During this season of Lent, I have thought more than once about the spiritual value of struggle. The Church would not have given us an entire season devoted to struggling if it were not appropriate to view struggle in a positive light.
Not everyone agrees that struggle is good. In my Touchstone article The Cross of Least Resistance, I quoted a number of influential evangelical leaders who taught that the presence of struggle in a person’s spiritual life is a sure sign that something is wrong. This present article will not attempt to expose the hermeneutical and exegetical errors in the opinions of these false teachers (for that, see here and here and here). Instead, I want to look at the question of struggle from the perspective of cultural anthropology. But first, why cultural anthropology?
From my article ‘George MacDonald and The Anthropology of Love‘
…human identity is not first and foremost a question of doctrines (what we think) like the rationalists would maintain, nor is it first and foremost a matter of morals (what we do); rather, the deepest seat of human identity is located first and foremost in what we love. Love precedes both doing and thinking and is the energizing principle behind both things. This recognizes that our ultimate loves are tied to a certain vision of what we think human flourishing looks like which unconsciously orients us to consider certain things worthy of our adoration. But that vision is often affective and implicit before it becomes the material of direct cognition. It is an inchoate vision that grabs our unconscious with an aesthetic pull in a way similar to how David Brooks described the formation of political preferences in his book The Social Animal.