3

Let me illustrate with a few examples.

Examples of good in Christianity:

  • Love: it's evident that love feels good and promotes behaviors that make others feel good. Therefore, love ranks very high on the "wellbeing scale".
  • Joy: the experience of joy ranks very high on the "wellbeing scale".
  • Peace: same thing.
  • Self-control: this basically means having the ability to avoid falling into the trap of addictions and compulsive behaviors, which is a great ability to have considering that addictions and compulsive behaviors can cause a lot of suffering to oneself and others. So, again, this virtue promotes wellbeing.
  • Faith: it's less obvious how to put this one in terms of wellbeing and suffering, but if we think of faith as "trust", then faith basically means trusting what God is telling you to do, and if we assume that God is omniscient and therefore has an optimal plan that ultimately seeks to maximize wellbeing (heaven) and minimize suffering (hell), then faith in (and obedience to) this kind of God should promote behavior that maximizes wellbeing and minimizes suffering in a holistic manner (i.e., by trusting and obeying God we are cooperating with God's plan and thus contributing to the ultimate maximization of the wellbeing of the whole creation.)
  • Etc.

Examples of evil in Christianity:

  • Hatred: it's evident that hatred causes a lot of suffering.
  • Anger: same thing.
  • Envy: it can cause a lot of psychological suffering to the envious person, and the envied person may suffer as well if the envious person decides to do something stupid against them.
  • Stealing: very obvious, victims of stealing can experience a lot of suffering.
  • Lying: this one can be a bit trickier, since there might be situations in which lying can actually promote wellbeing, e.g. lying to the Nazis to save a Jewish family that is hiding in your basement. But there are plenty of cases when lying can cause suffering, for example when misinformation is propagated, causing people to make wrong decisions based on false information.
  • Fornication and Lust: this one is even trickier. Sexual desire and sexual pleasure feel good, so in this sense they have positive points on the "wellbeing scale". Perhaps someone might say that fornication might lead to STDs, but if proper safety and hygiene measures are taken, this potential risk can be greatly mitigated, so not a compelling argument in my opinion. Perhaps a better argument could be that lust might lead to pernicious behaviors such as sexual harassment and even rape, and these can undoubtedly cause a lot of suffering to the victims, and so we can trace an indirect path from lust to these harmful behaviors. But again, people can be lustful in private, using their imaginations, porn, etc. Not everyone who has lustful desires is a rapist or a sexual harasser, so this argument would not apply to those cases. Maybe a better reason why lust is seen as wrong is because the level of wellbeing it produces is of "lower quality" than the wellbeing experienced by someone "full of love". In other words, "love" is of a higher quality than "lust", meaning that love ranks higher than lust on the "wellbeing scale", and therefore love should be preferred. But this would only make sense if love and lust are mutually exclusive (otherwise, you could enjoy both love and lust at the same time and have the best of both worlds). Another possible reason against lust and fornication could be that they can lead to compulsive behaviors and obsessions, which may impair a person's ability to behave in loving ways, be productive and useful to society, etc., which can be similarly argued against other compulsions such as alcohol addiction, drug addiction, gambling, etc.
  • Etc.

Are good and evil in Christianity ultimately based on maximizing wellbeing and minimizing suffering?

Extra comments on homosexuality:

The issue of homosexuality seems to be a good objection and potential counterexample to the view of morality as based on maximization of wellbeing and minimization of suffering that I'm defending here. How is wellbeing increased and suffering decreased by forbidding homosexuality? However, I still think there is a way to frame the prohibition of homosexuality in Christianity in terms of wellbeing and suffering, as follows:

  • If homosexuality is a sin that can get one sent to hell (maximum suffering) instead of heaven (maximum wellbeing), then it should be in one's best interest to refrain from homosexuality.
  • Homosexuality is a behavior that doesn't align with God's original plan for humanity. So we could say that God envisioned an optimal plan for humanity, and allowing homosexuality in would make things suboptimal from God's perspective. And maybe the reason has to do with reproduction and other considerations, fewer salvations, and therefore less people enjoying the maximum wellbeing of heaven, I don't know.
  • We could also include God's wellbeing into the equation. As far as I understand, whenever someone sins against God, that makes God angry and/or sad in some sense. Therefore, in order to maximize God's wellbeing, humans should avoid sinning, which includes homosexuality.
8
  • 1
    Welcome to Cse, Mark. You've asked a really BIG question, and a good one. I won't try to answer it but maybe we have some experts in moral theology out there that can do it justice. Apr 3, 2023 at 1:45
  • "If homosexuality is a sin that can get one sent to hell (maximum suffering) instead of heaven (maximum wellbeing), then it should be in one's best interest to refrain from homosexuality." - this defeats the premise of the question, as 'being sent to hell' is not an attribute of homosexuality itself and could easily be applied the other way around if God so wished Apr 3, 2023 at 3:30
  • "We could also include God's wellbeing into the equation. As far as I understand, whenever someone sins against God that makes God angry and/or sad in some sense. Therefore, in order to maximize God's wellbeing, humans should avoid sinning, that includes homosexuality. " - this is a circular argument; it makes God sad because it is wrong and it is wrong because it makes God sad Apr 3, 2023 at 3:32
  • I think mentioning "maximize wellbeing (heaven) and minimize suffering (hell)" detracts from this question (ditto for the mention of heaven and hell in the homosexuality section). If one considers an eventual ultimate and permanent state, then wellbeing during this brief physical existence becomes almost irrelevant. ¶ Asking about the correlation between physical welbeing as a result of obeying God's laws or physical suffering as a result of not obeying God's laws, during our physical lives", seems like a more interesting question. Apr 3, 2023 at 3:34
  • @IsaacMiddlemiss I don't think I'm making a circular argument. Let me explain. Premise 1: God envisions a design and plan for humanity. Premise 2: when humans disobey this plan, God experiences suffering. Therefore, in order maximize God's wellbeing, humans should obey God's plan. There is no circularity. It's just based on God's nature. It's in God's nature to experience some form of suffering as a consequence of disobedience. If God were indifferent to disobedience, then homosexuality would probably not be a problem (**as far as I can tell, perhaps there are problems we are overlooking)
    – Mark
    Apr 3, 2023 at 3:46

8 Answers 8

4

The righteousness of God is mentioned twelve times in the bible.

This is the measure of good and evil.

Nothing else can be.

Matthew 6:33; Romans 1:17; 3:5; 3:21; 3:22; 3:25; 3:26; 10:3; 10:3 (again); Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9; Peter 1:1.

Mankind failed in the garden of Eden by attempting to partake of the 'knowledge of good and evil'. This was fatal, it led to the death of the entire race, in time.

Mankind was warned in the beginning that such a path was not valid for humanity.

To know good and to know evil and to do good and to eschew evil, all the time, unfailingly, requires that the participator be of righteous knowledge, competent judgment, unwavering will and consistent behaviour.

Mankind has proved, by behaviour, that mankind is not so equipped, by nature and by mere creation. Something more is needed (symbolised by coats of skins - a sacrifice of an as yet unspecified species - another kind of humanity.)

God is righteous. Humanity believeth.

Paul the apostle states of unbelieving Israel that 'they have not submitted to the righteousness of God' but preferred another way - of self-rightousness, human (so-called) 'righteousness'.

Out of the heart, man believeth . . . . unto righteousness. Romans 10:10 KJV

That is to say : unto the righteousness of God.

The only way for humanity to be right (righteous) is by faith in God himself. Believing that he is righteous, we are justified by faith and are accounted partakers of the divine nature (see Peter 1:1) which is righteousness in itself.

There is no other kind of right.

1
  • 4
    As it is written: "For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). +1
    – Lesley
    Apr 3, 2023 at 14:55
3

Are good and evil in Christianity ultimately based on maximizing wellbeing and minimizing suffering?

The short answer is no. The problem of evil (and good) is much more complex than that.

Physical evils are one thing, but the evil of committing an offence against God is far more grievous in the eyes of Our Creator.

The problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God. There are currently differing definitions of these concepts. The best known presentation of the problem is attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus.

Evil

A broad concept of evil defines it as any and all pain and suffering,[11] yet this definition quickly becomes problematic. Marcus Singer says that a usable definition of evil must be based on the knowledge that: "If something is really evil, it can't be necessary, and if it is really necessary, it can't be evil".According to John Kemp, evil cannot be correctly understood on "a simple hedonic scale on which pleasure appears as a plus, and pain as a minus". The National Institute of Medicine says pain is essential for survival: "Without pain, the world would be an impossibly dangerous place".

While many of the arguments against an omni-God are based on the broadest definition of evil, "most contemporary philosophers interested in the nature of evil are primarily concerned with evil in a narrower sense". The narrow concept of evil involves moral condemnation, and is applicable only to moral agents capable of making independent decisions, and their actions; it allows for the existence of some pain and suffering without identifying it as evil. Christianity is based on "the salvific value of suffering".

Philosopher Eve Garrard suggests that the term evil cannot be used to describe ordinary wrongdoing, because "there is a qualitative and not merely a quantitative difference between evil acts and other wrongful ones; evil acts are not just very bad or wrongful acts, but rather ones possessing some specially horrific quality". Calder argues that evil must involve the attempt or desire to inflict significant harm on the victim without moral justification.

Evil takes on different meanings when seen from the perspective of different belief systems, and while evil can be viewed in religious terms, it can also be understood in natural or secular terms, such as social vice, egoism, criminality, and sociopathology. John Kekes writes that an action is evil if "(1) it causes grievous harm to (2) innocent victims, and it is (3) deliberate, (4) malevolently motivated, and (5) morally unjustifiable". - Problem of evil

The moral evil of sin are far more devastating to humanity and the individual than simply the physical evils we endure because of our fallen nature.

Likewise the goodness is a broader category than simply moral goodness. The question of goodness is equally complex.

A different way to highlight the distinction between goodness per se and moral goodness in particular is by identifying two salient contrasts with goodness: badness and evil. Contrasting goodness with badness primarily pertains to the relative desirability of various states of affairs. A good state of affairs is one that we are positively drawn to, like a pleasant evening filled with mirth, whereas a bad state of affairs is one to which we are averse, like a painful toothache. When goodness is contrasted with evil, however, it is most natural to think of the ascription as applied to persons and their choices or characters. This was the import of Kant’s suggestion that the only unqualified good is a good will, a distinctive feature only of persons; this is arguably the province of moral goodness (Kant 9). So no state of affairs is rightly thought of as morally good or evil per se except in a secondary or derived sense. A hurricane, no matter how intense, is not morally evil in itself despite the havoc it wreaks, because hurricanes don’t have a mind of their own of which we can predicate such a moral property. At most we can say the hurricane is nonmorally bad because of the suffering it produces.

Moral goodness is one type of value; other comparable values traditionally identified include truth and beauty. Moral value is most naturally applicable to persons, but another disambiguation remains in order. Based on their exemplification of various virtues, persons might be thought morally good, but such an ascription remains importantly distinct from the moral worth or value of such persons. Attributing inherent value, dignity, or worth to persons is acknowledging the objective value they possess qua persons. Kant famously contrasted value in this sense with something like a price (Kant 46). An object or service might be worth a certain monetary amount, but treating persons as worth a particular price is irremediably unseemly. Moreover, even morally bad persons presumably still possess intrinsic human value. Such worth does not depend on their moral goodness, which is part of the import of qualifying it as “intrinsic,” in contrast with extrinsic or instrumental value.

Christian theists suggest that, on a Christian understanding, the value of human persons is found in the personhood of God. Similarly, Robert Adams thinks that the value of persons derives from what they have in common, a shared, relevant resemblance to God. John Hare partially demurs at this point, however, and in doing so adds an important element about how human dignity can be both intrinsic and derivative. His point is that an account of goodness rooted in God must emphasize not just what good things they share in common but the distinctive ways they are different. For in those very differences are reflections of disparate aspects of God. Human beings aren’t called to reflect God only in virtue of their collective humanity but also as individuals. This is why Hare is skeptical of Moore’s aforementioned isolation test for intrinsic goods, for Hare thinks it isn’t clear that any necessarily-God-maintained good could exist in complete isolation, so as to be the object of the required thought experiment. He suggests instead that a normative property can be intrinsic even if it is necessarily given not just its existence but its goodness by God. Part of his motivation in doing so is his conviction that the good that is the individual’s destination is itself both a relation and a kind of intrinsic good (Hare 188). Whether intrinsic goodness can essentially include such a relational component is a recurring bone of contention between certain secular and religious ethicists.

Turning now to moral goodness, Hart is bold enough to suggest that among the mind’s transcendental aspirations, it is the longing for moral goodness that is probably the most difficult to contain within the confines of a naturalist metaphysics. Among the challenges naturalists face in accounting for moral goodness and such a longing is the inevitable gap between the best that human beings can morally do by dint of their most valiant efforts at moral improvement and the uncompromising standard of moral goodness. At best humans can experience some finite amount of moral development in their lifetime, but that would leave anything like the hope for unalloyed moral goodness beyond our reach. Secular efforts to close this “moral gap” include lowering the moral demand, exaggerating human capacities, or replacing divine assistance to close the gap with a secular substitute. The Christian doctrine of sanctification recognizes the need for divine assistance without exaggerating human capacities or compromising the moral demand. - Goodness

Man is naturally good, but as Christians we need to strive to live supernaturally good lives and be holy. We need to avoid doing morally evil acts, while working with grace and using those physical evils that we can not avoid to be of great benefit to our souls. Physical evils as pain and suffering can sanctify the soul to levels unimagined.

Father, I abandon myself into your hands, do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands, I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart; For I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself: To surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence. For you are my Father.’ - Prayer of Abandonment

2
  • 1
    "Man is naturally good"? Jesus and Paul say differently. If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children... Being by nature children of wrath. Apr 11, 2023 at 12:13
  • 1
    @MikeBorden. "Man is naturally good" is itself an evil concept. Something I wrote more than two decades ago: Evil — Principles — Problem Management Apr 30, 2023 at 2:57
2

No. While this is probably debated at some level, the standard of good and evil is not how good a thing makes you feel or any subjective measurement, but is based solely on the Word of God.

There is certainly much correlation, as you rightly observe, and this is not coincidence, but nor is it the basis of a thing's rightness or wrongness. As you also rightly observe, many things that are mentioned or prohibited in the bible, such as homosexuality, do not have an obvious link to causing harm or diminishing joy.

You might find reading about the euthyphro dilemma interesting.

4
  • Hey Isaac, thanks for your answer. I added some comments to my original question addressing the homosexuality objection.
    – Mark
    Apr 3, 2023 at 3:26
  • @Mark the homosexuality point wasn't the main point, my answer remains the same. While there is a great deal of correlation between good/God's commands and joy/positivity, it is not the basis for them. Apr 3, 2023 at 3:28
  • "such as homosexuality, do not have an obvious link to causing harm or diminishing joy". In that case, there is harm. Physically there are many diseases that are easily transmitted and there is long term physical damage: The High Rate Of Colostomy Bag Usage Among Gay Men. Socially, it destroys the family unit, which is very symbolic of God's relationship with mankind. (Yes, I realize there are individual cases of life-long gay monogamy, but despite what we see in the movies, they are rare, not the norm.) Apr 3, 2023 at 3:44
  • "There is certainly much correlation, as you rightly observe, and this is not coincidence" I forgot to ask, can you please elaborate more on why you think this correlation is not coincidence? How about a case in which the correlation is reversed, i.e., each suffering is replaced by an equally intense joy and vice versa? Would love still be good if love caused suffering? Would murder still be evil if it caused well-being?
    – Mark
    Apr 5, 2023 at 3:56
2

If we can paraphrase "maximizing wellbeing and minimizing suffering" as "minimizing suffering" (that is, if "well-being" means "not suffering"), here are some answers.

we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Rom 5:2-4)

I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. (Eph 3:13)

It does seems the suffering is a means to an end, but it's still not something to avoid, but to consider "glorious." This is very different from a modern perspective, or a child's perspective! I am no classicist, but I have heard the ancients in general would find happiness uber alles to be an alien perspective. Socrates's gods (in the Euthyphro) as well as God Almighty call us to virtue -- not pleasure or happiness -- quite a bit.

Maybe we shouldn't take it too far. God does also speak of every tear being wiped away. The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. But suffering isn't to be avoided, it seems. It's to be embraced when it brings us to virtue.

4
  • "It's to be embraced when it brings us to virtue" But virtues are worth pursuing because they ultimately promote wellbeing, right?
    – Mark
    Apr 3, 2023 at 15:40
  • I might agree with you, but even if I do, it seems the ancients, including St. Paul, don't. God, and the gods, call us to virtue -- not pleasure or happiness -- quite a bit.
    – Maverick
    Apr 6, 2023 at 18:32
  • But, again, the virtues are worth pursuing because they promote wellbeing.
    – Mark
    Apr 8, 2023 at 6:26
  • 1
    I understand that belief. It seems the ancients don't agree. I can comment on what they said, but who's right is a question I'll leave to another venue.
    – Maverick
    Apr 9, 2023 at 8:53
2

This reminds me of a point I made when I converted, to the man who witnessed to me. Your question in slightly more formal terms is...

"Is Christianity divinely-inspired utilitarianism?"

This is a really interesting idea to explore, but I advise caution. Yes, this can take you so far. Certainly, because God wills no evil and His law is righteous and just, following His law should, in theory, result in the best possible outcome in every scenario.

However, here's part of why I feel faith is needed: because we're incapable of judging from observation alone when the best possible outcome has been achieved.

The crucifixion, on the surface of it, was an absolutely horrendous outcome, and it was certainly predicated by sin in the form of the betrayal of Judas.

The truth is not so simple.

Because the crucifixion was, in fact, the greatest possible outcome for the eternal destiny of all humanity. Aesthetic and emotion and even hard facts like the death of Jesus cannot be correctly used to intuit the truth.

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. -Ephesians 6:12 (NRSV-CE)

We see everything through the lens of the world. Of visible, physical creation. We are, like Job, entirely unaware of the cosmic, spiritual battle that is unfolding behind the scenes, which is of far more importance.

Attempting to see everything through the lens of utilitarianism will often leave us disappointed and disillusioned, because we usually can't see the fruits of Good in our lives. This is part of why reason alone cannot sustain us, we must have faith. I highly caution against this as someone who's fallen into this trap personally as it can leave us feeling doubtful and angry.

Our actions have unseen consequences.

To return to the example of Job; while Job's life was falling apart, the strength of his faith and fidelity to God was what ultimately resulted in God winning the bet against the Devil. The same applies in all of our lives. Your strength and fidelity in the faith may have dramatic impact in the unseen realms.

We can also show this in terms of temporality; Job and his story have, and continue to, inspire and strengthen billions of humans, especially believers, throughout history and across the globe. All because he held on to God. He couldn't have known or seen that at the time.

TL;DR - Or, why Faith is more important than Reason.

My view is that on a grander, cosmic scale, yes, God's Law is equatable with utility; following the path of Good is always Good. Just as evil begets evil, good begets good. However, the manner in which this occurs is often not clear to our earthly minds, and so we must first and foremost rely upon faith. Our reason cannot be trusted to get us "over the finish line".

1
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Apr 4, 2023 at 17:42
2

Love: it's evident that love feels good and promotes behaviors that make others feel good. Therefore, love ranks very high on the "wellbeing scale".

I have seen love cause the lover excruciating pain, so basing the goodness of love upon the pleasant feeling received by the lover is incorrect. Pleasant feelings can be a result of good things but they do not define them. Indeed, basing the goodness or evil of anything upon the creature's experience rather than the Creator's intent is immediately wrong: It is carnal mindedness and the mind set upon the flesh is death, at enmity with God and unable to please Him (Romans 8:1-8). This can be starkly demonstrated in the euphoria sought after by heroin addicts. No one would argue that what they seek is good.

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. - Mark 10:18

This statement by Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter. We are not good by nature, at least not by the standard of goodness set by God, which is God Himself. We can certainly see ourselves and each other as relatively good (or not) as compared with one another but that is a lesser scale; a fleshly scale. To mount the scale which weighs against Divine Goodness is to cry "Woe is me for I am undone".

To acknowledge one is undone is to acknowledge one needs to be remade...born again...born from above. It is to realize deeply and fully that I am not good; that I am not righteous. It is eschew the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and to sell out to obedience.

The ground was cursed not punitively but for Adam's sake ... for our sake ...for our benefit. Having chosen to kick God to the curb and take for himself the discernment of good and evil Adam separated himself from the only source of goodness and righteousness. We inherit this nature, this disposition. We are born with it and it is the only nature we have, by nature. This nature will not be drawn toward God without difficulty, without expulsion from Eden and a cursed ground because, in it's rebellion, this nature longs to believe itself to be right. It is difficulty, frustration of our plans, and the vanity of naturalism which can make us turn to God. Whether the cursing of the ground is good is not for us to decide.

We discuss whether this action is a sin or whether one sin is greater than another and the Bible says that whatever is without faith is sin: whatever. The question of homosexuality is no different than any other question and the answer is the same as well: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved from whatever.

As is pointed out in Nigel's answer above there is but one righteousness: God's. He alone is good intrinsically and always. It is God's prerogative and His alone to define good and to differentiate it from evil. Ours it is to obey and this obedience is not of the flesh ... it is not of human will or effort ... it is not of man's nature for man, by nature, is not good but evil:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.  Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? - Matthew 7:7-11 

How then to obey? It is "through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:". Obedience is a result. It is a product of the work of the Spirit of God within a person. You must be born again! Apart from the new birth there is no Spirit. Apart from the Spirit there is no sanctification. Apart from sanctification there is o obedience. We do not approach God through obedience nor do we acquire or increase righteousness through obedience.

How then to receive the Spirit? God has reconciled us to Himself through His Son. He has demonstrated righteousness and goodness and given life. We must believe to the shattering of worldviews and the tearing down of every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. We must ask for eyes to see our sin, not of individual acts but of disposition. I do not need forgiveness of what I have done but of what I am: a sinner. We must ask, nay beg, to be undone and remade. We must honestly ask to be crucified with Christ and that the Spirit of the risen Christ be given free reign in our hearts as Lord. We must abdicate the throne. This is where obedience can begin.

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. - Romans 8:9-11

0

Different Christian denominations (and even people within those denominations) will have different perspectives on this. I'll offer some thoughts from the perspective of a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

2 Nephi 2:25 teaches us that "... men are that they might have joy." This makes sense, if one assumes the backdrop of our lives here on Earth that members of the Church do--that God is the literal father of our spirits, and that He sent us here to Earth as part of a "Plan of Happiness."

The Church teaches (and wise men observe everywhere) that there are a few things that lead to the greatest happiness in life--personal growth, satisfaction with one's improvement, strong family bonds and healthy relationships with friends, etc. Thus, the Plan that God has created, and the commandments that he gives us, are designed to promote that. He sent us to Earth so that our spirits could gain bodies, and have families (which bring happiness). He requires us to learn humility, charity, independence from the world and total reliance on Him, and so forth. All these things lead to our growth (and therefore our happiness).

Some things God forbids because they inhibit our ability to progress, form families, or otherwise reach our divine potential--the last of which is far beyond what any of us can imagine, but is fully within God's view. You question, for instance, why lust is considered a sin. If families, united in total trust and love for each other, are destroyed by fathers who can't help but think about other women, that's obviously an extraordinarily evil thing. Lust inherently replaces and consumes love, exchanging something holy and good for something that will never fill the void that lack of love creates. Similarly, you wonder why God would prohibit homosexual marriage. It may help to, instead of thinking of it as a ban on homosexual marriage, think of it as a command for all to enter into marriage between a man and a woman, where families can be brought about and the greatest joy can be found (see Doctrine and Covenants 132).

God is not simply concerned with short-term enjoyment or satisfaction. He, like any parent, wants to see us reach our potential, which is to become like Him. President Eyring taught that "our Father in Heaven is concerned not just about our comfort, but even more about our upward progress," which is one important justification for why life is hard (or why life on Earth even exists). Without doing hard and uncomfortable things, we cannot strengthen our control of ourselves, learn to empathize with others, or gain important lessons in how to overcome problems. All of these are godlike attributes that God possesses; if God truly "minimized suffering" in the sense that many think about it, the entire purpose of our coming here to Earth would be frustrated, our progression would be halted, and our comfort would eventually turn stale and miserable. We need to experience suffering in order to attain God's happiness. But we can trust that such happiness won't just "outweigh" our pain--it will completely erase it. The following C.S. Lewis quote, which has been repeated by Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, reaffirms such an idea:

That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.

Ultimately, good things are good because they bring happiness, and bad things are bad because they don't bring happiness. But the important part is that the happiness God is concerned with (and we ought to be) is the "joy" referenced in 2 Nephi 2:25, which is eternal, and doesn't cause any hurt to your soul. Many things can bring temporary pleasure, but if found outside of the path God has established, it will always be just that--temporary. Not to mention, I have yet to find one of these temporary pleasures that didn't hurt you too--whether it be meth, or lust, or pride, the brief high isn't worth the ache afterwards.

Is this too meandering of an answer? It's a very good question you asked, and while I already had a general response, fully thinking through everything was a bit of a philosophical headache, which I hope didn't infuse my writing. In short: God is concerned with our achieving our potential, where we can receive the greatest eternal happiness. The commandments He sets are patterned after the way that He lives to help us achieve joy in this life, and prepare us to receive far more in the life to come. Sometimes, God gives us hard commandments that might make us "suffer" (the Law of Chastity, the Word of Wisdom, etc.). That doesn't mean God isn't concerned with "minimizing suffering"--His plan will swallow up all suffering completely! But the time frame is a little bit different than we, as small-minded children, can really comprehend.

So: YES, but it might not appear so if you limit your perspective to a human timeframe.

0

Solomon expressed it best:

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
3 Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

In college, I read On Liberty by John Stuart Mills. He advocated the Utilitarian Principle as a basis for ethics. Solomon's words contradict him. The pursuit of pleasure, happiness, joy, or any good feelings as your primary goal is idolatry. We are instead to pursue knowledge of the Holy one and union with Christ and a life walking in the Holy Spirit.

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is this:

Q: What is the chief end of man? 
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

The knowledge of how best to live is arrived at through much suffering. Wisdom comes in part through suffering, as is demonstrated ably in Job. Departures from the path laid out by God in His Word which have a temporary side effect of producing pleasure are among the greatest temptations to sin that we know. Once a person, having discovered a means of appropriating those pleasures, is confronted by God's commandment to abstain from such actions, the pleasures themselves become a force pushing that soul further from God. We are more likely to choose the deceitful house of pleasure than the painful path to paradise.

There are machines manufactured by the hands of men and women whose assembly and principles of operation are far beyond my understanding. If the manufacturer supplies a manual that gives guidelines for safe operation, I follow them to the best of my understanding. Those instructions seldom appeal to the material science, electrical engineering principles, or computer algorithms that govern the machine and its function. That would be over my head, but those guidelines were developed by people who needed to know those things.

So it is with the Bible. Human beings are more complex than the most complicated machine we have yet constructed. There are ways to use the human machine that are harmful but not obviously so. The designer has given us instructions. Some of them he has explained in greater detail. Others he gives us on faith.

To humble us, God sometimes gives advice on how to accomplish things that makes no sense. Skeptical people reading the words of the Bible say it is a bunch of superstitious nonsense. The Lord then leaves it to faithful people to search the matter out and discover the principles behind it. Our work, our science, is ultimately to prove the wisdom of what God revealed long ago.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. (Proverbs 25:2)

One example of this has to do with Jacob's strange breeding program in Genesis 30:37-43.

The Facts. Here is an article that lays out the dietary, medicinal, epidemiological and reproductive benefits of the chemicals in the tree branches used by Jacob. This proves that God gave Jacob wisdom thousands of years ahead of the knowledge of his contemporaries. Thus to Jacob, the growth of his herds was the miracle. To us, the ancient record of scientific wisdom in the Bible is the miracle. Here is the link:

Lacey, Troy. “Jacob’s Odd ‘Breeding Program’ of Genesis 30”, Answers in Genesis. Retrieved on 12/21/2022 from https://answersingenesis.org/genetics/animal-genetics/jacobs-odd-breeding-program-genesis-30/

The article is well worth reading. Here is a summary of the most salient points:

Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban's flock. Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban's, and the stronger Jacob's. Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

(Genesis 30:37-43)

People laugh at the idea that putting sticks in front of animals will influence their health and breeding. They miss the point. The sticks were put in the watering troughs. This allows the sticks to steep in water forming a beneficial tea. There is debate over which near eastern trees were indicated. The ESV says poplar, almond and plane. Other ideas are chestnut, sycamore and willow. All these trees contain beneficial nutrients with medicinal properties. The article “Jacob’s Odd “Breeding Program” of Genesis 30” by Troy Lacey summarizes results from the study of botany and animal husbandry.

Among the benefits discovered, supplements prepared from these tree branches:

  • cure urogenital problems
  • reduce fevers
  • are anti-inflammatory
  • contain antioxidants
  • reduce reproductive disorders
  • increase ewe reproductive rates 20 to 30% by yielding a higher proportion of pregnant ewes and a higher proportion of multiple pregnancies
  • increase concentrations of total N [nitrogen], CT [condensed tannin] and water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC), leading to higher protein levels in their rumen
  • increased lambing percentage by 34-41%
  • provide phenolic glycosides (e.g. salicin) and condensed tannins, which
  • increase protein utilization from forage
  • prevent vesicle ulcers
  • inhibit formation of kidney and bladder stones
  • relieve painful urinary tract infections (like dysuria, nephralgia, and burning micturition) and urinary retention
  • reduce hemorrhaging
  • treat dermatological, gastrointestinal, rheumatic and inflammatory diseases in humans

With that knowledge, would you call Jacob a superstitious fool or a cunning rancher? If the Bible is so smart about how to successfully breed cattle, perhaps the advice it gives to people on how to form families and express their sexual natures in healthy and God honoring ways is also smart?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .