Whilst travelling along the coastal road of Ireland, Belfast, in a mini-bus, we were admiring the awe-inspiring view of the sea, the clouds and the coastal quaint houses.
At this juncture, my brother-in-law, Nat, turned to me and asked, "Michael, you talked so much about gratuitous suffering, what is your view on gratuitous good then?" He directed me to the marvelous view of nature and continued, "Look around you. Can't you see the beauty of creation? Isn't this a counterpoint for gratuitous suffering?"
Well, his words kept me thinking. My qualms have always been a disconnect between a loving, all-powerful God and the prevalence of senseless violence in this world. Theodicy of this perplexing nature has always been the ferret in my theological pants. How can perfect love coexist with unspeakable evil?
Even if this world is fallen, and evil somehow reigns with impunity, how can God stand by to watch the cruelest of acts being committed by brutal men on the most innocent and helpless of creation? Notwithstanding Calvary, many have lost their faith in a personal God, including Einstein, because of this irreconcilable gap.
Nevertheless, Nat's counterpoint about gratuitous good gave me pause for reflection. It left me thinking about the counterweight of faith and love. If gratuitous suffering is about meaningless and unwarranted torture, then gratuitous good has to be about things and acts that are worth redeeming about us. Ironically, this is where suffering plays a significant role in our personal redemption.
I therefore see the equation this way: the more gratuitous the suffering, the more gratuitous the good to emerge. And the price in the end of gratuitous good is the enduring joy of giving of oneself to others just like Christ had given of his life to all. Examples of this abound in the lives of Corrie ten Boom and Dietrich Bonheoffer. Both are inspiring examples of how transforming gratuitous good can be in the face of gratuitous suffering.
Under the guise of a watch business during the evil reign of Hitler, Corrie ten Boom converted her home into an underground resistance to provide a safe refuge and passage for Jews. She and her father sheltered them, forged their identification papers and secretly disguised them as women in order to move them from farms to small villages so that they could escape from the roving eye of the Gestapo.
Corrie ten Boom did this at her own mortal risk. And even when she was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the dreaded Ravensbruck, she kept the faith going and infected everyone with her optimism for life. Although she struggled with understanding the senseless suffering, her spirit nevertheless held on to the verse in Thessalonians which said, "Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus."
Caught in the same circumstances, Bonheoffer was neither weary in doing good nor fearful of losing his own life. He had every opportunity to escape from the clutches of the Nazi guards - some of whom admired his faith and were prepared to assist in his escape during the tail end of the Nazi occupation - but Bonheoffer resisted the road most often traveled (and traveled most conveniently) because his sudden disappearance would have endangered the lives of people he loved, including his brother.
In fact, he was the city on the hill who dared to defy the powers-that-be when the other churches were quietly assisting the Nazi cause. He stayed back and set up an illegal seminary to preach against the evil government of the day and faithfully did what was God-pleasing and not men-pleasing.
Alone in his cell and awaiting a mock trial and his eventual execution by hanging, he declared this: "Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives people who believe...It beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting Kingdom of peace." To Bonheoffer, death is "tragic splendor."
This is to me how empowering gratuitous good can be. It is a life that thinks nothing of itself that makes gratuitous good so irresistibly uplifting. CS Lewis was once asked, "what kind of religion gives its followers the greatest happiness?" and he said, "while it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is best." This is of course contrary to what gratuitous good represents.
When a religion is about us, it is our own happiness that we seek. The goal of such religion becomes an end in itself, that is, to seek the happiness that is uninhibited worldly pleasure. And that is why CS Lewis does not recommend Christianity to those who seek the easy, broad life.
But the joy of Corrie ten Boom and Bonheoffer was a joy of a different species from the happiness that is self-gratuitous. It is said that "the salt of joy is sorrow, a touch of tears" and that such joy is "more divine than sorrow, for joy is bread and sorrow is medicine." And the bread of Life is the healer of our soul.
Indeed Corrie ten Boom and Bonheoffer served an interruptive God who punctuated their lives with the trials that follow because it is only in the "valley of soul-making" that one can truly experience the great heights of rejoicing that the happiness in the pursuit of self can never hope to attain. For no saints of God are uninterruptedly happy. And that is why in a world of gratuitous suffering, the triumph of gratuitous good is so redeeming.
My brother-in-law had indeed asked the right question and I thank God for leading me in the right reflection of it. Let me end with a scripture from Jeremiah 6:16: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."
Indeed, the good way is the way that leads us to bravely confront the evil in this world so as to bring out the good that God has purposed in us when we eventually rise above it. Cheerz.