Let me just follow up a bit on my recent pronouncing of anathema on Stoicism.

Most of the time, a society run on Stoic principles is going to be a pretty good one. People will work hard and take responsibility for their actions, because this is what honorable people do; and when things go wrong for them they will bear the misfortune equably and without complaint or recrimination.

That last point is of particular importance because patient suffering is the primary β€” perhaps the only β€” way to prove that it didn’t happen to you because you deserved it, but instead was simply a piece of bad luck. Luck looms large in the Stoic cosmos, and while by behaving honorably you can insulate yourself from some misfortune that insulation can never be perfect. So when the bad times come, as they inevitably will, your patience with them indicates that you are not at fault, that you are not the kind of person who invites suffering by laziness or recklessness. By contrast, to cry out when you are in pain is to announce to the world that your emotions are undisciplined, that your very self is undisciplined, and that therefore you almost certainly acted in ways that brought on your misfortune.

The people who cry our are shameless; the people who refuse to cry out, by contrast, feel deeply that suffering is shameful and work very hard to mitigate it by not allowing it to move them. They will also make a point of never indulging others in these matters: they train their neighbors in Stoicism by refusing to extend a compassionate hand beyond the bare minimum the situation (in their judgment) calls for.

In these matters I have contrasted Stoicism to Christianity, but I must note that St. Paul himself commends patient suffering: “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:6). But notice that here, and throughout his letters, “sufferings” are to be openly acknowledged and (to borrow a term from Charles Williams) “exchanged.” We might think here of St. Francis’s gift of the stigmata, which he did not announce but also did not feel shame for receiving; nor was he inclined to say, “Nah, this doesn’t hurt. No problem.” To “share in Christ’s sufferings” is a great goal of the Christian life, according to Sts. Paul and Peter alike; likewise to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

But back to the social context: Stoicism, then, works beautifully when a society is functioning well, when the people in it are on a run of good luck. But woe to any of the minority whose suffering is habitual, because that can only mean that they deserve it. We might pause here to consider that very familiar type of person who, on learning that someone is seriously ill, works hard to think of what that person did, or failed to do, that created or intensified the illness. We love to say, “Well, she brought it on herself” because we love still more its implicit corollary: “I am not ill and therefore have not brought anything on myself; in fact, my good health is proof positive that I do the right things.”

The Christian scriptures do not promise deliverance from suffering, but rather meaning and comfort in the midst of it. As George MacDonald wrote, β€œThe Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” Christians are therefore encouraged to accept suffering but not to pretend that we don’t hurt or that we are somehow above the pain. Rather, we are to seek out our brothers and sisters for sympathy and support. When Christ sweated blood in Gethsemane and sought the company of his friends, they gave him none β€” but that was only because they were sleepy. If they had been Stoics they would have denied it to him on principle.