The first point to be made is that God is one and there is nothing apart from God. The material world is not the product of some demiurge type figure or in any way evil, as certain early Gnostics believed. It is the creation of God, made out of His own being and from His own thought. Therefore it is good. However things are not quite that straightforward. They rarely are! There are three further points that we should bear in mind which help to explain why, if a perfect God really did create this world, it is so full of imperfection.
According to occult teachings it was not the Supreme Being itself that created the world. God may start the process off ("Let there be light") but the moulding of that light into form on lower levels than the first plane of manifestation is undertaken by beings referred to in the Bible as Elohim, angelic deity type figures who carry out the Will of God but are a step down from divine omnipotence. The created world is multi-levelled and can be thought of as a great chain of being stretching from highest spirit to lowest matter with the work on each level done by beings of and just above that level. (By the way, low and high are relative terms here. What is low may be lower than what is high, as in more limited and less purely reflecting the source, but it is all part of the whole because there is God in everything).
So the Elohim step down pure, divine light to lower levels of vibration (planes) until the material world is created. In this they are aided by what are known as the elemental builders of form who work largely unconsciously under the supervision of higher beings. Thus this world is not the direct creation of God but a creation of the created. No doubt those more learned than I on this subject could go into much more detail but this rough outline suffices to make the point. The material world and all life forms in it came from God only at certain removes. Moreover, as we shall see, this world was something in the nature of an experiment and never intended to be perfect as in complete and without blemish.
Here is one reason for the fact that our world is not as ideal as it might be if it were a direct reflection of the Creator who I call the Creator because all creation does ultimately and essentially come from Him even if not all comes directly. But there are other matters to take into account. From a purely metaphysical perspective, nothing manifested can ever be perfect because everything that is not wholly God is less than God. Manifestation, by its very nature, is limitation. Whatever is created is impermanent. Whatever is impermanent contains the seeds of its own dissolution from its very inception. That is not perfection.
However this world is not just not perfect. It is very imperfect. The higher planes may not be perfect in an absolute sense but they are perfect in themselves. In terms of what they are, they cannot be conceived as being any better or any more. That obviously is not the case here and the reason is that this is, as many religions teach, a fallen world. It is not what it should be.
When the world was created it was perfect (in terms of what it was and what it was meant to be), but suffering and the association of death with pain came into the world through the fault of man. This is not what we are led to believe today but it is what is taught by those who have spiritual knowledge. I submit that it is corroborated by intuition too. The story in Genesis of the Garden of Eden is a myth but it is a myth that embodies a truth. Humanity fell away from its proper path through disobedience to its own higher self and hearkening instead to the lower voice of ego and self-will. It inverted the true hierarchical order and has been doing that ever since. That is why humanity fell and, because the human race is the custodian of the world, that is why the world, including nature, fell too. It was the refusal to live in accordance with the will of the Creator, and the replacing of that with self-will, that resulted in the current unhappy state of our world. Now, because of the supreme mercy of God, it is said that this has actually been turned to our advantage, and that, through falling, we can, after suffering the consequences of that fall and turning around, eventually rise higher. This idea is brought out in the parable of the prodigal son.
All of which brings us to the third point. This world was never intended to be a place of perfect happiness without challenge or testing. The sorrow and suffering that we endure were not part of God's original plan but the world was created as an environment for experience and experiment, and so the potential for error always had to be there. As the Masters emphasised to me on more than one occasion, Earth is a school. It is a place in which the soul is intended to grow through learning, and that is why the existence of God is not evident to us. It is not meant to be. We must discover Him for ourselves. We have free will and can choose what to believe and even, to an extent, what to see. Therefore there must be potential for choice. That is why there is just enough evidence for a divine origin to support those who wish to believe in that but not enough to convert those who do not want to acknowledge that truth. We can choose. Those who choose not to believe in a spiritual basis to life have a perfect right to do so but they are condemning themselves to remain where they are now and not to rise to a higher estate. In effect, they are imprisoning themselves because an individual cut off from his soul is in prison. That is why arguments about whether you need God in order to lead a good life are missing the point. Many people like to claim that you don’t need to believe in God to lead a morally upright life but the aim of spirituality goes far beyond mere morality*. We are not here to lead good lives. We are here to discover our souls and realise our true identity as spiritual beings. This we can only do in a positive sense, and voluntarily, when we have the opportunity not to do it which (to return to the subject of this post after something of a diversion) is why we come to the material world. This is the part of the spiritual spectrum where the presence of the divine is not clearly palpable because substance has densened to the point at which the inner light of spirit is no longer discernible. At least, it is not to the mind and senses which are our means of experiencing the world.
So the relative imperfection of the material world is part of its purpose.
In a future post I shall talk about that aspect of the material world which most directly concerns us, the physical body. To conclude this one, I would like to say that the spiritual aspirant should regard the material world as real but only relatively real. No-one but the most complacent and deluded would walk past a wounded child with the thought that this is just one of the many aspects of the divine play; and yet, from the point of view of the absolute, there truly is nothing but Brahman. However we need to remember that, while things may not be true from the standpoint of a higher plane, they are true on their own plane, and our approach to the material world and everything in it has to take both of these factors into account. In this, as in many other matters, the heart will show the way where the intellect may stumble.
* Note: Apropos of that point I would maintain that even the desire to have a system of ethics and abide by it comes from the presence of God within you, who is there whether you acknowledge Him or not. I would also say that many atheists today are living off the moral capital of the religion of the past and the cultural background formed by that, and would question how long true morals would last if a spiritual sense really were expunged completely from the world.