Balancing the Teeter Totter: Two Taxonomies

It’s time to turn a corner. Will you turn it with me? I know. Who knows what’s around it? (God.) Well, I’ll tell you what’s up. I would like to share my biblical research with you and others. With the Lord’s help, I plan to look for an agent and a publisher to help me transform my doctoral research project into useful material (spiritual nutrition and exercise) for the Body of Christ. That’s you (and me too!) .

I’d like to use this blog to find other people who are interested in my research topic, so I’m going to share the heart of the research with you. I’d like to ask you to forward my blog to everyone you know who may find meaning and blessing through this research. My topic, suffering and joy, is relevant to everyone.

I’ve worked on this project for three years, praying, searching Scriptures, evaluating life, and seeking God’s leading in my researching and writing. The product is a theology of suffering and joy: the doctrine of the dance between suffering and joy. (The title of this post employs a different metaphor.) I use some some special vocabulary which I will share with you, but don’t let words become walls. I’ll break terms down through meanings and usages.

I have constructed two taxonomies. Taxonomies are filing systems — ways of categorizing and organizing things. The color wheel categorizes colors. Your pantry organizes your food supply. The Plant Kingdom and Animal Kingdom with all their sub-data are taxonomies that help us identify and understand plants and animals.

This study’s first taxonomy, The Taxonomy of Suffering, names our pains. A corresponding Taxonomy of Joy responds to each kind (taxon) of pain. Here is the title of my doctoral research project:



Would this interest you or anyone you know?  

I’ll begin by charting the taxonomies for you. Read the following chart from the bottom up, like climbing a ladder with one foot on each side of the chart.

                            Taxonomies of Suffering and Joy

Triad C      Taxa of Suffering                                                        Taxa of Joy
9. Doxological  Suffering
9.  Doxological  Joy
8. Eschatological  Suffering
8.  Eschatological  Joy
7. Communal  Suffering
7.  Communal   Joy
Triad B
6.   Exemplary  Suffering
6.  Exemplary Joy
5.   Sacrificial Suffering
5.  Sacrificial Joy
4.   Compassionate  Suffering
4. Compassionate Joy
Triad A
3. Transformative  Suffering
3. Transformative  Joy
2. Collateral  Suffering
2. Redemptive  Joy
1. Recompensive  Suffering
1. Repentive  Joy
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, you have been distressed by various trials.” I Peter 1:6

I Peter 4:12-13: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.” Also note Romans 5:3-5; 8:18-39; James 1:2-3; Hebrews 12:1-3; all of I & II Peter.

I want to focus on translating this research into usable material, so I’ll again be posting regularly. Help me by letting me know what helps you!

Here is a part of my Abstract:
 This research project constructs a taxonomically organized, biblical theology of suffering and joy. After examining and systematizing key biblical laws or principles of suffering, the researcher designed a Taxonomy of Suffering composed of three triads, each triad containing three categories, genre, or taxa (plural of taxon) of suffering. Like Bloom’s Taxonomy, this taxonomy is read from the bottom up with the upper taxa of suffering building upon the more fundamental taxa or genre. A Taxonomy of Joy is organized in the same way with each category of joy answering the corresponding category in the Taxonomy of Suffering.


Setting the stage for both taxonomies is an exploration of the macro-history of humankind as described in Scripture.  The natures of three cosmos or orders of reality are explored: The Original Cosmos (an exceedingly good order), This Present Cosmos (the fallen order), and The Cosmos to Come (the future order of the Kingdom and the New Heavens and New Earth).  From this broad horizon, the focus narrows to This Present Cosmos in order to extract patterns and laws to employ in interpreting suffering and cultivating joy.  This theology of suffering, which may be called pascharology,[1] is constructed for Christians called Pedestrian Theologians (in contrast to strictly professional theologians, but including them): Christ-followers who walk with Christ, applying the Scriptures to all avenues of life, including all of their suffering and joy.


Each taxonomy’s nine descriptive taxa are defined, described, scripturally supported, biblically illustrated, and often modeled by non-canonical, historical persons from ancient to modern times.


This study also addresses theodicy in a fifty-two page chapter included as an appendix. Theodicy, an understanding of or a defense for the belief in a benevolent and omnipotent God in the face of evil, becomes a significant study which underpins pascharology but is not a part of the taxonomies.


The research project synthesizes the analytical laws governing suffering and the laws governing joy at the cross of Christ. Suffering appears to be the obstacle to joy, while at the cross sorrow and joy intersect. The aim of this project is to provide practical tools to assist Pedestrian Theologians in the spiritually transforming discipline of nurturing a growing awareness of Christ-nearness while cultivating Christ-likeness.

[1] Pascharology is the study of suffering and joy and their interrelatedness.  This newly minted term is composed of three Greek roots: pascho (suffering), chara (joy), and logos (word, discourse, study of).


Well, this may be a bit heavy coming at you all at once. We’ll discuss it in smaller bites for a while on this blog. Even more so, I want to translate this into a book series or a curriculum to be used individually, in small groups, and in counseling. I’d also like to develop audio  and video clips and sessions.

God willing and God leading….

What do you think? Please share a comment!


Categories: Joy & Suffering -- Good & Evil, Spiritual Growth, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Balancing the Teeter Totter: Two Taxonomies

  1. Marty and Brenda Zuidervaart

    Karen, I really like the verb “nurturing” for “Christ-nearness” instead of “cultivating” which you appropriately use for “Christ-likeness.” Marty

    • kltolsen

      Thanks, Marty! Your prayers, input, and cheerleading have upheld me!! Thank You, Lord!

  2. Lynn Scammon

    Karen, I don’t even know you (personally) and I forget how I stumbled upon your blog a couple years ago. I vaguely recall that we may have a mutual friend who introduced me to it. In any case, I signed up to have it come to my email because I appreciate your depth of thought.
    And THIS project? I’m overwhelmed by the size of the task you’ve undertaken, but waiting to be blessed by reading the material!

    There IS so much suffering in this fallen world, and it seems to really rob us of joy – in spite of the Biblical exhortation to have joy in suffering. So to have this (seeming) dichotomy examined Scripturally so that we can really take hold of it by understanding – what a transformative study that will be!

    Praying that God will bless you, uphold you and give you everything you need to complete this project.

    P.S. I appreciate the term “Pedestrian Theologians” – is that your invention? It’s wonderful.

    • kltolsen

      Thank you for your encouraging comment! This is very helpful to me. There are so many things I cannot do as a person and a Christ-follower, but I can study and write. It encourages me that what I can do can bless other Christ-followers. You are right that this project is overwhelming. It overwhelms me at times. I am thankful for rest, sleep, the beauty of nature, the smiles and hugs from friends,and the kindness of my husband. All these gifts of God support me.

      I talk with the Lord in my heart day and night. I depend upon His presence. Sometimes doubt tempts me to give up and to give in to the unknowns. I then recognize that I am looking down the road to destruction, and this is always the wrong road. The road to life, peace, and joy is also a road of turmoil and suffering, but the destination is purely good and worthy of my persistence.

      Gratefully, joy is not only a destination; it is also a presence within me because God is present. Joy co-mingles with my various sorrows. On this road, the Lord is near; we are in Christ, so we are safe. Yes, the term, Pedestrian Theologian, is something I coined. We are on this dusty trail of life together. Thank you for touching my heart with your response. Please write again! Thanks for your prayers for this project. May the Lord grace you with joy on your journey, and we’ll meet someday! Happy trails to you!

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