Suffering Virtues

Posted: July 6, 2012 by J in Discipleship, Theology

What virtues or graces are recommended by these differing takes on evil and suffering?

 In the Calvinist view the chief virtue when suffering must surely be resignation. Faith would take the form of submission, patient submission to the will and wisdom of him who has brought this suffering to me. The refusal to give in to anger, to despair or self-pity or bewilderment. We may not understand, but we trust the one who does.

And in fact, historically resignation has been espoused as a major way for faith to operate in suffering. Think of Jonathan Edwards, so impressed when David Brainerd showed no hint of disappointment in adversity. A. W. Pink warns that to grumble at the weather is to grumble at God. Resignation is a key mode faith should take in suffering.

Feelings of anger or frustration, an unquiet or distressed heart, these are undesirable and potentially expressions of unbelief. How can you be angry when you know God has sent this grief for your good? Anger at the injustice of your situation could well be secretly anger at God.

So contentment is key to godliness – not just contentment with your salary or car – contentment with everything. For all comes from the hand of a loving Father.

Some go beyond this and advocate actual thankfulness for suffering. C.f. John Piper speaking of the ‘gift’ of cancer, for example.

The virtues suggested by the Hart view would be almost the opposite ones. Since God stands with the sufferer against the suffering they are experiencing, submission is not relevant. Anger and frustration may be appropriate expressions of faith, for God also rejects what is happening. He is angry about it. As Alyosha explains when angry in the face of suffering, in Dostoyevsky’s Brother Karamazov, ‘I am not rebelling against my God; I simply don’t accept His world.’

This anger would involve an aggressive enmity to suffering and a drive to destroy and relieve it wherever it exists. The Hart view would tend towards activism in the world. Since God is fighting evil, we should also.

In other words, discontent is a better expression of faith than resignation is. God is not content with the world, and neither should we be. Contentment may even imply an indifference to evil or a lack of desire for God’s kingdom to come. Resignation would suggest a loss of hope, a giving up.

But the promised future rescue also suggests a kind of patience – not the passive resigned kind but a restless, longing, complaining sort. The sort that refuses to let go of God’s future even in the darkest place.

  1. Jon B says:

    Hey Jono, I like these posts about Hart’s view on suffering. Today you were missed at Bible Study as we looked at Rom 5. I was wondering if you might like to take Hart’s view for a test drive in this passage. How do you think we’re to read Rom 5:3-4 in light of Hart’s view.

    • Jonathan says:

      Boasting in suffering! If in our soteriology we boast in the cross of Jesus, the equivalent in our discipleship is to boast in our sufferings, no? Both views, the Calvinist and the ‘Hartian’, can do this. The flow of thought from v.2 is: ‘we boast in resurrection hope, and not only this but we also boast in the cross we now bear with Jesus. For the one leads to the other. Suffering is the present state that makes hope possible. As we persevere in suffering with Jesus, our identity (character) is clarified: we know which story we’re in and which character we identify with (Jesus). This identity gives us strong hope: our future is with Jesus.

      The idea is restated in ch.6, from a different angle: ‘For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.’ That’s our boast.

      So it IS God’s will that we Christians follow this special calling, the way of the cross. Hart thinks that, I’m pretty sure. But if we talk more about this, we’ll get into deep waters pretty quickly! The redemptive power of suffering, filling up the sufferings of Jesus, etc.

      What Romans 5 DOESN’T say is: we boast in sufferings because we know that all suffering comes from the hand of God and as part of his bigger plan will turn into good in the end. That view may be congruent with Rom 5, but it’s not what Paul’s saying here, I think.

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