Say I’m in pain and it makes me hate my life and view it as vain, pointless, and worthless. Say someone comes to me (a scientist, and angel, a genie, it doesn’t matter) and presents me with two options: I can either remove all the pain from my life, now and forever; or I can see my life, even with the pain, as meaningful and be granted all the virtues necessary to deal with it courageously, with patience, and as a shining example to others. It is very difficult not to acknowledge that the second option is the better choice, since the one who suffers well is a better person that the one who merely lives out his life without pain, irrespective of whatever else he might do with his existence.
Now the immediate response to this either/ or is that it would be best to have both. We need to make a distinction here, however, for on the one hand there is a sense in which one cannot have both. We cannot suffer heroically and also never suffer. On the other hand, there is no intrinsic contradiction between the absence of pain and suffering and the presence of meaning. But though it is possible to have both meaningfulness and absence of pain, it does not appear to be possible in the world we happen to live in now. Our world is one where courage, patience, forbearance, self-denial, mercy etc. are all virtues, and all of these presuppose an encounter with evil.
So there are two facts (a.) our perfection as persons in the actual world we find ourselves in is tied up with evil (though there is no necessary logical connection between meaningfulness and suffering) but (b.) this evil is never such that it could render our lives intrinsically meaningless. The first requires that evil be necessary, though there could be a world without it; the second requires that the righteous or virtuous person could never suffer an evil that would render his life meaningless, and, more generally, there is no evil that a man or animal could experience that would necessarily make their lives meaningless. It seems necessary to reduce two facts to different sorts of cause. Christianity reduces the first to the fall of man, but the second seems to admit of a philosophical explanation. We can take (b) in two ways: we can consider man’s personal and free choice to be a good person, or we can consider the objective state of the world in which the suffering of gratuitous evil (that is, an evil that could not be a part of a meaningful life) is logically impossible for the righteous. Taken in the second way, we find that the very structure of the world is such that meaning is omnipotent and can never be overcome from the outside. The universe infinitely empowers persons (and even, in a lesser way, animals) and allows nothing the absolute power to make their lives vain or pointless. In this precise sense, it makes sense to speak of God as a loving father, one who, so far as we consider how he delivers man from any evil that could make their live vain, has exercised a perfect fatherhood. That this fatherhood does not protect us from every possible evil is obvious, but this does not mean that we cannot encounter an infinite fatherhood in protecting the righteous from any gratuitous evil.