Justified Suffering?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that the universal consensus is that suffering is something everyone experiences and tries to avoid. No one enjoys suffering, even people such as masochists, because the moment they begin to enjoy it they are no longer suffering. I would like to go so far as to say that no one deserves suffering, but I have trouble coming to that conclusion. If we take a look back at Prudentius, his descriptions on the defeat of the Vices are rather brutal.

“But the quiet, self-controlled Virtue, seeing the vain monster [Pride] crushed and lying at the point of death bends her step calmly towards her raising her face a little and tempering her joy with a look of kindliness. As she hesitates, her faithful comrade Hope comes … grasping her blood-stained enemy by the hair, she drags her out and with her left hand turns her face upwards; then, though she begs for mercy, bends her neck, severs the head, lifts it and holds it up by the dripping locks” (Psychomachia 299)

Using this extreme example, I suppose it’s simple to say that the Vices, the literal embodiment of man’s evil and the antitheses of good, are deserving of punishment and even death. But, suffering is a different matter. While the Vices deserve death, do they deserve such a brutal one? And, is it right to ignore their cries for mercy, or is it wrong to pity them? Who decides such things? God? Society?

How about we consider a less extreme example. The Book of David tells a story about three Hebrew boys who refused to bow to the statue of a king and were sentenced to be thrown into a furnace. As the furnace burned “the flames turned on the hateful men, to the heathen from the holy ones. The youths were blissful, the servants around were incinerated outside the oven, the fire turned in hurt to the harmful one” (Daniel 265). Did the servants deserve to die by the flames? The main antagonist of Daniel – at least in this section – is King Nebuchadnezzar. His servants were only following his orders. If anything, flame should have bypassed the servants completely and smote the king himself. The text calls the servants “hateful” but I believe this is a bit harsh. If Nebuchadnezzar had ordered his servants to give the three youths food and comfort, they would, and would they be hateful then? The king could ask them to jump off a cliff to their deaths, and I imagine some would, but those who refused would have surely been put to death for their disobedience anyway. Is their suffering justified because they are in service to an evil master?

This question brings another problem to mind. Augustine has said many times that evil does not truly exist, because it has no base in God. Evil only exists as the absence of good. Thus, nothing can be wholly evil, and must have some semblance of good. So, does anything deserve suffering or violence? Doesn’t everything deserve pity and mercy while suffering? Even Lucifer was an angel once, the best of almost all angels, in fact. He and any angels that corrupted and turned to his cause originated in God, and have a piece of Him inside themselves, as does everything else He created. So, is there any who suffer, undeserving of pity, mercy, or forgiveness?

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