Wednesday, February 15, 2017

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 within 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.

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.”

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) 

Nevertheless, secularists do find meaning in suffering. They recognize that suffering can aid in producing character and virtue. However, are these observations enough to overcome the pain of suffering, disease, victimization, and death? Hardly! It is little comfort to one who has lost his family to a murderer to think that, maybe, his ordeal might be improving his character.

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 embrace!

We trust in the Bible’s wisdom that in order to become like Christ, we must suffer like Christ (2 Corinthians 4:10-11, 16-18). Besides, knowing that this will last only for a little while enables us to persevere as did Jesus:

·       Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2; ESV)

We need a worldview that serves as a good roadmap, getting us to where we need to go. The Bible’s teachings on suffering enable us to navigate the most horrendous roads.

This same principle pertains to the other teachings of the Bible. The Bible unmasks the detrimental effects of sin. I was never able to put two and two together to see the negative effects of sugar until it was pointed out to me. Now I have become aware of how sugar makes me feel and limit my intake.

Now that I have been made aware of the deleterious impact of sin upon me, I can begin to see its costs, deceptiveness, and how it coerces me to justify and defend it – how it was able to take control of my thinking in a more profound way than any drug could ever do. Now, with my eyes widened by the teachings of Scripture, I can begin to oppose it and not fall prey to its corrupting influences.

Admittedly, I daily struggle against sin. However, when it does take hold, I confess it to my Savior, and He forgives and cleanses me of all of its filth (1 John 1:9).

In the next chapter, I will further try to illustrate how the teachings of the Bible are best able to address the question of “mental health.”

2 comments:

  1. Psalm 119:75 is a good verse for the subject of this essay.

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    1. Thanks:

      Psalm 119:75 (ESV) I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

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