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Religion Library: Paganism

Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Written by: Carl McColman

How do those who reject the idea of evil explain the existence of pain and suffering? Many say it is simply part of nature, and that questions about why it exists are not nearly as helpful as strategies to help alleviate it when it does occur.

Regardless of whether suffering is met with natural or spiritual meansresponses, Pagans are free to respond to suffering in any way they deem appropriate. Seen on a purely naturalistic level, pain and suffering are markers of a condition that needs to change - whether the change comes about through healing the condition thatwhich causes the suffering (or, in extreme cases, through death). Even when a person voluntarily embraces suffering (for example, someone who delays their own personal ambitions in order to care for an elderly relative), the suffering in itself is meaningful only because it is undertaken in service of a clearly understood greater good (in this case, the good of caring for others). There is no dogma or belief that would suggest suffering is always bad (or, for that matter, always noble and virtuous). Any instance of suffering must be evaluated on its own merits, whether it is a problem that must be addressed immediately, or a sacrificial act freely undertaken in honor of a greater good. Few Pagans would subscribe to a belief that suffering is inherently virtuous, but rather would view pain as a condition that, whenever possible, should be remedied.

Study Questions:
     1.    Contrast suffering and evil. Do humans have control over either?
     2.    How is evil embodied in mythology?
     3.    How is suffering addressed?


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