We live in a world we are perpetually exposed to what William Shakespeare described as “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. It is true that much suffering is caused by accident and natural disaster and is therefore almost unavoidable. A drunken car driver may kill or maim. Hurricanes and earthquakes leave a trail of death, injury and havoc. Some steps may be taken to lessen the likelihood of this kind of suffering by imposing severe penalties for drunken driving, or living, if possible, outside hurricane and earthquake centers, but the innocent still suffer, and are likely to go on suffering.
Unmerited suffering has always perplexed philosophers, who can rarely say more than that we live in an imperfect world. Religions supply explanations; God, or the gods, punish mankind for breaking the divine law, and to some extent this is true. Abuse of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex carries with it automatic retribution. Whether catastrophe is a direct form of retribution for sin, imposed by a divine being or beings is very doubtful. What is quite evident is that we are required to live in a world which is dangerous, and whatever protection from either natural or man-made disaster we can find has to be made by ourselves. Some religions teach that there will be an after life in which all wrongs will be set right, and where the injustices of this life will be redressed. This enables the faithful to put up with whatever misfortune comes their way in the hope of better things to come. Suffering has to be faced by everybody, sooner or later, and it is no use philosophizing about divine impartiality. “God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust”, says the Old Testament. Nearer the mark is this rather flippant rhyme;
“The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella, But mostly in the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella’.