Re: Suffering Is Your Ally — Steven raises a common and important issue Westerners have with suffering and pain.
On the one extreme, we have a typically middle-class American doctrine in the Prosperity Gospel. This idea stands on the ancient ground of the Pharisees, something we detect when the Twelve seem bewildered when Jesus suggests that material wealth is a major hindrance in moral redemption (Matthew 19:16-30). We dig a bit into the rabbinical traditions to discover they taught that the primary mark of God’s favor was material wealth. Thus, the wealthy (Jews) were already favored by God, while the poor were accursed. So the Prosperity Gospel equates poverty with spiritual failure. Alongside this, the only reason you aren’t instantly (or at least quickly) healed of every possible ailment is that you just don’t have enough faith.
Apparently, even mere discomfort is somehow attached to spiritual blindness, because “God didn’t intend us to suffer.” Well, God didn’t intend for us to die, either, but even the most notable sages of the Prosperity Gospel die from serious conditions often related to aging. You’ll hear all kinds of excuses and legalistic nit-picking and semantic gymnastics defending their petty materialistic excuse for theology. Jesus called it worshiping Mammon.
On the other extreme are the weird ascetics who suggest that suffering has some magical saving power. They go out of their way wallowing intentionally in distressful exercises in self-discipline to cleanse their souls — or something like that. Nothing in the New Testament promotes this unless you insist on some perverted legalistic reasoning from the words meant to be read as parable.
I can try to untangle all of this. Basic theme: Pain is a part of living in a fallen world. We are wired for pain, and not all pain is the result of moral culpability. Walking in faith is not a magic spell against pain and death. Sometimes obeying God in a particular context means accepting painful consequences, permanent disability or even death. We don’t make a virtue of suffering; we make a virtue in tolerating it for the sake of God’s glory.
Suffering becomes an ally if you respond appropriately internally. It reminds you that this fallen life is a mixture of sorrow and joy and each has their place. It reminds us that we are fallen and need to keep our eyes on His glory, allowing Him to make the decisions. We see pain as an ally when we remember that He intends it will drive us into His arms. And Paul in the Corinthian letters says that our obedience to God’s moral laws makes us a friend of Creation and an enemy of fallen people. People with a perverted view of morality will stain everything they can touch, so some elements in our natural world will reflect the pervasive perversion. Walking in divine truth makes you a threat to whatever people imagine is their justification for moral perversion.
Thus, we should expect a certain trend of increased suffering as a sign of obedience — but this assumes you are reading these things from your heart, not your reason. In return, there is a balancing sense of peace reflecting back from our convictions, something the fallen world cannot have.
So we might sometimes do things to bless and redeem other lives that we know is going to cause some sorrow on the way. But we do not go out of our way to increase human suffering as a whole. There is no glory in torment, so things like hazing to join a club has a limit before it becomes sin. You and I will judge things differently, but the mere presence of hazing shows a complete lack of heart-led awareness in the first place. Getting involved in something inherently difficult already requires a certain amount of “pay your dues” without adding artificial suffering to create a false pride.
This bleeds over into a thousand other moral considerations. That’s how it works with God’s living moral character, AKA faith, moral discernment, biblical laws, heart-led living, etc. It’s organic and living, not objective and rational. There is no “ideal” and no absolutes; ultimate reality (moral truth) is seldom binary in this world. It’s that quantum morality thing again, where you have to discern things on multiple levels simultaneously, which is particularly difficult for Western minds trained in linear logic. There may be no single right answer, where God Himself lets you choose any of several paths because He’s prepared to work with you whatever you choose. He’s a real person, too, not some abstract objective ideal.