Identifying Suffering is an inescapable aspect of human life in the present world. Suffering, affliction, and tragic experiences disclose the vulnerable nature of human life. It enables us to recognize our limitations as human beings and our dependence upon others and upon God for sustenance in life. Suffering has the potential to lead human beings either to despair, misery, and self-enclosure or to transcendence through hope and faith, trusting the benevolence of God and His covenant relationship with His people.
There is a strong instinct in humans to seek reasons for their suffering. “Why?” “Why me?” These questions emerge from every human experience of suffering. The need to search for the causes of suffering is deeply engrained in us. Sometimes we find the answer and modify our behavior in the light of bad experiences. But, sometimes the causes are beyond our knowledge or control, and the search leads to increased frustration, misplaced guilt or blaming others.
Yet, we find it hard to accept that we may never know the real reason for our suffering. We resent the inexplicable mystery, especially when we feel helpless and numb in the face of meaningless suffering. Thus, our search for meaning and explanations employs all our rational capacities to find intelligible causes for the inexplicable. Every act and any reflection on suffering and death must begin by doing justice to actual, human experience. Not all suffering is meaningless. Suffering can be an opportunity for maturation; an occasion to direct one’s life to the essential.
Nevertheless, the suffering which one most often encounters is deadening, barbaric, and meaningless. The concrete experience of human suffering continues to call for a response, continues to raise the issue of its meaningfulness or, alternately, its meaninglessness. Suffering can never be kept at a distance: “I am always involved in it”, “I share in it”, either personally or insofar as “I share in the lives of the others.”
Undeserved suffering makes suffering intolerable in a world which is not ruled by irrational fate but by the just and powerful God. In Scripture, we find multiple responses and interpretations of what suffering means in a theocentric structure of reality.1 All of them, however, are worth understanding and may help in dealing with our own suffering and that of others. Yet, none of these approaches are fully satisfactory taken on its own. Each one of them is a helpful resource to cope with suffering since escape from suffering as long as we live in history is impossible.
Identifying suffering is not a problem, but an unfathomable, theoretically incomprehensible mystery. We should not try to explain suffering or construct theories about the reasons for suffering in the world and systematic explanations that seek to reconcile innocent suffering with belief in a good and all -powerful God. The pervading presence of senseless suffering in the world falls outside the bounds of every rational system. When faced with the mystery of evil and suffering, the story of Jesus as the story of God is the only adequate response. The human quest for meaning and hope in tragic situations of affliction, draw from Christ’s death and Resurrection the power of life needed for sustenance. Thus, as Christians we do not argue against suffering, but tell a story.
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