Sanctified Compare and Contrast

by Dr. Joe Mulvihill
The most common type of book authored and published today are self-help, happiness/human flourishing & well-being books. There are many contributing factors to this publishing phenomenon. One is the altogether normal human desire for rest, catharsis and pleasure/deep satisfaction. Standing in the way of this pleasure, flourishing and rest is pain, risk & hardship, which can be mitigated by us, but never eliminated or fully controlled by us. Over the span of human history there have been various techniques to attempt to reduce or eliminate the power of this common human experience of pain, hardship, sorrow & risk in order to, in some way, secure happiness and satisfaction on the other side of “dealing” with evil and pain which is no “respecter of persons.” In what follows, you will see a criminally brief summary or sketch of the most popular attempts to deal with “the problem of pain” which thwarts our pursuit of happiness and satisfaction.
There are seven basic attempted answers to “the problem of pain” or, put another way, “how to be happy” by understanding what is in the way of said happiness that have remained through the ages.

The Buddhist answer.
Existence is pain. Happiness is illusion. Blessedness comes from cessation of existence which is
achieved through the denial & suppression of desire.

The Pantheist answer.
Division – the assumption of your existence as a separate being – is pain. Happiness is found by
becoming one with everything – cessation of existence as an individual being & training your mind to suppress the ubiquitous notion/powerful perspective that there are significant differences and distinctions everywhere.

The Hedonist answer.
Existence is pointless suffering/pain and happiness is a lie. Existence can be rendered more
tolerable by the constant maximization of pleasure and minimization of pain.

The Stoic answer.
Existence is suffering. The self-commanded man can become happy by disregarding pleasure &
pain, becoming indifferent to the travails of the world and motivated only by his own sovereign will.

The ancient Gnostic/Bolshevik/Socialist answer.
The current state of existence is a lie designed to entrap and disenfranchise men by an evil and
arbitrary authority. The internalization of this evil system by men produces suffering. Happiness
can be found if the current order is destroyed; thus, for “salvation” to be accomplished, both the current state of existence and the nature of man must be changed. This change can only be
accomplished by transgression and destruction. The new order of salvation will arise once
sufficient transgression and destruction has been accomplished, bringing happiness.

The general Theistic answer.
Suffering is brought about by transgression of the Law, given by God. Salvation comes through
following the Law. If you are saved, God will make you happy & fulfilled. This understanding is
fundamentally transactional; pay undeserved suffering & obedience, then receive happiness &

The Christian answer.
For man, suffering and death came with the Fall through the immoral, rebellious use of our free will. God blessed and hallowed suffering and death by Himself choosing to suffer and die – so He does not ask of us anything He has not done Himself. Salvation comes via cooperation with God – He who is the Real, the Beautiful, the True, and the Good in His very nature. This cooperation is accomplished through obedience and imitation of Christ, the Logos – the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the right order and reason of all things. Obedience consists, in part, of accepting suffering – to “embrace the Cross” as our Captain sought and embraced His Cross and, in part, through yielding to the Holy Spirit to receive power to “abide in” Jesus & obey him. Happiness, in this life and the next, comes from union with God – a “marriage” between God and man. This is a non-transactional relationship. Ultimately, those Saved will become Sons & Daughters of God – things like God Himself, in union with Him.
Regardless of their merits or effectiveness, these are the seven approaches that have convinced or been pushed on people to stand through time. There is so much more to be said about pain, evil, suffering and happiness, perhaps we can explore this subject more thoroughly in the future. I wanted you to see what many believing and non-believing scholars have noticed about Christianity. That is, that the answer Jesus and the Bible give to ubiquitous human suffering and pain is unique, robust, realistic and outdistances the competing “solutions” given through alt religions and life philosophies.

Suffice to say that the Christian answer to the problem of evil and pain has the greatest resources for not “solving” the issue on this side of eternity but resolving it in our experience here on earth before heaven.
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