- Religion and Philosophy
I Don’t Deserve This: Thoughts on Suffering
The Question of Suffering
A question I have often heard people ask—Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people and good things to happen to bad people? The answer for me has been that good things don’t only happen to bad people and vice versa, but only that both good and bad things happen to people.
Live long enough in this life and any of us will experience plenty of both. We may notice the disparity more often than when a truly deserving person gets rewarded or when someone who has lived his or her life hurting others actually ends up dealing with the consequences of it. I’ve learned in my life not to blame God for the world in which I live. I look around, and, yes, I see the wars, the famines, the greed, the treachery, the pollution, the violence, the abuses, but I don’t see God’s handiwork anywhere in it. Everything has a human source, a human footprint. It seems to me that God has given us in this world all the resources we need to care for every person on this planet, and He has commanded us, no less, to use those resources to care for one another (love your neighbor as yourself being the greatest commandment according to Jesus).
It is humans who choose to hoard and war and bicker and kill and exploit. The God I serve looks down into this world He has created and given to us with the responsibility of taking care of it and, with a grieving heart, watches as we fight over and destroy one another for it. Every bad experience I have ever had can be traced back to a particular bad decision by either a person or group of persons which inadvertently affected my life somehow in that ripple effect sort of way. The way I see it, we have no one to blame but ourselves in that sense. And who said life was fair? Reading C.S. Lewis made me truly ask myself the question Do I really want to be serving a JUST God? If we were all to get what we deserved, not what we thought we deserved in this life, could any of us really boast that we are good enough in all that we do to earn anything at all? I think the reality is that if we were to get what we deserved in this lifetime, we would, most of us, be completely pitiful and miserable. The God I serve is a God of unlimited second chances and mercy before justice. More often than I deserve, I find my suffering eased rather than multiplied.
What if I told you suffering is really a gift?
I know. Now I just sound crazy, but hear me out on it. I’m not speaking from the perspective of someone who has never been through anything terrible in this life. I’d say my childhood could rival the worst of the worst. Yet, I’d also say those experiences became a source of strength for me as I learned to overcome them and find a greater purpose in my life beyond them. I’ve always had wisdom beyond my years which came from having dealt with an unusual amount of suffering at an early age. Some of the ancient philosophers such as Plato believed when the body suffers, the soul benefits. I also believe there’s truth in that, but it also depends on how you handle your experiences as well. If you avoid or try to escape dealing with whatever you’re going through, it will only prolong your suffering and be destructive to you. If you face your suffering and use the experience in a positive way, you can grow into a better human being who is wiser afterwards and with more compassion for the suffering of others like you. I knew a woman who had miscarried a child and, years later, was still suffering from her loss. She spoke to me candidly about her grief and said she didn’t understand why God would take the child from her. Even though the woman had successfully given birth to three other children, she was still fixated on the loss of that particular child. It’s easy in our suffering to focus so much on what we don’t have and forget all that we do have in our lives. One thing I pointed out to her was something she had told me herself about being a nurse. As she was making her rounds one day, there was a young lady on her floor who had miscarried a baby that morning. Not only as a nurse, but as a woman with a shared experience, she held the young lady and comforted her exceptionally as she cried. The young lady even thanked her afterwards and said the woman had been a great help to her. I asked the woman then if she would have had as much compassion for the young lady if she had never lost a child herself. The woman thought about it and told me no, she would not have understood as much or maybe even cared as much if she had not already known what it was like to feel that way. I explained to her, then that was the purpose of her suffering, so that she could ease the same suffering of others. The experience had become a gift in her, allowing her to connect more deeply with such patients on a more human level than many of her coworkers.
A note on Jesus and His suffering
I’ve also often thought about what non-Christians must think of Jesus. What is the purpose of believing in a man as the son of God sent to die on a cross for the sins of the entire world? I’ve never really had a moment in my life where I doubted the truth of this claim—when I was a child, Jesus was as real to me as the kindness of a stranger’s hand helping me into the church van or handing me a plate of food during the Sunday lunch he or she had invited me over for since it was known my family was poor.
However, I still always wondered what the purpose of Jesus’ death and sacrifice was. It didn’t make sense to me for the longest time because, even though I had more than my fair share of suffering as a child, I still had a hard time connecting His suffering to mine. It was during my divorce, well into my adulthood, that I came to fully understand the purpose of Jesus’ perfect example of suffering. The first realization I had was that Jesus’ crucifixion and death were meant to 1) be a comfort to me in my own time of suffering, knowing that I was not alone and that someone else had gone through a similar experience, 2) be a lesson in the right way to handle the trials and tribulations of my own life—He was the ultimate model for patience, perseverance, and forgiveness, and 3) be a focal point outside of my own suffering.
Human suffering can easily become a trap that ensnares us sometimes our entire lives. It is human nature to focus inward during times of stress and hardship, but we can get so self-centered when we get stuck in survival mode that we lose sight of not only what is good in our lives, but all the other people around us who either need us or who are attempting to care for us. Days bleed into weeks, which bleed into months, and months into years, then before we know it our entire lives have been drenched in despair, and we find ourselves wallowing in misery when we could have learned the meaning of joy.
I find it hard to get so lost in myself when I look upon the cross and remember the agony Jesus suffered there, and I think to myself, I want to be like Him. I want to overcome this too. And really that’s the whole point of it I guess. The word “Christian” just means “little Christ” and that makes sense. Human beings learn best by example. Jesus is the ultimate mentor.
© 2013 maramerce