Blake Giunta operates a web site called TreeSearch, where he maps the arguments pro and con in the debate over Christian theism.
He has a new section up where he lists some reasons for answering that God’s permission of human suffering comes with a lot of good things.
Here is his list:
- Free agency in a “moral arena” is good
- Forming our own character is good
- God’s atonement for people like Paul is good
- Worldly people turning to seek God is good
- Love-bonds forged in suffering are good
- Solidarity with Christ in suffering is good
- True evil-conquering stories are good
- A knowable natural order is good
- Sacrificing to promote the good is good
- Being of use to those in need is good
- Appreciating heaven (no suffering) is good
You can click through and drill down the “tree” to read them.
Here’s the one I liked best:
Solidarity with Christ in suffering is good
Intimately knowing Christ in suffering (as mutual empathizers) is good. This is relevant because one cannot have/enjoy this particular eternal relation with Christ if no suffering existed.
Laura Ekstrom (Philosophy professor at William & Mary): “suffering itself is an experience that one shares with the divine agent, and so it may serve as an avenue to knowledge of, and intimacy with, God. Viewed in this light, human suffering might be taken to be a kind of privilege in that it allows one to share in some of the experience of God, thus giving one a window into understanding his nature. For the Christian, in particular, occasions of enduring rejection, pain and loss can be opportunities for identification with the person of Jesus Christ. Intimacy with Christ gained through suffering provides deeper appreciation of his passion. I understand the notion of intimacy or identification with Christ in a sympathetic rather than a mystical sense.”[“A Christian Theodicy,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (Blackwell, 2013), 279.]
And another like it:
Forming our own character is good
The cultivating of our own morally significant character is good (especially in the context of eternity).This is relevant because some of the most important character-forming features we can develop are built through choices in our response to suffering (e.g. being compassionate, persevering) or which risk/result in suffering (e.g. choosing to steal without regard for others, and/or forming a character that is inclined to steal).1 So it both requires and risks/results in suffering.
James 1:2-4 — Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
[…]Hebrews 12:11 — All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Romans 5:3-5 — And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because I’ve been doing good things for other people who don’t acknowledge it, and it’s hard to keep serving and never be recognized. And it did occur to me as I was doing these good things, that I was following Jesus with my actions, and having the experience of loving people who don’t love me back. Yes, it does hurt, but there is a point to doing it.
First, Jesus is pretty clear that you can’t expect things from God, like forgiveness, unless you forgive others. Since I know perfectly well that I struggle with Bible study, church and other activities that are less action-oriented, I balance that by being more aggressive about showing God through my actions that I know his character and that I am interested in operating in a way that reflects his goals and priorities. When people don’t acknowledge what I am doing, I do feel like I am take being taken advantage of. If they don’t respond when I need something, then I feel disrespected – like what I did wasn’t important enough for them to care about me in return. That hurts. But I would rather have the suffering if it comes with letting God see through my actions that he is number one. I think I am a little suspicious of people who read devotions, pray and study the Bible, but who are not able to perform the actions to love others. (I know a person who is like this – great apologist, very mocking and disrespectful, no ability to appreciate the needs of others at all). I want to do the actions.
I don’t have to be happy if it means throwing away the rules and going against what God wants me to do. Because in the end, what God thinks of me matters more than me getting my needs met here and now. I’ve never thought that Christianity meant freedom from suffering, and I never dumped God when he didn’t show up to solve my problems and care for my needs.
The real joy of my life – the joy that connects up the events in my life story – is when God calls me to be faithful and I let him rule my decision-making. I don’t like looking stupid when I fail when trying hard things. I don’t like making sacrifices for other people who don’t acknowledge or respect me. I don’t like that my needs are not addressed by God when I keep putting myself second and putting him first. I don’t like when the people I’ve helped can’t see my needs and don’t want to do anything to help me. Doing the right thing is not an end to suffering, it makes the suffering worse. But that is the price you pay for being in a two-way relationship with God using your actions. This is beyond passive, pious activities. Actions open you up to hurt.
But even so, I love letting Jesus know through my actions that we are a team, and that he has done enough already to keep that commitment from me. I like giving him gifts and letting him know that when push comes to shove, he comes first. And I have been doing this for a long time, mostly without any fuel at all – except in the last few years, finally. It always makes me laugh when I hear people try to redefine the obligations of Christianity, especially around chastity and fidelity, because they express a feelings-based conviction that God wants them to be happy and fulfilled here and now. No, he does not. He wants you to enter into his mission, suffer alongside him and trust him to make it right in the end.
I always feel exasperated when people tell me that I need to be more spiritual and read more devotionals, pray more and sing more hyms in church. Why would I be interested in behaviors that seem less practical to me, when I can hit the gas pedal right now when God waves that checkered flag in front of me? Performing self-sacrificial actions is a daily thing – putting God first and feeling myself change to be more like him in the face of loss, suffering and not having my needs met. That’s more interesting to me – the chance to let him know through my actions that I am yielding, while others around me do not yield. The chance to smile and cry at the same time. My life is very much about wearing his colors and being on the field, and taking the bumps and scrapes that come with wearing the uniform. Maybe it’s just that I am a man, but I much prefer lots of action to a lot of reading, prayer, singing and feelings.