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Insights While Suffering

With a View to the Cross and Resurrection


Mark Slatter

From the days of the early Church Christians have forged what has seemed to be a fitting kinship between their suffering and Christ’s Passion. As a result, Christians are sometimes guided by the impression that simply believing hard enough – «Have faith!» – would somehow trickle down to change their hardship. However, having faith in God does not automatically translate into know-how or wisdom with suffering. Sadly, many of us seem to improvise by trial and error with one of life’s most formative experiences.
This book sets out to explore an ethic of suffering; that is, learning how to locate the suffering on an ethical grid and, if possible, learning how to take steps to conspire with God who always desires our healing and freedom. The first part introduces the reader to some of the main theoretical and practical difficulties of suffering and Christian life through the work of three theologians who bring complimentary perspectives to the subject. The second part expands on some of the issues they raise with chapters on the properties of suffering, questions about evil, the effects of suffering on character and growth, suffering’s social and communal dimensions, the struggle for meaning and God, and the deeper moral implications of the imitation of Christ.
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Chapter 5: The Evil of Suffering


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Introduction: Why Evil?

Is there any rhyme or reason to including a chapter on evil with an enquiry on suffering? Is this topic (ponerology is the field’s formal tag) not more suited to a discussion of the exceptional malevolence of serial killers, child molesters and psychopaths, thug-beset governments that ignore genocide committed within their borders, demonology, terrorists who kill callously and indiscriminately, and the disturbing actions of notorious political leaders throughout the world?

Historian-ethicist John Mahoney has remarked how Western notions of evil tend to scrutinize it at arm’s length, that if one were so inclined to track down “what” or “who” evil is it would be found at the shady margins of civil society: “In English usage of the normal kind”, he writes, “to describe something or someone as ‘evil’ is to ascribe an element of emotional perversity or perversion, and the term tends to be reserved to instances of exceptional cruelty or of malicious behaviour.”1 Wrongs are committed and laws broken in our societies every day but these actions seem hardly deserving of the adjectives we use to describe what is tantamount to another classification of human action and a singular (if small) group of pathological individuals. Radical acts of evil take place outside of our conventional categories of wrong-doing, such ← 137 | 138 → as the Seven Deadly Sins. Lust, greed, anger, and pride cannot explain these monstrous actions and no punishment seems...

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