I wrote this essay for my philosophy of religion class in the spring of last year. In reflecting on the intense suffering of a relative, I want to make this public. It is by no means an airtight account of suffering and evil. This is a piece meant for reflection, not for careful analysis, that in reflection you might glean at least something true. In the absence of justice, mourn and be frustrated.
Justice comes across the works of Fate, having decimated a seaside village in the aftermath of a tsunami. Appalled at the devastation, Justice seeks the one responsible for the deaths of the villagers. Her search begins at the scene of the atrocity, where Fate lingers and engages him in discussion.
Justice: This is a travesty! What sort of horrendous evil has murdered these innocents?
Fate: What murder do you speak of?
Justice: Do you not see this countryside laid to waste? I require the head of the one responsible for such destruction.
Fate: Ah, but I am responsible, yet I am no one. On my account, the seas rose and tore apart this town. But you speak of murder; I do not murder, as there is no “I”.
Justice: What do you mean? This is clearly evil; look at the suffering that these people must endure in the aftermath of what you wrought.
Fate: Suffering I see, but what of evil? Have I done wrong? I follow my own course; that is my nature and my end. I pay no heed to that which falls into my path, as I have no eyes to steer my course, nor ears to hear the cries of those whom I crush. Pity is lost on me, though I would if I were able.
Justice: Are you saying that you have done this but committed no evil? You have inflicted suffering on these people.
Fate: “Inflicted,” “murder,” “committed” — you use these strange words for one such as me. I do not inflict nor murder nor commit anything. You have confused yourself with your language. In me is naught but forces swelling and decaying blindly. I am chaotic indifference. The race of men, they murder; they inflict harm; they commit evil. Within their hearts do they make sense of good and evil, for out here, morality does not exist. You have imposed justice onto a realm where justice makes no sense — where sense makes no sense.
Justice: Then what do I say to these villagers? How do I restore order to what has befallen them? Whom do I hold responsible?
Fate: I can say to them nothing. I have no answers for you. Such things lie elsewhere.
Fate rolls on unceasingly and disappears from sight, leaving Justice wholly unsatisfied. Lacking answers, she cries out in confusion and turns her eye to the heavens where she questions how Love, the divine ruler, would allow such suffering to befall a world through the wildly flailing arms of Fate.
Justice: So who, then, I wonder, should answer my questions? Fate has done this, but does not know of evil or pity. How would one hold the sea responsible? I turn, then, to Love, to ask it where it has been. If I cannot hold Fate responsible, then I ask Love to account for its absence. Love! Why have you done nothing?
Love: What is this that I must do? Should I not allow Fate its place?
Justice: How can you be indifferent to this? Many have met with death, and I am at a loss to see my place in the matter. I demand an answer to this suffering, yet I find none.
Love: You speak well, as there are no answers where you seek them.
Justice: Love, are you not the guiding principle of all creation? How can Fate act without your consent?
Love: I have separated myself from Fate for my own ends. In one sense, it provides a means for action and consequence. If the world were strictly the operation of the will, there would be no permanence of action: one could will away mistakes. In another sense, Fate reminds men that they are not the ultimate authority.
Justice: But is such suffering necessary if it is ultimately just a reminder?
Love: These are only a few of many different perspectives on Fate. Who are you to determine what is necessary? You are Justice, and you seek restitution for wrongdoing, but when men suffer under Fate, you presumptuously try to force your understanding of such suffering into human terms. Divinity has its reasons that transcend any one simple principle and defy attempts at explanation.
Justice: But are you not Love? Where are you in suffering?
Love: I can give no intelligible account of my actions, but I can grant you this: that you will ultimately see your fulfillment. In this day, you may find yourself struggling to find your place. You will remain confused but persistent, struggling forever against uncertainty. But this struggle grants meaning to the human experience. If your way were clear, what would it mean to fight? In the fight, men must choose what they value. Do they value themselves and their own pleasures, or do they value you, universal Justice?
Justice: How could one value me, though, if it’s not clear to where I should proceed? It would be as though I were leading an expedition with no map.
Love: I will lead you.
Justice: How will you do this? How can you provide a way without clarifying my purpose?
Love: You cannot see the path laid before you, as there is no such path. You forge your future, and you must choose whether you do so with my guidance. You long for a systematic delineation of the whole way ahead, but what you will receive is a method for making each step along the path. I, Love, am each step. To love is to desire right unity, a sober togetherness that places each man and woman as they are, never dehumanizing anyone as a monster nor as an idol. So when Fate leaves suffering in its wake, seek me, not yourself. I hold ultimate justice; you, who so desires these things, have only the capability to love.
Justice: Am I just to accept this, that I must delay my fulfillment? My desire is present and strong. That which is wrong, I seek to right. That which suffers, I seek to ease.
Love: These are right desires, but you are not divine. Have faith in me, that I will bring these things about. You know full well that you have not the strength to bring about your realization on your own. I know the plans I have for you, and I will not lead you into harm. Fate will play its part, and men will suffer, but I will bring about the greatest good in days to come. You must choose to live daily in my ways.
Justice weighs these things in her mind. She fails to understand her relationship to Fate and suffering, but she steadily grows at ease with her lack of understanding. In considering the grand scope of her fulfillment, she feels overwhelmed by conflicting occurrences: justice seems desirable but out of reach. But when she considers her next steps, she realizes that she can ask at each one, “How am I to love?” And thus, though she continues to desire ultimate justice for all wrongdoing or suffering, she has no adequate explanation for such things, instead only seeing a way to put one foot in front of the other.
Though it is difficult for Justice to make sense of Love in the light of Fate and what befalls men, she cannot deny Love’s existence. Love calls to her to live a new manner of life, one less interested in controlling and explaining each detail and more interested in grounded itself in the present, where Love certainly exists. And thus Justice found herself conforming not to the ideal of ultimate Justice but rather Love. She could aspire to and live out such a life, submitting herself in faith that Love would carry out justice in the end.
Justice: I will follow you, though I do not know the way.
Love: Do not fear; I will be with you always. I will light your every step. Do not despair amid uncertainty nor claim certainty to put fear at ease. This is as it should be, with your judgment clouded. But if you follow me, I will show myself faithful, and all will be set right in days to come.