Saturday, December 03, 2016

Eschatological compensations

From what I've read, eschatological compensation is a neglected feature in philosophical theodicy. When Christian philosophers formulate responses to the problem of evil, it's usually variations on some standard issue theodicies, viz., the freewill defense, the greater good defense, the need for natural laws, soul-making virtues. By contrast, eschatological compensations are neglected.

That's striking, both because Scripture emphasizes eschatological compensations, and because the promise and prospect of eschatological compensations are something that helps many lay Christians cope with personal tragedy. So there's a disconnect. 

Consider Joseph the patriarch. He had a pretty miserable life. He received two related premonitory dreams. He's excited to share his experience with his family. In his charming naivete, it doesn't occur to him that his brothers will resent the dreams. He's too self-absorbed to anticipate the reaction.

Indeed, resentment is an understatement. His brothers are so incensed that they plot to kill him. Only Reuben's intervention restrains them. 

So Joseph becomes an Egyptian slave. Things seem to be looking up for him slightly until he's falsely accused of rape, resulting in his imprisonment. Finally, due to his oneiromantic reputation, Pharaoh elevates him to the prime ministership. 

While that's certainly an improvement on his status as a slave, then a prisoner, think about how much he's lost. He's been separated from his entire family. He's had to learn a foreign language on the spot. Consider his social isolation. Consider how lonely he must be, cut off from all his relatives. 

Although there's a family reunion, you have to wonder if he can ever look at his brothers the same way. Apart from Reuben, he might well feel permanently estranged from his other brothers. And his father dies. Joseph can't make up for the lost years.

In God's providence, Joseph was made to suffer for the benefit of others. To save his relatives from famine. To illustrate how God knows and controls the future. And for Jews and Christians to learn from his experience.  

You have other notables in Scripture who led pretty miserable lives. Consider Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and St. Paul. 

What can make up for that if not compensations in the world to come? It's too late for them in this life.

The point is not that God owes them anything. It's not a question of what they deserve, but what they need. They need to be made whole. 

1 comment: