(…continued) “We know that moral character gets formed through hardship, through overcoming obstacles, through enduring despite difficulties. Courage, for example, would be impossible in a world without pain. The apostle Paul testified to this refining quality of suffering when he wrote that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’
“Let’s face it: we learn from the mistakes we make and the suffering they bring. The universe is a soul-making machine, and part of that process is learning, maturing, and growing through difficult and challenging and painful experiences. The point of our lives in this world isn’t comfort, but training and preparation for eternity. Scripture tells us that even Jesus ‘learned obedience through suffering’ — and if that was true for him, why wouldn’t it be even more true for us?”
Kreeft let the question hang in the air for a moment while his mental gears whirred. Then he continued. “Suppose we didn’t have any suffering at all,” he added. “Suppose we had drugs for every pain, free entertainment, free love — everything but pain. No Shakespeare, no Beethoven, no Boston Red Sox, no death — no meaning. Impossibly spoiled little brats — that’s what we’d become.
“It’s like that old Twilight Zone television show where a bank robber gets shot and wakes up walking on fluffy clouds at the golden gate of a celestial city. A kindly white robed man offers him everything he wants. But soon he’s bored with the gold, since everything’s free, and with the beautiful girls, who only even laugh when he tries to hurt them.
“So he summons the ‘St. Peter’ figure. ‘There must be some mistake,’ he says. ‘No, we make no mistakes here,’ he is told. ‘Can’t you send me back to earth?’ the man asks. ‘Of course not, you’re dead,’ the man in white replies. ‘Well, then,’ the former bank robber says, ‘I must belong with my friends in the Other Place; send me there.’ ‘Oh, no, we can’t do that– rules, you know.’ is the firm reply. ‘What is this place, anyway?’ the man asks. ‘This is the place where you get everything you want,’ he is told. ‘But I thought I was supposed to like heaven,’ he says. And the man in white says: ‘Heaven? Who said anything about heaven? This is the Other Place.’
“The point is that a world without suffering appears more like hell than heaven.”
“Do you really believe that?” I asked.
“Yes, I do. In fact, if you don’t, then pretend you’re God and try to create a better world in your imagination. Try to create utopia. But you have to think through the consequences of everything you try to improve. Every time you use force to prevent evil, you take away freedom. To prevent all evil, you must remove all freedom and reduce people to puppets, which means they would then lack the ability to freely choose love.
“You may end up creating a world of precision that an engineer might like — maybe. But one thing’s for sure: you’ll lose the kind of world that a Father would want.”
“Whatsoever is good for God’s children they shall have it, for all is theirs to further them to heaven. Therefore, if poverty be good to serve that greater purpose, they shall have it; if disgrace be good, they shall have it; if crosses by good, they shall have them; if misery be good, they shall have it– for all is ours, to serve for our greatest good.”
–Richard Sibbes, Anglican theologian (1577-1635)
Genesis 1:31a — God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Romans 5:1-5 — Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
–Jesus, Matthew 6:10