Another mass shooting has occurred; this time at an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut. Twenty children—all six and seven years old—and six adult teachers and staff, dead. I didn’t watch the televised memorial services. Personally I don’t care for the media frenzy that follows these events; I find it unseemly, to put it mildly. But I did hear a little bit of a speech made by a minister, and he seemed to be struggling to express himself. I think his problem was that he was paralyzed by a basic problem of most theologies, what is known in philosophy as “theodicy”: how can you reconcile a loving God with human suffering?
I love this word, theodicy, because to me it sounds like the combination of “theology” and “idiocy”; many religious people come across as idiotic when they try to explain how God could allow something horrible to happen, like last week’s senseless slaughter of children.
Twenty years ago, my husband Arthur and I published a book called The Game of God. Theodicy is the starting point; the book’s introduction begins with this passage:
A friend recently told us that, of all the funerals he had ever attended, he had yet to hear a minister satisfactorily answer the question, “Why did God create death?” He went on to say that, in fact, he had yet to hear a minister (priest, rabbi, etc.) make any sense of why God had created anything at all. Our friend concluded that the most sensible explanation for this dangerous and mysterious universe is simply that there is no God.
We live on a tiny planet lost in a huge and seemingly indifferent universe. Life is a continuous struggle which inevitably ends with death. Life is a terminal disease.
What kind of universe is this anyway? Does life have any meaning or purpose? If there is a “God,” why did God create the universe?
Many religions have tried to explain God’s motives for creating the universe—a universe filled with suffering and death—but these theologies are often illogical and filled with contradictions, and thus fail to provide comfort when a true test arises: when real disaster strikes.
A minister once told us that, in his experience, the death of a child was particularly difficult to “explain,” and has often resulted in expressions of hatred for God by the parents, and even the abandonment of their faith.
Whatever “His-Her-Its” motives (let us not sex-type the Creator!) how could a “loving” God knowingly create a universe which is capable of this kind of cruelty: death, concentration camps, torture, child molesting, murder, rape, war, disease, mental illness, starvation, greed, addiction, violence, racism, gossip, sexism, etc., etc., etc.?
The child’s question, “Why did God let my puppy die?” cannot be satisfactorily answered by most of the theologies of the world.
We are told that we must “love” the Creator, but how can we when we behold His-her-Its creation—a creation which lacks any sensible explanation for suffering, ignorance, and death?
It might be argued that the “positive” aspects of life are reason enough to love God, but the question remains: Can all the good in the world justify the suffering of a single one of God’s creatures?
The Game of God answers these questions by theorizing that the universe is God in a state of amnesia.
What do we mean when we use the word “God”? Most dictionary definitions combine three meanings into their primary definition: a. the Supreme Being (whatever that means but always capitalized), b. the creator of the universe, and c. the ruler of the universe. No wonder “God” is such a loaded word.
An unspoken but essential part of the dictionary definition of “God” is the presumption of separation: the Supreme Being is fundamentally different and separate from the Creation. There’s supreme being, and then there’s ordinary being. The universe is distinct from God.
The Game of God makes the proposal that there is no separation: the universe is God experiencing the limitations that God, as an unlimited being, cannot experience: life and death, joy and pain, beginning and end, fear and hate, happiness and sorrow. The universe is literally God; there is no distinction.
In order to have a realistic experience of limitation, God must forget that She-He-It is God. The universe is a game in which God forgets His-Her-Its identity and in the process of playing remembers who She-He-It is.
We are not separate creatures who are victims of existence. We are God experiencing limitation and overcoming it. We are God in disguise.
This theology has given me immeasurable comfort in the last twenty years. Those children and teachers murdered last week were God-experiencing-limitation. In order to have the full spectrum of experience, the universe must include the most horrible pain, in addition to the most beautiful bliss.
But this is all an illusion.
Within the illusion the suffering is very real. I ache for the families of the victims. Their suffering is excruciating right now. But I am comforted by the strong conviction that this pain and suffering is, ultimately, an illusion. There is only the One having the experience of life-and-death.
I think one of the horrors of death comes from the fear of falling—it seems like a dead person has disappeared into nothingness. The Game of God says there is no such thing as nothingness. There is only God. There is no way to lose the Game.