So, recently I had the thought: suffering is irrelevant. I arrived at this conclusion using the idea of limits in Math.

  1. Say that suffering could be measured in units as a function of time (frowns per second? Level of pain * frowns / consolation???. It doesn't really matter how it is measured though).
  2. In heaven, suffering is 0, meaning that once someone is in heaven, suffering becomes a constant.
  3. Heaven is also eternal (time approaches infinity).
  4. Therefore, since the suffering is a constant, and it is being expressed in terms of an infinite value, it follows that all suffering normalizes to 0 (even if we do care about suffering in heaven... which we won't).

While this thought makes sense, I can't help but feel that somehow this is too simplistic of an explanation. Have I missed some piece of logic? Is this a heretical thought somehow?


Deriving some formula on your own then trying to figure out whether it "fits" somehow is a dangerous way to live your life. You'll get yourself into all sorts of scrapes of your own making and miss out on most of the blessings God has in store.

Instead, you should learn to use Scripture as a sort of lens or framework by which to understand the world. If you had approached the issue of suffering by starting with the Scriptures then applying what you found there to the world, you would come to a different conclusion about the importance of suffering. Most significatly, I think you would find that it has meaning / purpose.

In Scripture, suffering is not a divide by zero equation, it produces something:

Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Furthermore we know that besides just some end product, the actual process has value:

1 Peter 2:19 (ESV)
19  For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.

In summary, making suffering out to be of no consequence would clearly conflict with Scripture.

On the math issue, it's probably worth noting the kind of time based math we currently operate in is not the same order that God operates in or that we will eventually be ushered into. This creation (and it's timeline) are just a created capsule sustained by God's will for a purpose for a time. It will have an end. The economy of what survives and is of eternal value and what will perish and will "not matter" is defined by God's rules. Physics, chemistry and even theoretical math do not govern what does and does not have eternal consequences. Neither do any philosophies of men.

  • It was a case of, "I have what appears to be clear logic producing a conclusion which is uneasy." – Ignatius Theophorus Aug 3 '12 at 17:06
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    "Physics, chemistry and even theoretical math do not govern what does and does not have eternal consequences." Thanks to some zealous popularizers of physics and mathematics, I often have to explain to my students that no, mathematics is not the "language of the universe" or the "language of God". It is simply a language of the imagination. – Andrew May 12 '16 at 13:18

I am educated in both mathematics and the Scriptures. Since Caleb answered from a Scriptural perspective I'll just mention a few things about your logic:

Firstly, You're not using precise mathematical language, so it's impossible to determine what you mean from a mathematical or logical standpoint without trying to just infer what you were trying to say. You've said "suffering normalizes to zero", but what I think you meant was that the limit of the suffering function with respect to the time parameter converges to zero.

Second, you've said that "eternal" means to take the limit as the time parameter approaches infinity, but this is a poor approach. God is eternal, but that does not mean he only exists at that limit (only in the infinite future). If Heaven is eternal, then events and properties of Heaven are not functions of time, and so a limit with respect to the time parameter is trivial. Eternal should also mean that properties cannot be written as simple functions, or they cannot be measured, so applying the logic of functions to spiritual things is sure to end in contradiction and confusion. This is why these notions are commonly referred to in philosophy and theology as transcendental or noumenal.

Your logic is anything but clear. In (2) you establish that suffering in Heaven is 0. In (4), you determine that the limit of the suffering function, which by (3) should give the amount of suffering in Heaven, is 0. So you are using your statement in (2) as an argument to establish itself. This is a logical fallacy called begging the question.

Finally, your conclusion does not follow, even if you did establish that suffering goes to zero, because your conclusion is about the meaning of suffering, not the amount of suffering. You have presented a flawed argument that the amount of suffering goes to zero, then have concluded "therefore suffering is meaningless". If you want to demonstrate that, you would need to determine a meaningfulness of suffering function, and show that that function converges to zero. I would argue that any function of "meaningfulness of suffering" must be considered cumulative sense, and as such the limit as the time parameter goes to infinity must have a positive value (the meaning is bounded) or else must be infinite (the meaning is unbounded).

This agrees well with Caleb's answer that suffering does have meaning. In fact, I would say that it is by the suffering of Messiah that all things derive meaning.

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