The Meaning of Suffering

  • Renée Jeffery


The concept of “evil” is marked by an intriguing paradox. On the one hand, it is a source of human fascination, its appeal commonly derived from the fact that it is associated with the “forbidden … the exotic, the surreal, and the extraordinary.”2 That is, evil is couched in mystery. Understood in this sense, it is often connected to witchcraft, defilement, and even physical deformity, and appeals to what Simone Weil described as our sense of “imaginary evil,” the “romantic and varied” evil of myths and fairytales.3 On the other hand however, what Weil terms “real evil,” is “gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.”4 It is evil that we are quick to identify—as the plethora of evils identified in Chapter 1 would seem to suggest—but reluctant to confront in its stark reality. The paradox at play here is, of course, the fact that in many instances “imaginary evil” and “real evil” are actually one and the same; that is, the line separating reality from fantasy is an extremely blurry one. As Raimond Gaita explains, many “real” events commonly conceived as evil, particularly those, that inspire extreme moral condemnation, such as the Holocaust, exhibit mysterious elements.5 Thus, despite their very real, material nature and origins in human conduct, the very worst atrocities seem to include intangible, metaphysical features. Similarly, when Robert Manne characterizes the Holocaust as “a central event in human history,” he argues that it was “a deed so evil that the centuries would not wash its mystery away,” thereby drawing together a very “real” evil with the sense of mystery in which it is encased.6


International Relation Human Suffering Holocaust Survivor Physical Deformity Theological Discourse 
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© Renée Jeffery 2008

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  • Renée Jeffery

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