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What Cinderella Can Teach Us About Suffering

Lori Peters presents Cinderella as a model of faith, fortitude, and virtue amidst the problem of suffering, and contrasts gratuitous suffering in the world with gratuitous goodness found in the Christian gospel. Cinderella demonstrates a profound faith in goodness—without which she could never have met her fairy godmother—and an inspiring hope that good will conquer suffering. Yet she shows us that the most powerful virtue is love, in her kindness and redeeming compassion, extended even to those who do not deserve it. Depravity in her tale raises questions of freedom and why a loving God allows some people to abuse others. Peters uses this as an opportunity to explore theodicy and the goodness of God’s character. Cinderella’s choice to hope amidst suffering is key to her character, and her animal friends exemplify the need for communities to gather round those suffering in order to serve as bearers of hope.

Disney’s Cinderella provides a model of response to the problem of pain and suffering, as Cinderella also exemplifies the power and beauty of moral transformation through adversity. Cinderella’s very attitude and actions demonstrate that her response is morally proper. Of course, her story should not be taken to imply that it is okay to ignore abuse or injustice, or to endure otherwise avoidable suffering. Cinderella ‘s tale does not diminish the anguish and emotional toll that suffering caused in her soul. Rather, her continuous acts of service and care for the animals of the house bring cheerfulness to an otherwise torturous situation. The problem of evil refers to the challenge that the existence of a loving, powerful, and all-knowing God is somehow incompatible with the reality of pain and suffering in the world. In a world wrought with evil and suffering, many cry out in anger at God or reject His existence. This anger or rejection is often tied to a deep pain and a lack of understanding about why a good God would allow anyone—especially seemingly good people—to endure bad things. There are various ways for the theist to respond to this challenge, but one of the most important points for understanding any theodicy is to understand that the world is broken. Alas, suffering has a way of bringing the existential (that which is felt and personal) and the logical (that which is abstract and rational) in tension with one another. It is for this reason that Disney’s classic tale offers apologetic power. Even without abstract arguments, we feel that her situation is not right, and we sense that something about her character is morally commendable. Cinderella provides not only a model of faithand fortitude in the face of injustice and suffering, but also an answer to the existential problem of evil and suffering—hope. While her enduring hope that dreams will come true is a questionable ideal, the act of placing one’s hope in something better—a greater goodness beyond one’s situation—is the foundation of the moral response to suffering....
....What fueled Cinderella’s moral response to intense personal suffering? Hope: hope that one day things would be much better for her; hope that her dreams would come true; hope that her life would change. She expresses this hope in the opening scene, singing to her animal friends about dreams and wishes. She confides in them that if one simply keeps believing, one day, those wishes and dreams can come true. As she sobbed in the garden after, her stepsisters’ humiliating assault destroyed all hope of attending the ball, Cinderella claims no longer to believe—that belief is now useless. However, she did not actually lose hope. For her fairy godmother appears and informs Cinderella that if she had lost all faith, she, the fairy godmother, would have never appeared. Yet Cinderella’s fairy godmother does appear and provides Cinderella the means and accouterments to attend the ball. Cinderella’s hope carried her to the ball. Her hope would also carry to the ultimate fulfillment of her dreams. Unfortunately, Cinderella is only a fairy tale. Her hope in something, someday, changing her life is a hope that wears thin on the soul without some evidence of its possible fruition. When enduring the sufferings of this world, either because of its brokenness or one’s righteousness while living in it, there must be some other hope. Human beings repeatedly fail to progress to a moral ideal and are demonstrably lacking in a unified mission to abolish evil and suffering. It must be asked, then, is there really any grounding for hope?

This post is meant simply to offer a glimpse into our Disney & Apologetics project. Excerpts alone, however, cannot stand for an entire chapter, nor can they stand as representative for all the other ideas to be explored and arguments to be made in this 500-pp, two-volume work. There is much more to ponder within these pages! If you want to think more carefully about morality, about using the formative artifacts of pop-culture to approach Christian apologetics, and about the connections between imagination, aesthetics, and theology, buy this book! You can see what others say about it here and here.


Lori Peters is a doctoral candidate at Liberty University, completing a PhD in Theology and Apologetics. She serves as Director of Worldview Immersion at Concord Christian Academy in Concord, NH, where she teaches biblical studies, worldview studies, and bioethics. Lori formerly served with Ratio Christi as Regional Director for New England. Her research interests emphasize the problem of evil, bioethics, and exploring new ways to answer curious questions about Jesus. Lori resides in New Hampshire with her husband and college sweetheart, Kevin. They have nine children, including in-laws, and four grandchildren.

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