Monday, September 9, 2013

A Philosophy of Suffering

The late British philosopher C.S. Lewis declared that he believed in Christianity for the same reason he believed in the sun. It was not merely because he could see the sun, but, by the sun, he could see everything else.

Does the Bible enable us to see and understand everything else? I will confine myself to one instance of this principle. The Bible enables us to understand and embrace suffering and to live meaningfully with its unavoidable embrace. In contrast to this, secularism regards suffering as a useless encumbrance. Consequently, when the secularist suffers, he experiences a double whammy – a virtual knockout punch:

  1. The suffering itself and…
  2. …the debilitating understanding that suffering is a negative, meaningless and costly burden, lacking any redemptive value.

Secularism deprives suffering of its meaning. This doesn’t mean that secularists don’t talk about meaning. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche did:

·        “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” 

Although this is very true, it is not adequate to simply create our own “why.” We have to know that meaning is intrinsic to reality itself and connects us to something higher than merely our changing feelings.

The late American novelist Norman Mailer was cognizant of this problem:

·        “We are healthier if we think there is some importance in what we’re doing…When it seems like my life is meaningless, I feel closer to despair.”

It seems that Mailer realized that he could not merely create his own meaning. Instead, it has to be discovered within the fabric of objective reality.

Even worse, secularism slams the door on meaning, according to sociologist David Karp:

·        “Cosmopolitan medicine banishes that knowledge [of the necessary purpose for suffering] by insisting that suffering is without meaning and unnecessary… [Suffering is] secularized as mechanical mishaps, and so stripped of their stories, the spiritual ramifications and missing pieces of history that make meaning." (Speaking of Sadness, pg. 191) 

Without meaning, we shrivel and die in the face of suffering. The late psychiatrist Victor Frankl observed, during his internment in a National Socialist death camp, that:

·        “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future…was doomed.”

Faith in the meaning of suffering and of life itself is essential. It is precisely this meaning that the Bible enables us to see (and have)!

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