Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Does Suffering...finis

My apologies to Christopher, to whom I promised to respond, but other concerns really have overtaken me - school has begun, an editor needs an article chopped up now, etc. I will try to respond briefly to a few central points, and that will be the end of it for the time being.

First, we can dispense with the "Doctor." I know these honorary titles are handed out right and left, and that I probably deserve one, but my conscience bothers me. I have received many emails addressing me in just this way, and it's all the fault of Touchstone, who first made the reference and ought to have known better. I forgive them.

Second, I was not offended by Hart's "style", as you put it (as opposed to his actual deportment on the page?), though when one is accused of heresy one ought to be able to take it personally. It's just that after upwards of two years in this entirely unprofitable weblogging business, I've developed a pretty thick skin, and heretic is the least of the many things I've been called. Many of them are unprintable. You have no idea the names Christians can think of to call you should you, say, write a review of the movie Signs in an effort to disabuse them of its religious pretensions. Noting the 280 emails in his inbox one day, Mr. Hart seems to have encountered this problem and become a bit frazzled by it, such that, in a letter to me, he swears "never again to assay to address such matters in popular publications." This I think would be a shame. If God has given one a gift, I think he is duty-bound to use it. That's what he was trying to do in the WSJ piece - get the Christian voice into the secular sphere; he then found himself under attack, not by frenzied screams from the ACLU and People United for the Separation of Religion from the Rest of the Universe, but from an unlikely quarter: fellow Christians of whose contentiousness, once they get the bit in their mouths, he had no notion. I hope now he has learned the virtues of the delete button and the ineffable pleasure of using it.

But if we might return our attention to my original cause for concern, which was his bewailing the odious blasphemy of Christians when, in the wake of disaster, they praise God's inscrutable counsels and His good ends. One would have to be invincibly tone deaf not to see that this would strike the ear of many fellow Christians as a denial of Divine Providence, and as a tough-minded attempt to ingratiate one's self with the sceptic and the unbeliever.

As to your comments in general, I really think my 'for the record' post addresses most of your concerns (if you would do me the courtesy of re-reading it). You say, for example, "I [am] still not sure what it would mean for God to grant evil an 'epistemic' purpose - can then God not still be said to be the author of such evil - it being for our ultimate good in that we 'learn' from it?" And I quoted St. Thomas: " is enough to remark that such evil is not merely permitted, but willed by God, not indeed in its character as evil, but as being, in such a universe as the present, a means towards good and in itself relatively good." And further: "Nevertheless, they are directed by Divine providence, to the salvation of men, either of those who suffer, or of others who are admonished by their means--and also to the glory of God."

Other of your lines that caught my attention:

I don't think there is at bottom a real disagreement here (certainly not between East and West on this particular matter). You may be right.

Mr. Hart (if I am reading him correctly) was not arguing that by our good will, our will in obedience to the Lord, and by his grace He can not bring good from suffering. No he was not. He explicitly says that He can bring good from it. He just doesn't say how.

I think your sentence "Once sin entered the world, suffering became necessary in the sense...." reveals something important. Notice the switch - from a discussion of evil, to "suffering". And notice your separation of a cause from its effect. Suffering is an evil. The two are different but not separate. That's the problem with evil, it always causes at least one other one. The tsunami is a physical, non-moral evil which causes in its victims a second, suffering, which those victims experience most keenly.

If you mean ascetical suffering, or the suffering of bending our will to God's in the midst of evil, then yes, suffering has meaning. Then we agree, for suffering's meaning is its redemptive value, though I would go further and say that the suffering of those who did not willingly embrace it can also be redemptive, for themselves and others, and also has meaning. (I'm beginning to wonder if this entire conversation might not depend on what the meaning of 'meaning' is.)

But does evil? I never said it did. I said that suffering, an effect of an evil and which resonates deeply in a man's soul, has meaning.

I don't really see how a specific denial of the ultimate ontological status of evil (and here I think we can think of evil in some way as "imbecile chance" or wanton destruction) is a denial of the Mystical Body of Christ. It isn't. What would be a denial is the assertion that the suffering consequent to that evil has no redemptive value, that dying babies, for example, cannot paricipate in Christ's passion.

Let me ask this: is it at all possible that aborted children might be the beneficiaries of what we in the West (and the East as well, I will presume, lest someone tell me otherwise) call the baptism by blood? Maybe we cannot know for certain, but it seems uncharitable to me, and an artificial limitation of God's beneficence, to say categorically that it cannot be.

Will God ever let the source of the martyrs' beatitude be forgotten? To the extent that suffering played its part, this seems inconceivable. As I commented to Anthony Esolen, Christ bore the wounds of His passion in His resurrected body. Though He will no more suffer the pain, will it ever be forgotten? Pain is an existential fact of every man's life, a part of his story, his history; none can pass it by, and insofar as it tends toward salvation, its contribution will live forever. I, like all, have had such moments (I am not in the market for any more at the moment), and a couple of them have made me thankful to be alive. The pain is gone, but the gratitude lives, and it cannot live without the memory.

Do I sense the presence of the Eastern mystic in your desire to worship a God " that would truly, in every way, make (or perhaps redeem) evil into, quite literally, nothing..."; a God who is " truly infinite, and incomprehensible...beyond all evil, and all good, and all meaning, even being itself..."?

I would ask you to come down to earth a bit. He is infinite, but at least partly comprehensible in the person of Christ. And He is certainly beyond many things, but not beyond all good, all meaning, all being. He is these things.

And now, please God, I am done with this. It has done nothing but interfere with other things I wanted to write about, like my daughter's engagement, or the private airplane that tried to land on the 18th fairway of Dubsdread Golf Course right up the street from my house (where Bernadette and I played today), but ended up crashing into a concrete power pole. I had thought of turning it into an amusing story until I found out the pilot had died.

Related posts: Does Suffering Have Meaning?

Does Suffering...a continuation



my daughter's engagement" . . . Wow! Congratulations to her and to you.
Posted by Paul Cella email at January 13, 2005 11:32 AM

Many thanks, Paul.
Posted by William Luse email at January 14, 2005 02:29 AM

engaged? engaged? that is much more readable than more on suffering. congrats to the lucky man - I hope he is worthy of her attentions!
Posted by alicia email at January 14, 2005 03:44 PM

Is it ever possible for a father to think that any man is worthy of his daughter's attention? I'm working on this difficulty.
Posted by William Luse email at January 14, 2005 04:03 PM

Thank you for your reply. Realizing you have had your say, it looks like you are going to give your guest the last word. Very gracious of you! ;)
I agree Hart does not say how God can bring good from such suffering. I think of Job, where the Lord Himself does not seem to indicate the good that came from Job's sufferings. Yes, his fortune is restored, but that does not seem to really satisfy - nor really point to a meaning of his suffering itself. Perhaps the East is silent here, or would say such knowledge is only found on the apophatically. One thing that comes to my mind, is perhaps it is only through rightly suffering that good can come. Perhaps it is a mystery of grace that people caught in sudden catastrophe's are given the means to rightly suffer. In any case I appreciate your point that suffering is an evil.
I speculate that the East might differ a bit as the West calls "baptism by blood", only because of a significant difference as to the meaning of Original Sin and the idea of "guilt" from that catastrophe. I have never made a study these differences however and can not really speak to it.
Will we have a memory of pain in the Eschaton? If in the Eschaton, where St. Maximos says the Saints move among a multiplicity of good things, what part can the memory of evil/sin play? I honestly have no idea.
If I am an "mystic" in an oriental sense then the sin is all mine! I was thinking of St. Maximos:
"God is one, unoriginate, incomprehensible, possessing completely the total potentiality of being, altogether excluding notions of when and how, inaccessible to all, and not to be known through natural image by any creature. So far as we are able to understand, for Himself God does not constitute either an origin, or an intermediary state, or a consummation, or anything else at all which can be seen to qualify naturally things that are sequent to Him. For He is undetermined, unchanging, and infinite, since He is infinitely beyond all being, potentiality and actualization." Philokalia, First Century on Theology, 1 & 2
Finally, thanks for responding Hart! The exchange has really stirred some thoughts and I believe I have learned something from it. I certainly hope Hart will continue writing for "popular publications" when given the opportunity - your right, it would be quite a shame if he did not.
Posted by Christopher email at January 14, 2005 09:53 PM

"First we can dispense with the Doctor.."
Humorous given that medical docs dispense medicine.
Posted by TSO email at January 17, 2005 09:36 AM

engagement? but, she's a baby! well, is he catholic? is he southern? alas, congratulations!
Posted by smockmomma email at January 20, 2005 10:15 PM

He is Southern. Way down deep southern.
Posted by William Luse email at January 21, 2005 03:24 AM

He's not Catholic!?
Posted by TSO email at January 21, 2005 10:25 AM

Afraid not, but he's against contraception and abortion, and for the indissolubility of marriage, which makes him preferable to most Catholics I know.
Posted by William Luse email at January 22, 2005 03:55 AM

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