In the whirlwind of global suffering, we face pressing questions- Why are we suffering? How can we deal with suffering? What does suffering mean?
As our world deals with pandemics, natural disasters, political unrest, and war -to name a few- Christians have an opportunity to share one of our faith’s most distinctive truths: suffering. Suffering is disturbing; however, it’s meaningful. Suffering is perceived quite differently within each religion, and it’s helpful to us to know the difference of opinion since every religion has its unique worldview, which explains how the world works.
A fundamental premise of Buddhism, for example, is that life is suffering. Yet, as creatures of desire, we attach ourselves and cling to things like prosperity, attractiveness, youthfulness, love, and even life itself. Thus, in Buddhism, we are only delivered from suffering by ridding ourselves of the ego and material attachments. This worldview is non- dualities which deny any real distinction between good and evil. Buddhism sees health and sickness, love and hate, or even life and death. It so denies that which Christianity affirms – the sinful nature of human beings. St. Paul put it this way-God set free from corruption.
While many seekers of truth, including many Christians, I might add, play around with a quasi-Buddhism, the secular view of suffering is far more common in our western world. The secular view of suffering is based on the individual’s lived experience. Therefore, it lacks a worldview foundation to make sense of it. Suffering interrupts our pleasure and happiness, but in a world without purpose or design, we can’t say that it’s wrong or bad or shouldn’t be.
We believe, as those with the most resources in human history to avoid sickness and disaster and inevitable sufferings, that we somehow have a right not to suffer or, for that matter, to feel dissatisfaction or distress of any kind. But why would that be if the world is, as Richard Dawkins once stated that the world is a place of “blind, pitiless indifference” and we are, as he also put it, merely “dancing to our DNA? Dawkins presents, in my opinion, a worldview void of meaning or hope for any of us.
Further, Dawkins points out that suffering is utterly meaningless for a confirmed atheist. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s just there- it’s part of the human condition.
God and Suffering
What about Christianity? Christianity is honest in that it doesn’t deny the genuine goodness of the world, or the actual nature of our suffering, and the actual potential of restoration. In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul named death the last enemy, which will be annihilated at Christ’s return.
The author of Hebrews called the fear of death how Satan enslaves humankind. Quite different to the secular view a Buddhist view, Jesus appeared to identify with human suffering as something he felt in his being. We see this in the Gospels where Jesus entered the suffering of others, such as the mourning sisters of Lazarus in John 11, and He prayed to avoid suffering Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Bible is clear, as is the example of Jesus that suffering is not good and avoiding it isn’t possible, even though suffering is not seen as meaningless. On both the personal and universal levels, suffering points to higher truths and more excellent good; however, we need to understand that suffering is not our ultimate destiny.
The Christ drank from the same cup of suffering and death as all of us – so we don’t have to. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus tasted death for everyone, yet, rising from the grave three days later, Christ Jesus shows us that while suffering and death are real, they do not have the last word or are our destiny.
No human person has solved the problem of suffering, but we can endure and make sense of it if we love and trust the God who has suffered for us.
Christianity teaches neither resignation to suffer nor detachment from the world. Christianity neither denies the realities of suffering nor gives it credence. On the contrary, because of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, Christianity alone offers a basis for meaning and hope in this world and in the one to come.
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