What I mentioned only as a post script yesterday was that I spent more than 8 hours of quality time Saturday in the emergency room with some kind of gastric upset thing. I was in some pretty harsh pain on Friday afternoon/evening and it wasn't all that better by noon Saturday, so a friend took me and sat shiva while I was poked, prodded, x-rayed, scanned, drained from various places and otherwise examined. Turns out I had some kind of thing they're not sure about. It may well have been the world's most expensive nap.
This goes in with some of the discussion we've been having in my Systematic Theology course on the purpose of suffering and evil. Why does it exist? Who thought it would be a good idea for us and what kind of twisted logic came up with that notion? There are some who say that evil is not god's doing at all, but that of a bad element - Satan or the devil, and god doesn't have much to do with it. Others say it comes from human's abuse of the freedoms that the divine has given us, and others still say it serves some kind of useful purpose, either as an educational tool, or as I heard when I was growing up "it builds character."
I'm not so sure I need any more character, and I am disinclined to think there is a bad guy with horns and a pointy tail running around causing havoc in the world, nor am I inclined to think that Saturday's exploration in pain was offered to me as an educational opportunity -- a spiritual field trip, if you will. Nor am I inclined to think that it is a result of my failure to pray appropriately or recycle my tin cans. It might have something to do with my gall bladder and diet, which can be seen as an outgrowth of an abuse of freedom, I suppose, but still. All of these things speak to a god that is punitive and cruel. I can't buy that. I can accept that bad stuff happens as a part of nature and that life is unfair, but I don't see suffering as a cosmic morality tale visited upon my GI tract to impart some kind of lesson about my place in the universe and relationship to the divine.
The trip to the hospital did offer me some time to observe how people come into such a place and how they behave while there. I got to sit in my own little curtained room and hear the comings and goings of nurses and technicians and patients and loved ones. I got to hear some kind of suturing being done on a not terribly pleased person across the way, and then a cast was put on. I got to hear a guy get treated for what was probably the clap, a young woman was treated for a sprained ankle after she fell down some stairs the night before ("I was sober, really!") and a woman came in with her husband and was seeking drugs and attention. It was a microcosm cross-section of society at its most vulnerable. All walks of life come through Beth Israel's ER, and I got to listen to them all. I also got a clear idea that I am not ready for chaplaincy yet. I think I'll try for that next fall as opposed to over the summer. I am not even ready to try for this summer yet, and the application process is already underway.
So, why suffering, then? I'm not sure. When I am hale and healthy, I tend to offer a smart remark like "pain is what lets you know you're alive," but that's more bullshit than anything else. What purpose pain? What can possibly be gained by the suffering of an infant born diseased and dying in a place wracked by famine and AIDS? What purpose does that serve? To offer some kind of morality lesson to the mother? To the infant? What kind of sick fuck would set up that with a purpose? That can't be god. It can't be. But what, then? And where is god in that? Where is the divine in that situation? I am inclined to think that the doings of this earth are the doings of this earth and that suffering and what we call "evil" are the normal diseases and infections that any organism has and fights in the course of its lifespan.
It's a lame explanation, but it's what I have this morning. Perhaps more on it tomorrow.