Attempted Solution #5: Virtue


part of an ongoing discussion of “Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People”


Hemingway once said something about how life breaks everyone, but that some of us become STRONGER in those broken places.

You’re suggesting that bad things serve a purpose – like, to TEACH us something?

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Suffering ennobles us, allows positive character traits to develop. Courage, generosity, kindness – these are the kind of VIRTUES that can emerge from the anvil of evil.

Hmnn . . . If you lived in a world where NOTHING was dangerous, I suppose you would never learn to be courageous. “Courage” would have no meaning in a world where you didn’t have to face up to some adversity.

And if you lived in a world where everyone had MORE than they needed – food, clothing, money – how could you ever learn to be generous? Generosity implies that you make some sacrifice, give up something to help others who are in need. But generosity (“unselfishness”) would be meaningless in a world where everyone had all they could possibly want. There would never be any opportunity to practice the art of giving.

So, according to this so-called “virtue” defense, the presence of suffering is NECESSARY to allow individuals the opportunity to develop desirable virtues?

Yes . . . Just because there is suffering & hardship in the world doesn’t mean that the world is not perfect, or that God made some kind of mistake. Why assume that God’s purpose should have been to create a world of ALL pleasure and NO pain, a world in which there is no suffering?

We’re being tested? The world is a place where we can grow & develop and perfect our moral CHARACTER?

Why not? Bad things can be thought of as “soul-building evils” that help make us a better person.

Perhaps . . . But surely that begs the question: do we really need so MANY evils to get the job done? One-third to one-half of all the people in Europe died of the Bubonic plague. Wouldn’t, say, a 20% death rate have worked just as well, testing people’s character?

You’re suggesting that the problem is not merely the presence of evil – some of which may have a purpose – but the fact that there is so much evil?

Yes, the sheer amount of evil in the world seems excessive. And think about this, too – does suffering always lead to the POSITIVE development of character?

Sometimes great hardship breeds FEAR instead of courage, RESENTMENT instead of love, SELFISHNESS instead of generosity.

And suffering sometimes just plain crushes people, drives them insane, leads to suicide.

It would seem, then, that suffering doesn’t always lead to the development of character, sometimes it leads to the DISINTEGRATION of character.

And why would a “kind & loving” Father do that to his children?

We’re back to the same old dilemma . . .

How can an all-loving Father even THINK of testing his children’s character so cruelly?

And how can an all-powerful Father sit by and ALLOW the testing of character to sometimes destroy his children?

God might be all-powerful, or all-loving – but he can’t be BOTH at the same time?

One Reply to “Attempted Solution #5: Virtue”

  1. A very interesting take on the trials of staying alive, John. How do we do it, how does life work, anyway.
    An early revelation for me came with suddenly seeing that a rough go is a bump in the road and not a permanent ditch I landed in. And that if I could maintain some interest in being ingenious about liberating myself I would be out of that and on to the next. The whole business of suffering in order to grow, well you don’t have to look for it so much as be up to it when it hits. A very dear friend once said to me that there is no valid cry of ‘IT’S TOO MUCH!” because when truly it’s too much then you’re dead. Anything short of that just needs to be fixed. Thanks for the thinking, the puzzling, the sorting out that you inspire.


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