Thursday, November 12, 2009

Suffering and a Just, Loving God

I will briefly introduce myself as I enter the world of blogging.

I am Norman Davis, an actively participating member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am a teacher (retired) of English (literature, language, writing, etc.) at various levels including the four-year college level (with graduate degrees). I am a registered Democrat who generally votes along party lines. Though not overly robust, I am a lover of the out-of-doors and of hiking, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and biking. There are no doubt other things I might add to help characterize myself, but perhaps these will do for starters.

I am entering the blogging world to air thoughts on a variety of subjects, thoughts meaningful to me and to others with whom I have already shared them, thoughts that may be interesting and meaningful to others as well.

With that brief look at my background and interests, here is my first posting, an unapologetically “Mormon” perspective on the issue of suffering in relation to a loving God:

Journal entry for June 20, 2008

A New Yorker article addressed the issue of reconciling a God, especially a loving, personal God with the fact of suffering and evil–especially the more flagrant instances of these.

Thinking about the article’s denigration of belief in a benevolent God, I was struck with the thought that Jesus in his life, and especially in undergoing his atoning experiences and suffering and the aftermath of those, serves as a model of what it means to suffer greatly in earthly life in relation to the larger perspective of eternity.

We see him suffer privations and rejections and outrages to his sense of rightness (as in the buying and selling within the precincts of the temple). Then we see him suffer with extreme intensity–mental and emotional suffering beyond mere human endurance in the garden and the exquisite physical pain and agony of his crucifixion. And these in terrible isolation–even his disciples forsaking him–except for the women who stood afar off as he hung on the cross.

Then we see him return fresh, sound, hale, and glorified. And we are given to understand that such will be our lot to the extent that we seek it and are prepared for it. All will be resurrected with bodies no more subject to the frailties and woes of our bodies in their present state. And all but the most willfully disobedient, who cut themselves off entirely from the saving grace of the atonement, will experience an existence far happier than our present state--as I understand the matter.

We have all experienced in this life severe (to us) sufferings and privations that have seemed unendurable or nearly so and sure to scar us for life only to find, once they are over, that we have rebounded wonderfully and that in retrospect they haven’t really been all THAT terrible after all.

I am reminded of a boyhood experience of jumping into a swimming hole in the Verde River in Northern Arizona from a railroad bridge abutment. The abutment seemed from the top so scarily high, yet when we looked back up at it from the water after jumping it seemed only of modest height, not scary at all.

I do not mean to trivialize terrible ordeals. I never wish to experience such if by honorable means I can avoid doing so. What I wish to do is magnify (to their true proportions) the rewards, the compensations of the hereafter. God will indeed wipe every tear from the eyes (except perhaps the tears of remorse for willfully cast away opportunities) and gladden every heart. We will be constrained by what we learn and experience in the resurrection to exclaim, “Thy ways are just, thy love is perfect, beyond comprehension, nothing has come our way that has not been tempered by love and wisdom for our everlasting benefit.”

The bridge abutment in retrospect was not that awfully high after all.

A postscript: Not only is suffering swallowed up in joy. It also has its uses in and of itself as this quotation from Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd” suggests: “Gabriel Oak, having passed through the ordeal of seeing his dream of life as an independent farmer instead of a mere shepherd or bailiff destroyed, “was paler now. His eyes were more meditative, and his expression was more sad. He had passed through an ordeal of wretchedness which had given him more than it had taken away. He had sunk from his modest elevation as pastoral king into the very slime pits of Siddim; but there was left to him a dignified calm which he had never before known, and that indifference to fate which, though it often makes a villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does not. And thus the abasement had been exaltation, and the loss gain.”

Welcome to the world of my thoughts!

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