Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Redemptive Suffering

In an article that appears in today's National Post, Barbara Kay discusses the topic of redemptive suffering. She is unequivocally opposed to the Christian view of God: "A God who deems suffering redemptive is unacceptable."


In her article, she quotes a Catholic who embraced the holocaust as a way of participating in the suffering of Christ. I share her concern over this particular Catholic emphasis.

It is a peculiarly Catholic belief that human suffering, whether it be sickness or worse, is somehow redemptive. Usually and mostly it is not. The clearest example to the Christian always must be Christ -- who "went about doing good, and healing those who were sick and oppressed of the devil". Not once did Christ say, "it's God's will for you to be sick, he's teaching you a lesson, it's redemptive"! He healed all who came to Him.

However Catholics and Protestants are united in agreeing that Christ's suffering was redemptive because it was a divinely-instituted and voluntarily offered suffering on someone else's -- humanity's -- behalf.

Just like you as a parent might be willing to pay a penalty, a fine, imprisonment, or worse, on behalf of a wayward child whom you nonetheless loved. Both justice and mercy would be served, justice because the penalty would be paid, mercy because the child is spared punishment. And, it would certainly be redemptive to the child freed from the penalty!

But there are two caveats.

Firstly, the child would be free to reject the offer, which might be the case if he was stubbornly estranged from their parent.

Secondly, what if the child accepted the offer, but didn't turn from his wayward ways? The substitution would be monstrous -- it would simply free the child to continue in his wayward, destructive ways -- suffering the punishment would have been more appropriate.

God deals with both of these situations in the gospel.

God provides the way in Christ, leaves the sinner free to reject it, and predicates acceptance of it on a condition -- repentance.

Repent and believe the gospel -- the kingdom of God is at hand.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Richard, Stephen here. I questioned under the blog "Small Dead Animals" whether you believed Jesus was God or not based on your previous statment. I didn't come back to it until now and read your response. I agree entirely that God was fully man and fully God at the same time. I am sorry if I came across as condemning since you and I have exactly the same beliefs. I was kind of touchy since a lot of people have peculiar beliefs about who Jesus was while His true indentity is profoundly central to salvation doctrine (ie, Muslims believe in Jesus, Mormons believe in Jesus etc... Almost everyone believes in Jesus but it's not the Jesus of the Bible). What bothers me most is people who claim to be Christian and then are ignorant about or not intellectually honest about what the Bible actually says.

The quote, "A God who deems suffering redemptive is unacceptable" I think hits the nail on the head with regards to the main problem western athiests and agnostics have with God. I have since I was 19 struggled with a mental illness/anxiety disorder and have gone through attempts to harm myself and hospitalization when things got so bad. Most of my dreams for my life (career, girlfriend etc... are shot.) The quote captures the same depressing thoughts I had and continue to have.

However, I think two things need to be better understood in the minds of athiests and agnostics. First off (and you alluded to it as well), there is a common misconception (helped along by the Catholic Chuch) that doing good works and suffering redeems us. True, some verses allude to this, but this pricinple and natural law has been superseded by Christ's singular redemptive act of death. There no longer need to make recompense for our sins (ie. confessionals, penance etc..). This is shown clearly in Hebrews 7:27. Hebrews 10:26 shows us that the only un-reedemned sin is not bringing a sacrifice (ie. not acknowledging Christ's singular act). Suffering is redemptive only to the degree that are salvation in this life is limited to a hope and not a full realization (Romans 8,23-25).

Also, in decrying a God who sanctions suffering, athiests and agnostics fail to understand that with all their bitterness toward the idea of God, they still have not completely solved the problem of suffering in the world.
Predator and prey still play out in the animal world and in a more sophisticated, yet evil, humankind. Any alternative belief they come up with will also require a degree of faith. I have decided to try not to worry myself with these greater questions since whether or not I believe in God, I can't control my own suffering or that of the world's. It is not for us to know these things. Think of the Tower of Babel: for all the human ignenuity and effort, God had to "come down" to take a look (emphazing his height above us). I choose to be as God Himself seems to describe, "foolish" on these things (1 Cor. 1:18; 26-29).

RkBall said...

Hi Stephen,

Thank you so much for your post. I am very sorry to hear that you have been suffering from depression and a mental illness/anxiety disorder.

It gives me comfort to think about how Jesus looked upon the Father's face and saw a boundless, shining love, and then to think that, through CHrist, this love has been transferred to us.

Those who reject the gospel really have no idea of the sheer goodness and greatness of what they are rejecting.

We all suffer one way or another -- the apostle Paul referred to the infirmities of the flesh. And though we may receive help in this life, our ultimate redemption comes with the redemption of our bodies.

Send your email address to, and I'll send you a CD I released in July -- Love Lifted Me.

Joe said...

I join you Richard in praying with and for you Steven and your afflictions.

I think the difficulty I have with the redemptive suffering is "redemptive". If I redeem a token I get the real thing. In other words I turn something worthless into something of value. If I suffer it has no intrinsic value except that often through suffering I come to a deeper understanding of Christ and my salvation in Christ. I personally believe that if I suffer it has no redeeming value because I am only getting my just reward.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"