I write a lot about the topic of suffering on my blog and in my books—mostly because I have faced a lot of hardship in my own life.   Every day people are confronted with situations of pain and suffering, but all too often we confuse suffering with evil and pleasure with good. This Utilitarian approach has certainly been around in Philosophy for centuries, but has really found a home in the Capitalist West, typified by a general pursuit of the greatest happiness.

John Stewart Mill was one such man who promoted both a political and cultural environment where freedom of expression and choice of lifestyle could be pursued without impediment. In his view, he hoped that somehow as each person pursued their own pleasure, it would serve the greater good for all people.

“No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable except that each person …. desires his own happiness …. and the general happiness therefore is a good to the aggregate of all persons.” John Stewart Mill, (Utilitarianism, chapter iv)

In contrast, I think it is healthier; mentally, emotionally, and physically, to adopt an ethical system that allows for greater complexity.   In my own worldview, not all that is pleasure is good and not all that is painful is evil.

I can’t address every issue that comes up in your life, so instead I made the image below to help individuals discover on their own the truth of what is good and evil in life.

The brown boxes above indicate the two kinds of evil that can come into our lives; Unethical Suffering and Unethical Pleasure.

Unethical Suffering: Describes suffering which is brought about because of some wrong doing or injustice.
EXAMPLES: rape, torture, a debilitating car crash that was not your fault, etc…

Unethical Pleasure: Describes pleasure which is brought about because of some wrong doing or injustice.
EXAMPLES: taking pleasure in hurting another human being, taking pleasure in killing or watching another person being killed, enjoying property which is stolen, sexual pleasure outside of biblical marriage, etc…

The green boxes above indicate the two kinds of good that can come into our lives: Ethical Suffering and Ethical Pleasure.

Ethical Suffering: Describes suffering which is brought to bear based on some moral positive and serves some Divine purpose.
EXAMPLES: corporal punishment, discipline from God, a prison sentence for ones actions, etc…

Ethical Pleasure: Describes pleasure which is brought about by some positive action and serves some Divine purpose.
EXAMPLES: watching children at play, helping someone in need, doing something nice for another person, etc…

The applications of this chart are really unlimited, and my prayer is that this little model will be a blessing to you in some way as it helps you to sort out the good and evil things in your own life.

Dr. Joe Miller (aka JR) is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. In addition, he is a church planter and coach for emerging leaders. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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