It seems to be a general theme among some people, that we ought not suffer much in our lives. That if we are suffering something is wrong and out of balance. But is this really how the world works? Is this as it should be? I would agree that it would be best if we did not suffer all of the time, but how much is too much, and is there such a thing as too little suffering?
I am, in many ways, a stranger to great suffering. I have a roof over my head, friends and family that are alive, and I’ve obtained, by whatever graces God has allotted me, and by some work, a very happy sum of non-essential swag. Physically, I’m blessed with a body that doesn’t suffer illness to any great extent, I’ve never suffered famine, nor been at the edge of my life (although there was a few near misses involving stupid accidents). But like a great variety of people in western society, I suffer in my mind. In my thoughts, and in my heart, I am far from being whole, far from understanding, far from being rightly human, and enjoying the mysterious beauty that is life. In this way, I understand suffering the most. To lose your mind, or to be ailed by the flesh, I do not know which is worst, and I cannot judge such things.
The interesting thing about life though, is that it is full of suffering. Poets of old, and even the modern artist understands this. A story which has no suffering can scarcely be called beautiful. In suffering, we find the true metal, in which our souls are made. Even our first moments in this world, emerging from our mother’s wombs, we experience suffering – the removal of one world for another. The human experience, is born in suffering, and we are formed by it. In my mind, it seems simple: we are what we are, and this world is as it is. Imagine something else, and you imagine something less than what we are. We are part of a universe which waxes and wanes with tragedy and ecstasy. I do not know if I can properly imagine a good man who has not suffered – for why would I call him a man if he has not endured what men do; and how should I call him good if he hasn’t tasted pain.
This brings me to the next point: That perhaps we should suffer. I don’t mean to say that we should be ailed by pains of all sorts because we deserve it, but because it is what makes us human. Nor would I say that I find pleasure in an innocent child in pain, or anyone in pain. It hurts us to see others suffer, because for the most part we genuinely desire the good fortune of others, and not their misery. But even in that, suffering works, not only on he who suffers, but it develops compassion in those around him as well. In suffering, humanity is exercised. It seems that as suffering occurs, the hearts of men are alight with the desire to relieve it, and bonds are formed between people.
But what of this in light of God? What of this in light of Christ, and ultimate goodness? At this moment, I don’t want to discuss the idea that God has a bigger plan for us, although invariably that will be found in what I’m saying. What I would like to point out is that throughout the western story of God, men have suffered and it was normal, and it was good. Some suffered more, some less, but most of them did.
Two stories attract me the most: One that some consider myth is the story of Job. Here is a man who quite literally loses everything. Yet in his pain, he still exhibits some trust in God. And even though he’s angry and he wants to know what’s going on, God has this respect for Job. Eventually restoration came to him, a rather mythically happy ending, but it didn’t occur without suffering. The suffering, and the human reaction to it, contrasts the good. Although it is a sad story, it does say something about how we live, and how big of a part suffering is of our experience of God.
The second story, that is a propos with the Easter season, is that of Jesus Christ. Throughout his ministry he calls his followers again and again to take up their cross. He reminds them that to drink his cup is no easy thing, and that it is full of pain. This man, who had a peace unlike others, who healed the sick, and gave hope to the lowly; is also the same man who sweat blood in a garden, was hated and pursued by authorities time again, was beaten, tortured and crucified. This man didn’t have an easy life, and he doesn’t seem to be telling us that we will either.
So what then of this? What do I make of this? It seems that in some way, goodness, whether simple or divine, seems to be part in parcel with suffering. And I guess that to be part of a great host of saints one must accept this fact. But not without seeing that not all suffering is good, and not all suffering is just. Yes, we are meant to suffer, but in a like manner we are meant to relieve suffering as well. This is our lot, and this is just one of the things that makes us what we are: Human.