“Why would anyone want to get rid of this?”, asks Jonas of his mentor, simply referred to as ‘The Giver’, to end a scene in The Giver (2014) – a film about a community which sheltered itself from the outside world, creating for its citizens some sort of Brave New World. It’s one of the most powerful scenes I’ve experienced in a film. Powerful, not because of an epic speech or victory in battle but because it appeared to communicate a truth which so many of us yearn to gain more insight to. For a moment it appeared to give a glimpse into what may be the answer to probably the greatest question faced by man: why suffering?
Of all possible worlds, why do we find ourselves in one where suffering reigns? It is always there, always lurking, an undeniable reality. It is not simply the fact that it is here creeping among us but that it is still here, threatening never to depart from us. Every victory is short lived, for tomorrow it is swallowed by death and forgotten.
There is a question – or rather, a scathing accusation – constantly echoing through bomb-ridden cities, poverty-stricken towns, love-depraved suburbs, hospital wards, school playgrounds, lonely bedrooms… why does God not bring an end to this? Asking, “How come the one Being, able to (apparently) destroy evil and end the suffering which flows from it, decide to look on as it devours lives?” Saying, “Knowing what I know, He ought to have done so; long ago already.”
The question goes beyond the problem of human participation in and perpetuation of this evil. It enquires into the problem of a lost Paradise. The notion that a perfect world is (again?) attainable. A world in which not only natural order is restored but also peace to our souls. The belief that life has meaning and that we could somehow grasp what things ought to be like.
Whether we conclude that God is unwilling, unable or practically non-existent for not solving what we believe to be wrong in a way we would like to see it solved, we decide to take up the task of destroying evil and suffering ourselves. We are left with a problematic situation: with the death of a benevolent God came the death of both inherent meaning and the immorality of evil. Nevertheless, we set off on a paradoxical quest to create a better version of the meaningless chaos we find ourselves in, based on the hunch that things could be different. But what do man’s efforts to replace God as the restorer of peace produce? This might be exactly “why anyone chooses to get rid of this”, to answer Jonas’ question. In our quest to create a better reality we create sub-realities; lesser realities. As we work to reject all the suffering on our own terms, we reject the beauty as well. As we aim to create pain-free lives we end up living less than human lives.
That scene in The Giver touched me as it illustrated what we may be giving up in our quest to destroy evil along our own reasoning. It reminded me that despite the suffering, our current reality remains very attractive. We would prefer to have tasted this life than no life at all.
I do not possess the knowledge with which to inform you of the exact reason why suffering continues to exist but I would tell you that I am convinced it is being dealt with in the best possible way. It may have to do with the fact that to destroy evil in any other way would mean to destroy life, beauty and all other things with it. The Creator chose to refine and perfect beauty – that which he initially deemed ‘good’ – rather than destroy it. The glorious character of the High King of Heaven was most beautifully revealed as He took on human form and defeated death as He entered into the fulness of life through suffering. Is it not expected then that those made in His image would most completely know, display and enjoy His glory in the midst of suffering? Suffering being part of what beauty overcoming death looks like; beauty often being most obvious in the midst of suffering. And therefore, perhaps, He chose not “to get rid of this”… or suffering, yet.
Who can look at himself in the mirror and honestly say to his own face: “The emotions I feel are meaningless and the music I hear, mere sounds”?
“God does not love some ideal person, but rather human beings just as we are, not some ideal world, but rather the real world” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditations on the Cross.
“And now we are Free. I will see you again… but not yet… Not yet!” -Juba, character in Gladiator (2000).