As a psychologist I have long been fascinated by cognitive dissonance.  This is the uncomfortable feeing you have when faced with two pieces of conflicting information that it is difficult to reconcile.  The prediction is that this is such an unsettling feeling that you will strive to find a way to square the circle and thus restore consonance.  I can illustrate this with what is allegedly a true story.

The members of a small religious sect, somewhere in America, became convinced that the world would end at midnight on a certain date. They were unshakable in the belief that they had got it right.  On the evening in question they gathered together to pray and prepare for the end.  Midnight came and went and the world had not ended.  This plunged them into a state of dissonance.  They achieved consonance by deciding that their faith had impressed God and caused Him (or Her) to postpone the end.  Far from losing their faith, it was massively strengthened by this experience.

If you are a cynic you might suppose that God invented cognitive dissonance for His own purposes.  The process of moving from dissonance to consonance could explain the paradox of why God, with the power to do anything, apparently does nothing to prevent tragedy and suffering.  The word ‘apparently’ is important here because, of course, He may be busy preventing all sorts of things that we don’t know about. 

Let’s assume (a) that God exists, (b) that He cares, (c) that He could intervene to prevent earthquakes, floods, wars, genocide, famine, widespread injustice and the like.  Believing (a), (b) and (c) risks triggering a bout of cognitive dissonance.  How to achieve consonance?  One way is to maintain that God actually wants us to suffer so that we can learn from the experience.  In other words, that He is giving us the opportunity to learn splendid things like compassion, forgiveness, justice and so on.  If awful things never happened there would be no imperative to learn any of these things.

See what I mean when I float the idea that God might have created cognitive dissonance?  The uneasy tension causes discomfort and motivates us to seek consonance – which suits Him just fine.  Only my theory.

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