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Why is there suffering and why should we care?
The existence and purpose of evil and suffering in the world is a persistent challenge to the Christian worldview. The classic argument goes something like this:
If God is all good, he would not desire a world with evil. If God is all powerful he would have the power to prevent evil. Since evil exists, God is either not all good, not all powerful, or does not exist.
In a contemporary spin on this argument, atheist Stephen Maitzen wrote a paper entitled Atheism and the Basis of Morality wherein he argued that the moral obligation to help and relieve the suffering of others (what he calls “ordinary morality”) cannot exist if Theism is true.
Maitzen’s argument is that if God exists and is a perfect being in power, knowledge, and goodness, then whatever suffering a child might experience must ultimately be for the net benefit of that child. To make a child suffer for no reason is immoral, to make a child suffer for the benefit of others is unfair, and to compensate a child for suffering still makes the suffering itself purposeless and therefore immoral.
Since, then, if God exists, suffering always serves some greater end for the sufferer, the moral obligation to assist others who are suffering disappears. In fact, it would be immoral to relieve the suffering of a child since to do so would potentially rob the child of the future benefits afforded by that suffering.
While the primary purpose of this article is not to answer Maitzen’s objections, examining the points raised by Maitzen’s argument allows for expansion and clarification on theodicy, that is, the reconciliation of evil and suffering with the existence of a perfect God – the issue that Maitzen is indirectly raising.
Maitzen’s initial point, that God is perfect in power, knowledge, and goodness is an adequate summation of the biblical view on God. In fact, later in his article Maitzen argues in a way that is consistent with Christian beliefs, that this is the best definition of a theistic God:
Serious theological problems arise for those who imagine that their God has limitations and imperfections. To begin with, this view of God rules out any a priori arguments for God’s existence, such as the ontological argument, that proceed from the mere concept of a perfect being; indeed, it abandons the entire project of perfect-being theology. But worse, this view invites all manner of awkward questions about the God it imagines. If God is imperfect, why think that God always has existed and always will exist? An imperfect God might be only finitely old and might go out of existence just when we need him most! If God is imperfect, why think that God has the power to make the universe out of nothing, or even the power to fashion the universe out of pre-existing stuff, or the power to achieve justice in the end? The affirmation “With God, all things are possible” is supposed to comfort believers, but if God is imperfect, what assurance do they have that all things are possible with God? Classical theism avoids those awkward questions by insisting on God’s perfection.
It is Maitzen’s second assumption that suffering must exist for the ultimate benefit of the sufferer in order to be consistent with God’s perfect nature. This is where his argument diverges from biblical assertions.
Maitzen argues that, on theism, the child’s suffering must be for the benefit of that child, because otherwise it is unfair or it is purposeless. God, being perfect, cannot do anything unfair nor can he do anything without a purpose. In other words, as Maitzen puts it:
To put it mildly, there’s something less than perfect about letting a child suffer terribly for the primary benefit of someone else—whether for the benefit of a bystander who gets a hero’s chance to intervene, or for the benefit of a child-abuser who gets to exercise unchecked free will. If you doubt the previous sentence, consider whether you would dream of letting a child you love suffer abuse in order to secure either of those benefits.
If someone else benefits and the child does not, one person’s benefit has come at the expense of another’s. That is unfair.
At this point, it would be reasonable to ask the question, “Would a perfect God such as Maitzen describes be obligated to act fairly?”
To answer a question, a distinction must be made between “fairness” and “justice.” Justice is best defined as a person receiving that which they deserve. It is unjust for a person to work for another person without compensation. It is unjust for a person to commit a crime and not pay some kind of penalty. In a just system, people are rewarded for good actions and punished for bad.
Fairness, on the other hand, is equal treatment for all people. Fairness does not necessarily coincide with justice. Imagine that a father surprises his three children by bringing them all a vanilla ice cream cone. This is fair, as all the children received the exact same treatment. However the ice cream is not a reward for anything the children have done. Since they have done nothing to deserve the ice cream, it is not an issue of justice, simply of the generosity and love of the father. A counter example would be if the father came home drunk and beat all three children. They have all received the same bad treatment, even though they have done nothing to deserve it. It is fair, but it is not just.
Consider an illustration from the parables of Jesus:
Matthew 20:1-16 English Standard Version (ESV)
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denariusa day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
The complaint of the workers hired first was that all of the hired hands had not been compensated according to the amount of work they had done. This, they contend, is unfair. However as the master points out, they had been paid the amount agreed upon. In other words, they had been treated justly. The disproportionate compensation was an example of the master’s generosity, even if that generosity had not been fairly given to all of the workers.
Now although one may question a God who is unfairly generous to some and not others, in principle this does not impugn this God’s goodness. On the other hand if this God is unjustly cruel to some and not others, this would raise questions as regards his perfect goodness.
If God punishes someone who does not deserve punishment, he does so unjustly. If God fails to reward someone who deserves reward, he does so unjustly. But what if God fails to punish someone who deserves punishment?
Throughout his paper, Maitzen uses the example of a suffering child. At no point does he argue for a suffering adult. Presumably, this is to avoid discussion of any sort of karmic retribution for evil deeds performed during the person’s life. Although Maitzen never states this outright, one may assume that he uses the example of a child because a child is not responsible for their actions as a result of immaturity and their dependence on adults, and is therefore unworthy of suffering.
This is not, however, the assertion of scripture:
Romans 3:10-20 English Standard Version (ESV)
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
This passage is quite telling. By repeatedly indicating that “not even one” (Romans 3:10, 11, 12) is righteous or does good, it shows that there are no exceptions to the “worthlessness” (Romans 3:12) of human beings. Children are included by definition here, but in case there is any doubt, Paul clears this when he provides a list of transgressions and includes in this list “disobedient to parents,” (Romans 1:30).
In case one chooses to argue that an unborn or newly born child is exempt, the book of Romans also addresses this when it says in reference to God’s arbitrarily choosing Jacob over Esau:
Romans 9:11-13 English Standard Version (ESV)
11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I have hated.”
As with the parable of the workers in the vineyard, this is not an example of God’s injustice (as Paul himself points out in the very next verse, Romans 9:14) but rather of his undeserved generosity towards Jacob. To say that Esau was unjustly robbed of the privilege of his birthright would be to assume that he deserved the privilege of his birthright. But as the book of Romans so eloquently argues, the only person who deserves something from God is a person who has earned that something by perfectly living up to the law of God (“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” Romans 4:4). The unborn or newly born child has “done nothing either good or bad,” (Romans 9:11) and so has earned no special treatment from God. Additionally, as that child begins to make choices, they are incapable of living up to God’s standard and they earn judgment (“For the wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23a).
Consequently, by the logic of the book of Romans, no one deserves anything but death. To allow a child to suffer is not unjust on the part of God because that child does not deserve anything. Or, as the book of Romans puts it:
Romans 9:20-23 English Standard Version (ESV)
20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—
In his paper, Maitzen addresses an argument similar to this:
Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne, for instance, says that God has moral permission to exploit any human being because all human beings owe their existence to God, God is on balance their benefactor, and furthermore “being of use is a good for the victim” who gets used (Swinburne 1995: 81). Does Swinburne’s reply work? Not at all, as we’ll see. Imagine that I clone a child into existence from a single one of my skin cells, and I treat the child splendidly for all but the final minute of its life. But during that final minute, I let someone abuse the child to death in order to show onlookers just how revolting child-abuse is and thereby deter them from ever abusing a child. Think of it as aversion therapy. The child owes its existence to me (via my use of technology), and I’m on balance its benefactor, treating it well for all but the final minute of its life. Moreover, its horrific death isn’t purely gratuitous; it serves as an object lesson for the benefit of others, not only deterring some potential child abusers but also protecting children they might otherwise have abused. Nevertheless, in this story I behave imperfectly, to say the least. Yet I behave just as Swinburne imagines God does. Even granting Swinburne’s premises, therefore, his conclusion doesn’t follow. His defense of exploitation on the part of a perfect God therefore fails.
Maitzen’s illustration is of a human being responsible for creating another human being equal to himself, and then torturing and killing that human being as an example to others. In other words, Maitzen would be doing the wrong thing for the right reason.
This illustration fails of God firstly because, in the example, Maitzen’s clone may have been dependent a priori on Maitzen for its existence, but it is also equal to Maitzen in that it is of the same nature as Maitzen himself. This logic cannot be applied to God because, as Paul pointed out with his example of the molder and the clay, in addition to owing their existence to God, humans are inferior to God. If a human being has any implicit value, that value has been assigned to him or her by God, that person’s creator.
As already shown, on Paul’s theology, allowing a child to suffer does not implicate God of wrongdoing because the child deserves nothing from God. In other words, God is in no way obligated by his perfect goodness to protect that which is imperfect. Arguably, God’s perfect goodness would require him to destroy all imperfection, but more on that later.
In summary, addressing Maitzen’s argument assumes that a perfectly good God could not allow a child to suffer in a way that does not ultimately benefit the child because this would be unfair and unjust. This is not the case as the child deserves nothing from God, or they deserve God’s wrath for committing offenses against him and failing to live up to his standards.
Now this is understandably a tough pill to swallow. Why would a good God allow a being with feelings and emotions to come into existence, only to allow that being to suffer? Regardless of the persons worth relative to God, it seems as if it would be imperfect of God to allow imperfect beings to exist just so that he could be judgmental of them. Why not only allow for the existence of perfect beings, or alternately nothing at all?
This kind of reasoning, isolated from the larger theological picture, has often caused Christians to stumble, and skeptics to scowl at anyone who would countenance belief in such a God. As Richard Dawkins put it in The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving, control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
It should be noted at this point that proving God to be unpleasant is not the same as proving that he doesn’t exist. Many religious people would consider a universe without God to be unpleasant, but this does not justify their belief in God.
If it were true that the only reason that God allows imperfect beings to exist was to justly watch them suffer, this would impugn God in another respect: it ultimately serves no purpose. And this is Maitzen’s argument as well:
Now suppose that God, although having the knowledge and power to prevent it, lets the aforementioned child experience terrible suffering not because the child will ultimately benefit from it but for some other reason, or perhaps for no reason at all. The suffering is intense, the child doesn’t deserve to undergo it, and the child doesn’t volunteer for it (as someone might volunteer for the pain of donating bone marrow). In allowing the suffering, God exploits the child and thereby acts imperfectly.
Maitzen here assumes that the only justifiable reason to allow a child to suffer is for the net benefit of that child. This, of course, assumes that the child does not deserve to suffer, or deserves anything for that matter, an issue this article has already addressed. So what good, justifiable reason could God ultimately have for that child’s suffering?
To answer this question, one must first determine biblically what “purpose” is. In the example of the potter and the clay (Romans 9:20-23), two types of vessels are identified: vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy. This passage postulates that God has allowed two types of people: those who will ultimately reject him and his will, and those who will ultimately submit to him and receive his mercy. Moreover the passage states that both of these types of people serve the same purpose, that is, to glorify God and to reveal his nature. The first type of “vessel” demonstrates God’s justice and holiness in that he cannot countenance that which is unholy. It also demonstrates God’s mercy because he “endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” That is to say that God allows them plenty of opportunity to receive his mercy, even though they ultimately reject him.
The second kind of “vessel” shows God’s justice in forgiveness and mercy, qualities that could only exist through his self-sacrifice as Jesus. Jesus took upon himself to absorb God’s righteous judgment for sinners, allowing God to credit sinners with Christ’s righteousness, although they had not earned it. As Romans put it:
Romans 4:4-5 English Standard Version (ESV)
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
There are recognized aspects to God’s nature that are never exercised unless there is something outside of God upon which to exercise them. Some of these attributes include Justice, Humility, and Mercy. God cannot be just if there is no injustice to address. God cannot be merciful unless there are those who deserve punishment.
The metanarrative of scripture goes something like this: God creates a good world. Free will is necessarily given to the creatures within this creation. These creatures exercise their free will to rebel against God, causing corruption within this creation.
At this point there arises an apparent conflict within God’s nature. On the one hand, God’s love requires him to provide forgiveness and mercy to His fallen creatures. On the other, God’s holiness and justice require him to stamp out evil and provide a reckoning for rebellion.
This seemingly irreconcilable problem is solved within the person of Christ Jesus, who comes in human form and lives a life of perfect obedience of His own free will. As a perfectly obedient human, he freely chooses to credit his perfection to the fallen humans, and to take their place as the subject of God’s justice.
God is able, through this act, to resolve the seeming conflict within His nature and exercise His own perfection. Under this paradigm, all imperfection exists as a profound demonstration of God’s perfection as he makes right those things that are wrong.
Romans 3:5-8 English Standard Version (ESV)
5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
Maitzen illustrates that, by taking a painful vaccination shot to the arm a child ultimately benefits from the suffering by being immunized to a deadly disease. This is the only kind of suffering Maitzen could continence as being justified. By this logic, Maitzen would clearly disagree that allowing a child to suffer for the purpose of glorifying God or revealing his nature can be justified. The problem with Maitzen’s reasoning is that everybody dies. The suffering child dies, the immunizing doctor dies, the child abuser dies, the atheist skeptic dies, the compassionate person dies and the cruel person dies.
Death being the ultimate equalizer, then, makes Maitzen’s theories on morality trivial at best. What purpose does helping the suffering child accomplish? You may extend their life a few more years, or make what life they have comfortable, but they still die. Perhaps you help to preserve the human race for a longer period of time, but eventually the human race will die out, and after them the universe will decay into heat death, and then nothing substantial will exist at all.
Consequently, the net benefit of the child is not served either by allowing them to suffer or by relieving their suffering. They still die, and, on atheism, cease to be. Once the child no longer exists nothing in their life has benefitted them at all.
On the other hand, if the child’s suffering in some way glorifies God the child has made an eternal contribution to the only thing that lasts, and thus fulfills the purpose for which the child was created. The fulfillment of purpose (as opposed to being purposeless) is of the ultimate benefit to the child. Hence, their suffering has, in fact, served for their net benefit.
This being the case, Maitzen might argue that if suffering and evil are allowed by God in order to reveal his nature, his original thesis survives – that is to say that person has no obligation to assist those in need and relieve the suffering of others because to do so would interfere with God’s revelation of his nature.
Why then should a Christian act compassionately towards others? The answer to this is much the same: because in so-doing they are glorifying God and fulfilling their purpose:
Matthew 5:13-16 English Standard Version (ESV)
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
The first portion of this passage reveals that in refraining to do good, believers serve no purpose and are “no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” But if they fulfill what Maitzen calls “ordinary morality” others “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Christians face much the same problem as Atheists as regards good works: everyone dies. In fact, every person that Christ miraculously healed eventually got sick again. Everyone that Jesus raised from the dead died again. The difference is that the good deeds done by Christians serve the eternal purpose of bringing glory to God. Nor must the Christian wave their good deeds in the sight of everyone. This is, in fact, counter-indicated by scripture as Christ rebuked the self-righteous Pharisees for just such actions, instead praising those who did their good works in secret that the “Father who sees in secret may reward you” (Matthew 6:4).
Ultimately Christians are held accountable for their deeds, good or bad, to God alone. And God makes it clear that he identifies with the plight of the suffering and needy:
Matthew 25:34-40 English Standard Version (ESV)
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.’
Just as it is in the child’s net benefit to glorify God through their suffering, fulfilling their purpose on earth, it is in the Christian’s net benefit to relieve their suffering, bringing glory to God.
As an example of this, consider this passage from the book of Matthew:
Matthew 9:2-8 English Standard Version (ESV)
2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing[a] their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
Presumably the purpose for which the people brought the paralytic to Christ was not to have his sins forgiven, but rather to have him healed. Jesus, instead, put the priorities in their proper perspective by forgiving the sin for the eternal net benefit of the paralytic, rather than healing his paralysis, which was a temporary benefit at best. It was only when they questioned his authority to forgive sins that Jesus healed the man, doing so to prove his authority, and, as is fitting, the people who saw it “glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” Thus the man’s suffering served the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.
In fact, a strong argument could be made that people are brought to knowledge of God most frequently through suffering. The case of the paralytic is a good example. This man came to Jesus because of his suffering, an act that resulted in eternal rewards: a net gain for his suffering. The Gospels and the book of Acts are packed with such examples of people in suffering who, by seeking relief came to saving knowledge in Jesus.
But one need not turn to the Gospels to see examples of this. Ask any Christian to give you their testimony, and in the vast majority of cases, they will sight an example of suffering that brought them into union with God.
When Christians help those in need, this becomes a testimony to God’s love through those Christians, and will frequently lead to the salvation of the sufferer. Hence, Maitzen’s argument backfires on itself. The person would never be seeking relief if they were not suffering in the first place, and the Christian’s obedience to God in helping the suffering has the net benefit of affording eternal life to the otherwise lost soul. The suffering and the good deed are two parts of a necessary whole for the benefit of that person.
But if suffering of unbelievers is always justified because it causes them to seek God to his glory, what about suffering of believers? To answer this question the Old Testament example of Job is an appropriate study. This story starts by taking great pains to illustrate the righteousness of Job. Then it jumps to a curious scene in heaven where Satan challenges God by saying that if God removed his blessings from Job, Job would stop worshiping God and instead curse his name.
Job never discovers the reason behind his suffering in this story. Even when God restores blessing to him, Job doesn’t ever know why he was caused to suffer in the first place. The reason, if the introduction to the story is any indication, was that God was showing that he was worthy of worship because of his intrinsic nature rather than the blessings he chose to bestow on someone. Job, accordingly, responds in his destitution:
Job 1:21 English Standard Version (ESV)
“Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
This response by Job is consistent with what has been argued above. Job realizes that he entered the world with no wealth and no worth, and that both of these things were given to him by God. He also realizes that whatever he has gained in life will be annihilated by death, so that his wealth and blessing has a built in expiration date. In other words, God is perfectly just to give or take away as he sees fit.
The important point here, though, is that suffering can exist without an obvious reason and still be consistent with God’s perfect nature.
In conclusion, suffering serves the purpose of impressing upon the sufferer their own mortality. In seeking relief, the sufferer recognizes their own helplessness and comes to a reliance on God to the end that they achieve eternal salvation instead of damnation. Thus the suffering does result in a net benefit for the sufferer. As Christ says:
Matthew 9:12b-13 English Standard Version (ESV)
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
When a Christian helps someone who is suffering they aid in this process by demonstrating God’s love and pointing that person to salvation in Christ. One need only think of the myriad of sick and dying people who came seeking healing from Jesus and the Apostles and were preached the Gospel in the process.
When a believer suffers, it is to remind them of their reliance on God and God alone. This is seen in the Old Testament when God led Israel through the harsh wilderness experience:
Deuteronomy 8:3 English Standard Version (ESV)
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
And also in the life of the Apostle Paul:
2 Corinthians 12:7-9 English Standard Version (ESV)
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Atheism can give no such purpose to suffering. The only hope an Atheist has to give a person in pain is that someday they will die and they will cease to exist. Compared to eternal, perfect life in the presence of a perfect God, this is thin hope indeed.
 Worthless in this context meaning that human beings do not fulfill the purpose for which they were designed.
 Any legal right Esau had through inheritance was forfeited when he sold his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25:29-34)