JAMES R. EDWARDSJames R. Edwards is professor of religion at Jamestown College, Jamestown, North Dakota. He is coauthor, with George Knight, of The Layman’s Overview of the Bible (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1987).

When Adam, in Milton’s Paradise Lost, grasps the horror and suffering caused by his disobedience, he cries, “O sight / Of terror, foul and ugly to behold / Horrid to think, how horrible to feel” (XI, 462–65). The echo of Adam’s cry has been joined by a chorus of pain and anguish ever since.

Like Adam, we think and speak of suffering not because we want to, but because, like paying taxes and dying, we have to. My being an ordained minister and a professor does not mean that I am automatically more qualified to speak on the subject than the next person. I doubt that anyone is qualified to speak about suffering, if by “qualified” we mean that someone has mastered the art. Suffering is too mysterious and terrible to be reduced to a glib and patent formula. We hope never to see a title, Ten Steps to Successful Misery.

But we must, nevertheless, try to bring clarity to our experiences of suffering. We have all met Scrooge-like individuals who, like one of my relatives, manage to find delight in recounting how bad things are—and predicting that they will get worse. This dismal perspective on suffering has, in fact, more to do with the ancient Stoic’s view of the universe than Christianity.

The Stoic believed that at root, life is a concentration camp, that the only possible response to it is somehow to adapt to its dreary regimen. But the Christian world view is different. Life, says the Christian, is a marvelous gift of God. We know better than others what that means because we believe life, as originally intended, was meant ...

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