A Mindset for Pain and Suffering


I believe that God exists and that God is perfect love, beauty, and goodness, among many other things. But if God exists, how can evil, the utter absence of goodness and love, also exist? If the source of all reality is perfect love and perfect goodness, as I described in this post, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? The answer, I believe, lies in the notion of free will. 

We humans have used our free will since the birth of the species to perform brutal actions. We’ve inflicted harm on one another and we’ve altered the environment in ways that cause sickness and disease. 

Freedom is very good, and perfect love entails willing the good of every human being equally. It follows that since God allows all humans to make free choices, God would not stop the evil in the world. 

Emotionally, I find this very hard to accept. Anyone would, especially those who have suffered at the hands of another. But from a logical perspective, I believe it makes sense. Doing evil is a choice that humans freely make, and stopping them would mean robbing them of their free will. 

Leibniz Optimism

The world did not have to be the way it is. We could have lived in some other kind of world. Yet if God exists, and if God created the world, the world must be the way it is supposed to be. 

This was the line of thought from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Leibniz was a scientist and a philosopher and one of the great thinkers of the past. Among his philosophical principles, in what is now referred to as Leibniz Optimism, he argues that the world we find ourselves in is the best possible world we could, in principle, live in.

But how can that be? How can this be the best possible world? Because God’s nature includes perfect intelligence and power, it follows that any kind of world could have been created, Leibniz argued, or no world at all. 

Because God is all-knowing and all-powerful, though, God knew which world was best and was able to create it. Since God’s nature is also that of perfect love and goodness, it follows that God created the best of all possible worlds out of love. 

This line of rational thinking helps me process emotionally challenging situations in life that bring pain and suffering. Also, the pain and suffering often lead to a greater good. But it’s incredibly hard to see that in the heat of the moment. 

Logical vs. Emotional

This kind of thinking goes back to the logical brain vs. the emotional brain. Using our logical cortex and adopting a philosophical way of thinking (rooted in Leibniz optimism, as an example), is one way we can better manage our emotions. Our emotional brains kick into high gear when bad things happen in our lives. This can lead to irrational thinking – this is going to ruin my life, I’ll never recover, the world is out to get me, etc. When thoughts like this occur, try to focus on greater logic for greater mental well-being in the face of suffering. 

Try to adopt a more rational, philosophical mindset like Leibniz optimism – Bad things happen all the time, but it’s the world we live in. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person or this was supposed to happen to you. You can always get better and move forward. Emotions are just chemical reactions in the brain and body and help us to survive. You are not your thoughts and you can always improve your thoughts because the brain is malleable and can change at any point in life. The pain will subside and a greater good can always come about from evil. Remember, it’s not what happens to us in life, but rather, how we process what happens to us that is key. 

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