Saturday, May 2, 2009

On Suffering

A CAF poster asks:

How do I explain to someone the meaning of suffering? In particular, I am looking to explain what it means to "offer up" your sufferings and "unite them to Christ's suffering on the Cross."
Tough question. When suffering is examined , it is usually from an academic standpoint. This revolves around the philosophical and theological views on suffering and its "meaning". How do we reconcile a merciful, providential God with suffering? How do we distinguish between "merited" and "unmerited" suffering? Why does suffering occur to some and not to others? For instance, witness the spectacle of tens of thousands of people living in the dumpsites, sickly children in the teeming slums, massive devastation by flood and landslides, victims of wars in Rwanda, Afganisthan, Nigeria, Poland, the Philippines. There is simply too much suffering for us to be able to give an ethical and hermeneutical analysis.

In the end, what remains is a mystery.The sufferer might not be able to appreciate an intricate explanation of theodicy. In intimate settings, it might be better to commiserate with the sufferer rather than explain something we cannot fully understand. To hold their hand, listen, emphatize, provide help if we can... as we remind them that God is also listening and in due time, His will prevails.


Verdade said...

good post.

Anonymous said...

How can a merciful God allow suffering? For that matter, why did Christ have to suffer? Did He suffer because the Father planned for Him to suffer? In other words, did He suffer because of God? Nope. He suffered because of man.

Why is there suffering? My answer to that is: because we people want it.

How much value would you put on something you did not sacrifice for? If you suffered and sacrificed a lot to give your child an education, wouldn't you value that education more? If you were to sweat a lot, work so much, endure an abusive boss or even suffer humiliation by doing menial work just to put food on the table, how much would you value having food?

We humans have learned that something achieved with sacrifice, hardship and suffering must be given a very high value. But this is like a 2-edged sword. On one hand the suffering is given meaning by the value placed on what is achieved. On the other hand, we do the complete opposite - we have also learned not to value something that is obtained too easily or without sacrifice.

Countries whose freedom was paid for by the blood of so many of its citizens will defend that freedom with higher dedication and patriotism. That those who laid down their lives should not have died in vain is the meaning that places value on the suffering the country went through. But those who haven't shed any blood are oftentimes the ones who easily turn into traitors.

God's promises are rosy. Isaiah 65:17-15 speaks of a new world, a world of ease and comfort where even the wolves dine together with the lambs. In Jer 29:11 God describes the plans He has for man, plans for a hopeful future not of woe. Jesus hints at man's capabilities to create a great future when He said: "the things that I do you will also do, and greater ones besides." The life that God wants for us is one full of peace, ease, comfort and power. A life where, even before we finish our prayers, God will have answered. That's why Christ's message is called the "good news" - because IT IS GOOD NEWS. And all we have to do love one another. He didn't say we have to go through war, famine, hunger, pestilence and terrorism. All we have to do is love one another. Think about it, what could be easier than that? Just love and if you were blĂ­nd, your eyes would be opened or if you were a captive you will be liberated. You don't have to spend much, just a few joules of energy to make a choice. No sacrifices, no suffering needed.

But man has learned to be skeptical about accepting something without sacrifice. That Jesus already made the sacrifice is a point we all miss. So we do not accept God's promises because we have learned not to give value to something we haven't suffered for, haven't made any investments in. By not accepting God's promises, we insist on doing things our way and that means that if we want something of value, suffering must be a part of its obtaining. Suffering is here because we want it.

Until we learn to value what God gives, regardless of how it was obtained, but simply because it is God-given, we will always want and have suffering in this world.

- TE

WillyJ said...

Good points, TE. I would make a distinction though, between pain associated with sacrifice and pain associated with suffering. In this context, suffering is a distress brought about by a sufferer's realization as he finds himself marginalized, as opposed to sacrificial pain that gives the bearer hope. Suffering emerges when people find that something necessary is beyond their grasp, and from all indications, will never be attainable. Suffering may even occur without pain. The archetypal figure of the righteous suffering is Job. When Job finally demands an explanation from God, the only answer the tradition can make is a deeply moving affirmation of the mystery of the Creator (Job 38-41). Job's questions about suffering have not been answered, but now we realize that it was not essential. "I spoke of things I did not understand, too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you...". (Job 42).

Anonymous said...

Someone who is in a state where his needs are beyond attainment experiences suffering. But we need to go a step further. There are those who only have themselves to blame for the state they are in. And then there are those victimized by others and forced into such a situation. And there are also those who can be described as victims of circumstance and find themselves in a state of suffering. Circumstance, like poverty, I believe, is not something that happens to people. It is something caused by people to happen. Hunger is the same. We cause it. We cause droughts somewhere else because we pollute the planet and cause the weather to change.

We denude our forests and then complain that there is not enough water in our aquifers. We destroy our ecosystem and them complain we are victimized by hunger because there isn't enough food. We humans pervert our planet and ourselves and then complain and blame God for our suffering. The inveterate gambler complains about his family's suffering but still doesn't think twice about betting his whole paycheck on a boxing match or a cockfight. And then there are those who are unwilling to work but blames his unemployment to his low educational level. Worse, people blame God saying, "anong magawa natin, ito lang ang ibinigay ng Diyos sa atin?"

We victimize ourselves. We can be a victim of our own whims, obsessions or profligacy. We can be a victim of other men or we can be a victim of circumstance. Job was victimized by his own blindness, questioning and arguing with God to the point of obsession. Wars victimize people. Man's viciousness and greed victimize others as we all see in Darfur.

Until mankind accepts and learns that Christ came to free the captives, give sight to the blind, give liberty to the oppressed and bring glad tidings to the poor, until humanity learns to stop victimizing, until we all give up the need to be right and force our wills on others, until we learn to love, suffering will always be with us. Everytime we do not choose to love, we choose whatever it's opposite is at that moment.

Suffering is here because we keep choosing it instead of choosing love. Yet there is hope. There are many who refuse to be victims and strive hard to rise up. Some of the world's richest people were dropouts. There are those who presistently look for better ways and who never give up. People who, when life hands them lemons, make lemonade, determinedly refusing to bow down to tragedy or circumstance and consistently believing that the life God gave them is meant to be better than what they are experiencing at the moment. There are people who sincerely work to make the planet work, clean it up and leave a lasting legacy to those who will come after them. These are the ones who love themselves and others, enough to commit themselves to making this world better and erase suffering. Just look at what GK is doing.

There is no such thing as luck. We all play the cards we are dealt with. There is no excuse for saying, "there but for fortune go I.." We all have to accept our own humanity with all its weakness and failures but also its greatness, hopes and the inherent capability to love. We must all decide to stop being victims, declare suffering as an unacceptable state of life, raise our heads up and take up the challenge of life that God has given, knowing that God is the great provider. As Tennyson wrote in Ulysses: "That which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate. But strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield."

- TE

WillyJ said...

Suffering as a natural consequence of sin, is certainly widely held in the scriptures. Israel believes that if one departs from the providential way of the Lord, one will in all likelihood get lost, run into trouble, and eventually experience hardships. Still, Israel recognizes that some suffering occurs that is not a result of sin. Indeed they did not hesitate to ask hard questions: "Why do you sleep Lord?..why forget our pain and misery?" (Psalm 44:24-25). In the account of the man born blind (John 9) the disciples ask: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?". Jesus answers "Neither he nor his parents sinned, he was born blind so that God's power might be shown". And again, the Book of Job seems to debunk the suggestion that where there is suffering, there must have been sin.

Speaking of GK, I suppose you have heard of the latest development.

Francis said...

This anonymous guy sucks, please WillyJ, don't punch in the empty air. I think we must know first the guy before answering him..

WillyJ said...

Hi Francis,
I know this anonymous guy very well. Our exchanges go a long way, in this blog and in another blog as well. I have learned and continue to learn a lot from him. If you continue visiting this blog I have no doubt that the two of us, as well other readers would greatly appreciate and learn from his comments. I appreciate your comments too and know that you are a warrior for God both in cyberspace and in the flesh and blood world. We are all in this together, and I hope you will realize that we are lucky we have someone like TE on our side. Ayos ba bro?

Anonymous said...

Hi Willy,
Thanks for the vote of confidence. Not to worry. I've had my share of intolerance both on the receiving and giving end. Serves me right for expressing my thoughts. The debate is not new for me. I just concluded some business with some techie people in the Czech Republic and we sort of meandered into a similar debate. I find it amazing how easy it is to fall into intolerance, draw the line and judge the other. But I find it equally amazing how some people (I've been blessed enough to know a few of them personally) can make space for the thoughts of others without agreeing with them, basically saying, "I may not agree with you but I will defend your right to express your thoughts even as I cherish the same right for myself."

That might be an intellectual position but I think it holds even on topics as far removed from intellectual pursuits as suffering. One point I was trying to make is that (I found) there is a point where I have to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions. My own sufferings were sufferings as such as long as I did not take responsibility for them. I suffered because I thought myself a powerless victim and allowed myself to be so. However, the moment I took responsbility for it, it wasn't suffering anymore. It had somehow changed, morphed into a form of challenge to be overcome. What I learned was that if I took responsibility for my sins, I started to stop suffering from its effects.

But you make the point about suffering which is not the result of sin. This reminds me of St. Francis whose great devotion was rewarded by great suffering. But I wonder if St. Francis saw his stigamta as suffering. Did Padre Pio also consider his stigmata suffering? Did Mother Teresa look at her hard life in Calcutta as a form of suffering for the glory of God? Did St. Paul consider his temporary blindness suffering?

I am inclined to think that there was a point where they also took responsibility for their thoughts. St. Paul's words in Col 1:24 "I now rejoice in my suffering for you...". St. Francis' Canticle of the Sun included the words: "Praised be my Lord for those who pardon one another for His love's sake, and who endure weakness and tribulation; blessed are they who peaceably endure, for by Thee, Most Highest, shall they be crowned." These seem to suggest a personal decision, a choice made not to look at suffering as hardship but as a reason to rejoice, almost like a badge of courage. I'm thinking that at that point of choice, it ceased to be suffering and became something else. Perhaps it's the mark of membership to what St. Paul calls Christ's "fellowship of suffering."

The other point I was trying to make was that I don't think we can dissociate ourselves from the rest of humanity and only consider suffering at our individual levels. 1 Cor 12:26-27: "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually." We humans must learn that there is only one of us, one Sonship, one body and we must learn to take responsibility for what we contribute to that body.

- TE

aeisiel said...

in a nutshell... suffering gives meaning to life.

Engineer said...

In a layman's standpoint, let me share also my personal thoughts about SUFFERING.

I could say suffering is universal, no one is exempted. Why? it is simply the result of the 'cause and effect' events in our lives. Bad things happen to good people simply because they were victims of the decisions and actions of others. Like for example, we from Philippines are suffering from a distorted culture or distorted identity which gives us a hard time to get rid of the sufferings we are now in. ‘Distorted’ because the history tells us that our country were in the hands foreign invaders wherein they instill in us to adapt their own culture, good and bad. Now we’re suffering just to get rid of our borrowed culture and to turn away from our state of “lost identity”. We suffered because of others. A biblical example if you like is the Israelites, they stayed in Egypt for long, long years and they march for freedom in the desert for 40 years. It took them 40 years travelling, though it would just need 7 days on foot from Egypt to promise land because God wants them to get rid of their adopted ‘Egyptian culture’ and gained back their true identity as Israelites – the chosen people of God. Jesus himself was not exempted, He suffered because of men’s action.

Other reason why we suffer is just because of our personal decision and action in the past. Again, to make bad decisions in our lives is a worldly phenomenon because we are a victim of our own flesh (inner enemy). We commit sin often times because of the animal in us that always try to rip off our soul. This animal becomes bigger and mightier if we continue to feed his selfish cravings. But if we continue to feed him good and Godly nourishment, he will lose his power to devour us. However, what happened if we gave in to his pangs and claws and we suffer? Would it merit us? The question of “Merited Suffering” relies on how we respond to this kind of sufferings – due to our wrong doings. Life doesn’t ends up in our own prison cell. God gives us a way out if we continue to trust Him. If we respond positively to our sufferings, it will make us a better person. God allows bad things to happen to us for us to learn and be transformed like Him. God has the power to stop it when we reach the ‘point of no return’ but He opted not simply because He respects our own freedom of choice. I couldn’t imagine a God who controls us like a robot that only Him could decide our action. It simply because our God is a God of love. Though we suffer, God is always there ready to help us but He won’t act unless we raise our hands for help. The good merit I could say is that if you suffer now, you have the time to repent and repair your soul right before His Presence. I always look at suffering as an opportunity for me to grow spiritually and to value that of what is good, just and right. Moreover, suffering humbles us and finally will end up leaning and holding on unto Him. It always draws life boundaries around us to maintain our position in God’s eyes. It gives us a better understanding on what self-control is and be protected by His power.

If you are suffering in one area of your life? You are BLESSED for God is with you! Enjoy your suffering for it will make you a better person.# (new member)