Physical Energy and Moral Retribution

Having excluded the possibility that physical energy consciously conducts a policy of reward and punishment, there is still the possibility that physical energy carries out such a policy directed or guided by some conscious intelligence above or beyond that utilizes it. Sri Aurobindo describes what this would imply: “If a law of moral punishment is imposed through the action of her physical forces, it must be by a Will from above her or a Force acting unknown to her in her inconscient bosom.”

The implications of this approach however are that we then create a vision of deity that would be more terrible than the worst human rulers we could imagine, as Sri Aurobindo explains: “But such a Will could not be itself that of a moral Being ethical after the conceptions of man,–unless indeed it resembled man in his most coldly pitiless and savage moral reason or unreason. For its action involves terrors of punishment that would be abhorred as atrocities in an all-powerful human ruler and could not be other than monstrous in a moral Divine Ruler. A personal God so acting would be a Jehovah-Moloch, a merciless and unrighteous demander of righteousness and mercy.”

It is true that we have seen some religions actually embrace such a vision at various points in human history. At the same time, the human spirit refuses to accept that this is the ultimate truth of the world. The idea that individual human moral failure unleashes powerful, indiscriminate physical forces to rain down death, suffering and destruction on large masses of humanity, along with the rest of the creatures in existence, the good and the evil, the innocent and the guilty, is abhorrent to our intuitive sense of significance in our lives and in the world. We sometimes rail against disaster by asking why God would take the lives of innocent children or why God would unleash the fire, whirlwind or tempest on simple people living innocuous lives.

We are left then to infer that physical nature operates under its own rules under a non-moral framework and that morality only enters in when we can see the action of mind and intelligent directed action. There are many powers at work in the world. They interact and impact one another, some providing the physical framework for conscious life and existence and others developing higher powers of insight, understanding, moral and ethical development within that framework and its limitations and conditions.

Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 14, The Terrestrial Law, pp. 119-120,