This week I’m still mining Cam’s excellent comment on my post about suffering in Heaven. Cam begins,
‘suffering’: just for present purposes, when I use this word I follow your lead and refer to the subset of a person’s total suffering caused by the free exercise of their personal choice. This is a tiny tiny minority of total suffering and I have a moral duty to acknowledge that. Anyway as you explained, your recent posts aren’t intended to address the kind of suffering lay people usually want to know about when they ask ‘why is there suffering?’ such as illness, pain, accident, disaster, and suffering caused by third parties, e.g. violence.
This is actually a more restrictive definition than I was using or intended to convey. I’ve not been speaking just of my suffering due to my own decisions; I’ve been speaking of suffering in general caused directly or indirectly by the decisions of anyone at all, which is a much broader category. It certainly takes in suffering caused by third parties due to crime, violence, warfare, bullying, and neglect, whether physical or emotional. If I spread a disease due to failing to observe elementary precautions, then the suffering of others due to the disease is due to my exercise of my free will. If I choose to send a text message while driving and hit a pedestrian, their pain and suffering is due to my exercise of my free will.
It even includes much suffering from purely natural disasters, such as earthquakes, to the extent that I might be in a position to aid the survivors and alleviate or mitigate their suffering yet choose not to do so.
And then, theologically, even suffering due to natural disasters has been traced back to the Fall of Man; we are fallen men and women and live in a fallen world. I won’t insist on this point for the purposes of this discussion, however; in this post I’m merely pointing out that suffering due to human decision is a broad, broad category, and encompasses quite possibly the majority of the suffering most of us encounter on a day to day basis.
Also, please note that I’m not imputing moral fault to all decisions that cause suffering or allow it to continue; genuine accidents can occur because of the decisions made by the parties involved without either having done anything but exercise their free will such that they are in the same place at the same time.