The Doll

In answer to: How can an all-loving, all-powerful God allow human beings to suffer?

I can’t answer that question directly. Not from a philosophical, biblical, or theological point of view.

I can, however, answer it for myself at least – how can an all-loving, all-powerful God allow me to suffer? And the answer came to me literally from the mouth of babes.

When my daughter was about one, she had a favourite doll. What the doll actually was is irrelevant. All that matters is, at that stage, she liked it, she could recognise it, she played with it.

At that age, she also needed her naps, otherwise, she’d get tired and cranky.

Being wonderful parents, we did establish a nap routine for her, which we stuck to most of the time. We had slowly gotten her used to being put down for a nap on her own, without needing to be held to sleep. Easier for us, but also ultimately better for her.

All this was for our own peace of mind (she has a fearsome temper and this explodes when she is tired), but mostly for her own good. Not just her immediate happiness for the day if she’s well-rested, but also for her overall development.

Apparently, children need the rest to grow and process what they’ve learnt. Being well-rested also sets them up to learn more and enjoy the day when they wake up.

Many benefits then, long-termed and short, of having a good nap routine.

So, it was one fine afternoon when we missed the timing for her usual nap for some reason. She became cranky and irritable because she was tired. I gave her her favourite doll to play with and calm her down before attempting to put her down for a nap.

She wasn’t going for it.

Somewhere along the line, she thought it was a good idea… no… it was absolutely essential that she needed to pull the doll’s head off.

So, twisting and tugging, she attempted to do so. When I tried to stop her, she got more angry and upset and started going into a full meltdown. At one stage, she waved the doll at me, screaming and shouting for me to take the doll’s head off, seeing as she couldn’t do it herself.

I refused her demands, for obvious reasons, trying to explain to her that doing so would damage her favourite toy for good. No luck. More and more screaming. I tried to take the doll from her so that it wouldn’t be in her view, but she clung on tightly to it all the more, shrieking all the time.

“Take the head off, take the head off!” she seemed to be screaming, “Why can’t it come off? Why don’t you help me? You call yourself my father but you don’t do this for me? NO! Don’t try to take it from me, you horrible man, I’m going to keep trying if you’re not going to help me. I said NO! DON’T TAKE IT FROM ME….AAAAAAAAAAAHHH!”

In the meantime, I was saying, “Shhh… take it easy. I know you want the doll’s head off, and I know you’re frustrated you can’t do it, and I know you want me to do it for you and I know you’re upset that I’m not doing what you want. But, my dear, I won’t do this because it will permanently damage your favourite toy and you’ll be sad afterwards. And besides, you think you need to take its head off, but what you really need is a nap. Even if I do what you want, it won’t make you feel any better. Here, instead of going down for a nap, why don’t you cuddle on Daddy and have a nap on me? We’ll make a special exception this time, ok?”

The above is a much sanitised and edited version of how the exchange really went but you get the idea.

In the end, after about fifteen minutes of all-out war, she exhausted herself (and me) and allowed me to pat her to sleep. Eyes closed, still sniffing in self-pity and clutching the doll tightly in both hands, she eventually drifted off to a deep and long afternoon nap.

Ninety minutes later, to the minute, she woke up with an almost audible “ping”, gave a big smile, ditched the doll and crawled off happily to play with something else. With no acknowledgement or even apparent recollection of the epic battle just before she fell asleep.

So, to use this analogy to answer the above…

Compared to my one-year-old daughter, I am relatively all-powerful. I am much stronger than her, I can do more things than her, I have abilities that she cannot fathom, I have access to resources she can’t even imagine or understand. I have a perspective that is so high above hers, but she doesn’t realise it.

In terms of love – I love her. I would readily die for her should that be necessary and beneficial for her. I always want the best for her, even if it sometimes means not giving her what she wants. Especially when what she wants would be hurtful to her.

In this case, she was suffering.

She really was.

Because she couldn’t pull the doll’s head off.

And she turned to me, her loving father, to do it for her and I refused. So she wailed in despair and frustration, betrayed that I did not seem to care for her suffering. Could I have torn the head off? Did I have the power to do so?

Absolutely. Easily.

But I didn’t.

Do I love my daughter unconditionally?

(The answer, in truth, is no – I can’t do unconditional love perfectly in this life. BUT the intention is there, so for argument’s sake…)

Yes, I do. In that I always want the best for her.

Which in this case, was for her to have a nap for the present time, and for the doll’s head to be intact for the future.

That she disagreed completely initially, and subsequently didn’t even register all the above, does not negate that I love her and am “all-powerful”.

Of course, when it comes to God, this analogy doesn’t even need to stand. God is all-powerful in the literal sense of the word. And He does love me unconditionally, perfectly. Whether I like it or not. Whether I deserve it or not. I still have suffering in my life, despite the above two conditions being met. Thus, the presence of my suffering does not disprove the above two facts.

Of course, I hesitate to extrapolate this to the suffering of all mankind for all the ages. I simply do not have the perspective to answer for the suffering caused by famines, diseases, natural disasters, and the cruelties of men.

But at least it’s an answer to my personal sufferings and discomforts, which (I’m not proud of this) admittedly is often more important to me than the sufferings of others.

It’s not perfect, but there is the advantage of removing any basis for me to feel self-righteous and self-pity based on my sufferings. I have no reason to blame God for my plights, and that frees me to consider the plights of others, and genuinely start to care for them instead of myself.

I think that’s probably a good thing.

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