikes an animal outside, it is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Likewise, when a Tsunami strikes people living by the sea, they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’d also offer her Buddha’s Four Noble Truths (p.604) to finish on a positive note. Ever since my kids were toddlers I’ve stressed those truths, and they never had any difficulty understanding them. Even the youngest child can easily verify these truths—or at least the first two—through experience. The point here is that expecting no difficulty will always end in difficulty. As chapter 71 says,
To know yet to think that one does not know is best;
Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.
It is by being alive to difficulty that one can avoid it.
The sage meets with no difficulty.
It is because he is alive to it that he meets with no difficulty.
(1) In the end, all our stories are emergent properties arising out of instinct, including this one here I’m sure. The remarkable breadth and power of the Taoist story lies in the fact that it is based on what chapter 40 calls Nothing, whatever that is 😉
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