Created for Joy
A Christian View of Suffering
Crossroad, $19.95, 256 pp.
Sidney Callahan begins her fifth book with these celebrated lines from William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”:
Man was made for Joy and Woe; And when this we rightly know Thro’ the world we safely go.
The purpose of woe—or suffering, to use a more modern word—has never been an idle question. It touches us personally; it has occupied philosophers throughout history. New York Times online columnist Stanley Fish contends it is “the central problem of theodicy—the existence of suffering and evil in a world presided over by an all powerful and benevolent God.” Tell us, we demand: Is the Higher Power a practical joker, sadist, absentee father, or helpless bystander?
In Created for Joy, longtime Commonweal contributor Sidney Callahan views this question through the eyes of a devout Catholic psychologist. Callahan rejects the notion that suffering has intrinsic value. Pain, grief, hunger, depression, and loneliness, she asserts, are not sent by God to test our faith or punish us, to grab our attention or to perfect us. Nor should we—on the secular side—buy the self-help agenda that assigns blame for illness to toxic anger, irresponsible diet, or neglect of our third chakra. The gist of...