Friday, May 23, 2008

Musing on Sacrifice and Suffering

Here's an interesting philosophical and theological question: is there a kind of "suffering" when we obey God?

I think there can be sometimes, but only from a purely anthropological standpoint. There's no question that when we obey God, we are sacrificing our will in favor of His. It's not easy, right? "Sacrifice" suggests hardship. But it's a very different type of hardship than the more typical modes of suffering...but would you agree that a case can be made that in obeying God, there is a part of us that 'suffers?' Maybe sacrifice is more the right word.

Here's the paradox: when I give up eating Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzards anytime I want, there's certainly a sacrifice, and no one can tell me that I don't suffer! :-) But, there's no question that by choosing to eat more healthily, I'm better off. I'm thinner, I feel better about myself, etc. So given the choice, to sacrifice is without question better for me. So too with obeying God, right?

But even so, can you say that there is a part of us that suffers when we obey God? The reason I ask is that I've been mulling over an idea about a chapter in my book with the working title "The Suffering of Obedience." It feels wrong to have a chapter titled that, but I do want to address the reality in our lives that when we choose to obey God, we have to put certain things to death, and in so doing, we may even grieve things, even if they were not good for us to begin with. I think it's an honest take on the way we live, whereas a hyper spiritualistic take would be one in which we naturally "rejoice" that we've made the "right" choice.

I'd say the hardest thing about losing weight has been giving up those darn Reese's Blizzards, and there's never been any rejoicing over giving those up (which I haven't done entirely--I had one today, in fact.)

I remember someone I know who gave up smoking long ago, and she said that every time she smelled cigarette smoke, she wanted one. She was glad she had given up smoking, but it was forever bittersweet.

I think that's a certain kind of suffering, right?

I'm very curious what other people think.


ali said...

~a beautiful reflection~

four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: "Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart." Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: "Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites." In the New Testament it is called "moderation" or "sobriety." We ought "to live sober, upright, and godly lives in the world"

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one's heart, with one's soul and with all one's efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (this is fortitude). It obeys only God (this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).

~catechism of the catholic church #1809

Scott Lyons said...

I would agree. Obedience is often a little death, but it is also like the death of a seed.

It feels a heavier topic of discussion than can be sorted through in a series of comments. That being said, I'll throw some in anyway.

I just read in Mere Christianity (the current On-the-John read) about the schoolboy whose view of God was of a Being who snooped around into other people's business, and whenever he found someone having fun he would let him have it. I think the Christ-life often involves this kind of suffering. And consider the descriptions: "I beat my body," spiritual discipline, mortify the flesh, etc. Ascesis/asceticism comes from the Greek word meaning "exercise."

I remember, recently, one of the most emotionally painful "exercises" for me was in going to meet someone who I simply didn't want to forgive, didn't want to love - and knowing that God wanted me to forgive and to love. I felt like my heart was being crushed because I'd been so terribly bitter for so long.

Which reminds me of the book Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard - when the Shepherd pushes the thorn of his love into Much Afraid's heart she experiences terrible pain. I think obedience and relationship with God, sharing in his life, can often be like that.

Dan said...

Thanks for the comments Ali and Scott.

I enjoyed the paragraph on temperance Ali, as well as the description of fortitude, which I believe is what is required when confronted with difficult circumstances.

Scott, I liked what you said--it's a little death, but therein lies new life.

I'm going to pursue this line of thinking further.