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Are trial-dependent bonds of love good?
Clarifying the question
Question: A “trial-dependent bond” is a personal connection or relationship between persons that can be formed only by virtuously responding to evil, because the type of bond corresponds to the type of evil. Examples of such bonds are ones built on unmerited forgiveness, sacrificial empathy in times of suffering, and an event such as helping one out of moral or spiritual darkness. Are trial-dependent bonds intrinsically valuable?
Debates affected by this question
Freely formed relationships in general are good
Freely formed relationships of care, etc. in general are among the greatest of goods (especially in the context of eternity).1
Laura W. Ekstrom: “They structure and give meaning to our existence. We organize our time and our priorities in light of them. They contribute to our sense of self. If positive and deep, relationships immensely enhance our well-being.”2
Peter van Inwagen (Philosophy professor at Notre Dame): “…free will is necessary for love. Love, and not only erotic love, implies free will. The essential connection between love and free will is beautifully illustrated in Ruth's declaration to her mother-in-law, Naomi: And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me. (Ruth 1: 16, 17) It is also illustrated by the vow Mr. van Inwagen, the author of my fictional being, made when he was married: I, Peter, take thee, Elisabeth, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” [“The Problem of Evil” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (Oxford, 2005), 209.]
- Such relationships are deeply valuable to the contributor of the recipient's welfare. They can be immeasurably good from the perspective of eternity. After all, some of these connections will last forever as an ongoing part of the conscious experience of both the performers and recipients of the virtuous acts. They will everlastingly appreciate in value. Notably, the love in question requires free will.
- Ekstrom continues…
“Shared experiences facilitate the flourishing of our relationships by promoting mutual understanding. If I experience something that you have experienced as well, then we can appreciate something about each other that outsiders to our experience cannot. Consider the difference between parents, on the one hand, and adults who are not parents and who have little or no experience with the children of relatives, neighbors, or friends, on the other. Parents of whatever age, nationality, or socioeconomic class share certain experiences: childbirth – in the case of mothers – and the demands of nourishing, training, and in all ways caring for the needs of a child. This gives parents, and those like them who are closely involved in the lives of children, some commonality.” [“A Christian Theodicy” in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 271.]
- C. H. Spurgeon: “The sweetest prayers God ever hears are the groans and sighs of those who have no hope in anything but his love.” [The Cast-off Sash, No. 1706 (1883), 467.]
Freely formed trial-dependent relations are better
Freely formed trial-dependent relations are better (especially in the context of eternity).
- Robin Collins: “Consider, for instance, a case in which Rebecca’s friend Sue helps her through a time of great suffering. The connection between Sue and Rebecca does not merely consist of the fact that Sue helped Rebecca during that time; this fact would exist even if both of them permanently lost all awareness of this fact. Rather, although Sue’s past virtuous acts form the basis of the connection, its continued existence requires an ongoing conscious awareness of the acts,even if that awareness is only dimly in the background of their consciousness. Given that each moment of an ongoing, conscious awareness and appreciation of these acts has intrinsic value, the total value of the connection can plausibly be thought to continue to grow, eventually outweighing the evils to which the virtuous acts were a response. … As an analogy to this continual growth in value, suppose you had a minor toothache, but to get rid of the toothache you had to undergo an extremely painful operation. If you were told that the toothache would only last a week, or even a year, you would probably not undergo the operation. But, if you found out it would last for all eternity, you would probably undergo it. (I certainly would!) The difference in these two cases is that the disvalue of an ongoing toothache increases with time, eventually outweighing the disvalue of the painful operation to remove it, even if the toothache is only mild.”
Trial-dependent relationship with God is good
Bonding with God in particular is a great good (especially in the context of eternity); experiencing the loving presence of God is a very valuable religious experience.
Laura W. Ekstrom: “Many individuals in sorrow and pain have reported a vision of the divine or a feeling of God’s nearness and comfort in their distress. ... Suffering nonetheless does provide a special context in which one can experience particularly vividly the loving care and supportive presence of another person.” [“A Christian Theodicy” in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 271.]
Marilyn McCord Adams: “Soldiers who become fast friends in World War 1 foxholes might admit that they would never have prospectively willed the horrors of war as means to the end of friendship. Yet the value of the relationship thus occasioned is such that they would not retrospectively will away those wartime bonding moments from their lives. So also victims of horror from the vantage point of heaven, when they recognize how God was with them in their worst experiences, will not wish to eliminate any moments of intimacy with God from their life histories.” [Christ and Horrors (Cambridge, 2006), 40-41.]