To reduce pain to punishment is to underestimate God’s purpose

When we face problems that come arbitrarily, we naturally get the question, “Why?”

Religion, at a preliminary level, may answer, “Suffering is the punishment for our own past misdeeds according to the inexorable law of karma.” This answer, though correct, is not complete – the equation of pain with punishment is a reduction that doesn’t reflect the breadth of God’s purpose.

God is not just a dispassionate judge concerned only about giving due punishments for wrongdoings. He is also a spiritually passionate benefactor deeply concerned about our reformation and restitution. In Krishna’s compassionate scheme of things, his interaction with us isn’t restricted to the administration of appropriate punishment, as is the case of a judge interacting with a wrongdoer. Krishna accompanies us constantly as the indwelling Supersoul, wanting to help us make wise choices by which we can ultimately attain the spiritual level of reality.  At that level, we can reclaim our right to eternal happiness in immortal spiritual love for him – a right that we have lost due to our spiritual amnesia, our forgetfulness of our identity as souls, as his beloved parts.

The ultimate purpose of all pain is to cure our spiritual amnesia, or more specifically to prompt us to seek a cure. Misery at the material level is meant to push our consciousness towards the spiritual level. If we see pain only as punishment, we may drown ourselves in disheartening guilt or strain our brain in vain to figure out what wrongdoing caused which reaction. Instead, if we remember that pain has a spiritually restorative purpose, we can see it more positively – as a concealed invitation of Krishna to return to his shelter. The Bhagavad-gita (18.58) assures us that if we seek Krishna’s shelter by striving to be conscious of him, we will cross over all problems.

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