Thursday, 5 April 2018

The World is Perfect

You might think this a strange to claim to make but I think a case can be established for its truth, though we have to look at things in a slightly different way to usual. 

At first glance our material world is clearly very far from perfect. There is suffering, there is pain, there is death. And yet a closer look can start to make sense of these negative aspects of our experience here. Let's take that look.

If the world exists in and for itself then it is not perfect at all. I think most of us would agree that it is more good than bad but there is still quite a lot of bad. No wonder babies cry when they are born! However, what if the world does not exist on its own terms but is part of a much larger purpose? I submit that the part of reality we perceive as the physical world is but a small aspect of the whole and one, moreover, that, for all intents and purposes, is the most restricted and limited part of that whole. Here material conditions enclose us and curtail our freedom. They are a permanent weight on our well-being, restricting us not only physically but also mentally. The mind can work far better when it doesn't have to do so through the brain. It is more alert, more aware and better able to communicate its perceptions.

But here we are. We are in the world and it's makes sense to assume that here is where we are meant to be. For the moment anyway. We have a task to accomplish that we could not accomplish in one of the freer planes of existence. It is precisely that restriction that works to our benefit here because it forces us in certain directions. By making things harder for us, it requires us to push. By pushing we stretch ourselves and grow.

Therefore, I say that this world is perfect for what it is intended to be or what we are intended to achieve in it. It is not a holiday resort but a training ground. You might almost think of it as a kind of assault course. It certainly has that aspect to it. If everything was easy for us and we never encountered difficulty or hardship or suffering we might become like those spoilt children of wealthy parents who take everything for granted and assume that what they want they can always have. They don't grow unless they are made of very good stuff to begin with, and even then their growth will be limited for without struggle you really don't have much incentive to change or grow.

So, when I say that the world is perfect, I am not saying that is good or could not be better. But I do say that, for its purpose, it is right. It provides the right environment for spiritual growth because here we have to confront difficulty. Here we are faced with good and evil and have to choose. Here we are not given direct evidence of God but have to find that ourselves and, in finding, we make it our own. It becomes part of our inner being not just something we see out there like the sun. We all believe in the sun but that doesn't make us give light or warmth. When you build the belief of God into yourself by your own volition, then you start to become God. It's a long process but you really do start to do just that. 

And so this world with all its many imperfections is perfect as a school for evolving consciousness. Indeed, it is the imperfections that make it perfect. Suffering teaches us to overcome suffering in ourselves and respond to it in others. The possibility of sin helps us to identify tendencies to sin within ourselves and therefore be able to root them out. 


Edwin said...

Chesterton was once asked "What's wrong with the world?" He answered, "We are." His idea, I believe, was that the imperfections we see in Creation are purely subjective and based on our desire to have things our way. So long as we are looking critically at the world, we will be prone to schemes to improve the world, i.e. eliminate the perceived causes of suffering. Western Buddhists and Vedantins are often on the political Left because they see suffering as something to be eliminated through a rearrangement of circumstances or ideas. They dismiss the world as ultimately illusory, yet join marches and protests to make it a presumably better place. I have noticed that people who have suffered greatly have about them either a look of anger or of pity. Suffering, when accepted, can engender compassion; when resisted and resented, it begets anger. The world has become a very angry place because people have come to expect it to make them happy on their terms. Even the Church has replaced the crucifix with the resurrexifix: Christ ascending from the cross, absent any sign of the passion. But there can be no ascension without the crucifixion.

William Wildblood said...

I agree with all you say there, Edwin. Ultimately it is suffering, humbly accepted and not angrily fought against, which purifies the soul of the stain of egotism. Which is not to say we should passively accept it but we should strive to learn the lessons it can teach us and not escape them. I have noticed on the faces of all people I would really call spiritual there is the mark of having suffered.

Unknown said...

Ibn Arabi the Muslim mystic, more that eight centuries ago said,if there is no imperfection in the world, our world would not have been perfect. Imperfection is a call for perfection. Human understanding can not be accomplished without the disclosure of the meaning of the opposite by its opposite. Life is a testing trial for god to find out who is among the humans, the best performer that is why we read in the Koran, god saying that we have created life and death,good and evil wealth and children poverty and riches abundance and scarcity etc occasions for humans to seek the best possible performance out of the available choices. Thank you William for selecting deep and important issues divorced from the trivialities and gossips of our oblivious world regarding what is important soul alleviating. What enhances the intention and the attention toward his glory in order to glorify ourselves. It is unity of consciousness and not of essence because the first is known and the second belong the realm of the unknown.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for your comment. Your quote from Ibn Arabi makes a lot of sense. To be creative and capable of development the perfect must have the imperfect within it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - This is a very important subject - indeed for some people it may be The Key!

I appreciate that you used 'percect' fro shock value - although it is a word/ concept that causes a lot of trouble, in my view (perhaps the much-mocked formulation 'best of all possible worlds' comes closer to what is meant?) however the point is that we do indeed need to believe (and live by) the fact that this world is the best for our personal purposes.

I think people are misled by trying to explain to themselves exactly how (in what specifci fashion) this world is well-designed for each and every individual that lives or has ever lived - but that is not for us to say, cannot be done, and is an lethal distraction.

The crucial matter is to understand and try to live by the knowledge that our world, the one we personally live in and know from personal experience; is ideal for what we personally most need to learn.

Of course, much of the times this means that our lives are miserable and harmful - since we fail to learn...

Since God is The Creator and our Loving Father - and since creation is ongoing and specific; this seems a natural conclusion.

We therefore need to focus on experiencing and learning what our *actual* lives bring to us.

William Wildblood said...

You're quite right, of course, Bruce in that I did use the word perfect slightly with tongue in cheek. What I meant was this world is fit for purpose even though it could be a lot better but that would to a large extent depend on us being a lot better. The real point is that the imperfections of the world mirror our imperfections and are there to teach us so it is the right world for us as we are at the moment.

However I don't think this explains everything in the world and I have another post on the way which goes into that a bit.

ajb said...

This post contains a key insight for Christianity, and so I agree with the general point. But ...

"And so this world with all its many imperfections is perfect as a school for evolving consciousness."

Perhaps. But many people don't seem to evolve that much! Some become overwhelmed - they fail to grow, in some cases ending in despair and suicide, or becoming mired in gluttony, distraction, and so on.

I think Christianity contains many of the keys to evolving one's consciousness in this world, and I think this world is potentially a school for evolving consciousness, but I find the claim it is 'perfect' for this difficult to test, in a way mind-boggling in an attempt to imagine rigorously, much like claims that allowing free will requires all sorts of bad things such as we see in our world. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Jesus never claims this world is perfect in any sense (indeed, that's the whole point of him coming into the world), rather he emphatically claims it is *not* perfect. Instead, he exhorts people to move towards perfection themselves, and he gives some of the keys to doing so.

William Wildblood said...

The point I was trying to address was why is this world not perfect if God is a loving God? I just meant by 'perfect' that the imperfections it contains are conducive to spiritual growth if we react to them correctly, much more conducive than a more apparently 'perfect' environment would be.

Pain and suffering have their part to play in the growth of consciousness. If we don't respond when given the spiritual opportunity to do so then that's our fault. That's where our free will comes in.

But the world is also a fallen world so I don't really mean it's anywhere near what it could or should be. And yet if we were better so would it be. Then again the true perfection can never be in this world nor we should not look for it here.