The Mystery of Human Suffering

Although we are aware of unavoidable suffering, often we live in fear of it, seeking to elevate this suffering by any means. For myself, I admit that the times I urgently wished to end my suffering, are the times I fell into sin. Our nature appears to be a river that does its best to flow uphill, away from suffering.

To live on Earth, is to suffer. We acknowledge it is a state of our fallen world, a world after original sin. A world of disease and sickness of not only the physical world, our body and environment, but also of the spiritual, our souls. The mystery of suffering extends beyond simply living in a fallen world, because the purpose to suffering also relates to our salvation. Christ suffered excruciatingly, and then died on the cross, to be resurrected. The parallel of our own suffering can be seen in the undeserved suffering of Christ. While our own suffering may be purifying for ourselves, Christ’s suffering in His perfection was purifying not for Himself, but for us.

To understand suffering is to understand our desire for Christ, to know we are only completed within Him. Christ embraced His cross, in His path to crucifixion, falling many times, moving towards His death out of love for us and in the will of God the Father. We are called not to move away from our suffering as an animal in fear, but to move towards it as Christ moved towards His own on Earth in love for us. We are aware that Christ was undeserving of His suffering on Earth, yet for our salvation, in His perfect love for us, He endured it willingly. If Christ suffered willingly while on earth, fully human and fully divine, why do we believe that we should be exempt from suffering?

There is a misconception within society that suffering is a form of human failure. Human achievement is not happiness, human achievement is holiness. Society places pressure on us to achieve perfect happiness; we are told that success is our happiness, and that it is found in things of this world such as monetary comforts or other worldly pleasures. We define our very freedom based on our access to these monetary comforts and pleasures, and in fact our nation was founded on our right to pursue this happiness.

I do believe there is an important difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a temporal emotion based on pleasure from things that are temporary; a fleeting human emotion, a mere chemical reaction in the brain. Joy is a state of being; a peace in Christ that is beyond human emotion. Joy is not fleeting, and is not found in things that are of this world alone. Often those who are experiencing joy, are those who are experiencing human suffering, not happiness. In our desires to be happy, we seek not Christ, but those things of this Earth with which we attempt to fill the void in our being that was formed during the fall of Adam and Eve. This void can only be filled when we have reached our purpose: to dwell within Christ in perfect eternity. As suffering magnifies joy, the seeking of temporal pleasures not only does not fill the void, it further magnifies it.

Animals suffer, but they do not ask why. I do not believe this is because they do not have enough intelligence, or do not feel emotions, but rather because their souls are not made in the likeness of God. They are not created for joy, for peace, or for love as human beings are. Animals are not created to be in union with God. Even as it is realistic to expect suffering, we do not accept suffering, since our very nature was not created for the intention of experiencing suffering, but rather experiencing the love of God. This is why animals run from suffering in fear, and human beings question it, and saints move towards it. Although we are aware that the only success, the only badge of honor on Earth is our sainthood, those who do not fear suffering, those who do not run from suffering, are momentarily and truly successful. Those who bring their suffering into union with the suffering of Christ are on the path to perfection.

Although we could agree that we truly deserve suffering, just as we deserve Hell, it is inaccurate to say that suffering is always a form of justice, or fair punishment. Often it is simply a natural consequence of our sins, like when a child does not obey their parents to wear shoes when playing outside, and as a result steps in glass. It is not the parents’ willful punishment of the child to step in glass, it is merely a natural consequence. How funny it is that in these moments of suffering from the natural consequences of our sins we cry out to God in anger, “Why did you allow me to step on glass?” when it was God who warned us to wear shoes.

The suffering of the innocent feels unjust to us. We know as Christians that truly the will of God is what is best for us, but in the midst of our suffering, we cannot look forward to the future and our formation of sainthood, as God can. God is in the past, the present and the future all at the same time; He is, He was, and He always will be. He knows and sees the end of our suffering, and ultimately He calls us to Him, to heaven, where we will have perfect love and joy. This is what Christ wants for us, eternity with Him in perfect love and joy. When we see the suffering of the innocent, it is hard to justify or find reason in it. We can only form a small faith, a hope in Christ, that this suffering will come to an end, and truly this suffering was not in God’s original creational plan for us. In witnessing the suffering of the innocent, our hearts turn to fully reject evil; we become detached from this world and the sin and disease that plagues it, finally returning to God. Suffering for the purpose of turning our hearts to God, drawing near to him, is never unjust or undeserved.

A priest once replied to me, as I was admitting a desire for my suffering to end or for it to be alleviated, “You just keep carrying your cross Janelle, and God will send you your Simon of Cyrene to help you carry it.”

There is a binding of the Body of Christ, the communion of saints in our sufferings. When a husband and wife suffer together, they are further  unified. When a country experiences tragedies together, they come together as a community in the aftermath. The sufferings of others is our greatest and most profound opportunity to be Christ-like, to be the action of love. In this opportunity others are able to see Christ working through us, and they are able to move towards Christ.

Love is action. We know this when we look at the cross, and we become love in action when we witness the suffering of others, especially the suffering of those who are innocent, abused, or oppressed. With eyes of mercy, Christ’s eyes, we look upon them in their oppression and suffering. We are bound together in this love for each other, true Christian love, in which the ultimate goal is to bring each other to Christ. For we are not born with just one shoulder to carry our cross, we are born with two shoulders. One to carry the weight of our own cross, and the other to help alleviate our neighbor by bearing the weight of his cross before he falls. Christ has called us to carry our cross through first carrying His, and He calls us to help each other as He told us He would help us. Let us be the shoulder of Christ for our neighbor, and allow Christ to work through us. Those in need are those who are the most beautiful gift of love for us in our path to sainthood.

Through our skin of vanity, through our bone of pride, and our blood of selfishness, we are wounded so Christ may enter us. Within these wounds, Christ not only restores, He makes new, He further perfects our heart, our minds, and our souls in preparation for our true home. Our suffering magnifies our desire for joy and magnifies our experience of joy itself. All experiences of joy on Earth, are merely glimpses of our true home, glimpses that serve as a reminder of the love and joy in Christ that we are created for and created by. We must understand that Christ died on the cross so we may be freed from our sins; He did not die on the cross to liberate us from our sufferings. Then let us move towards our suffering, to better understand Christ’s love for us, to seek refinement and prepare for our sainthood, and to intensify our joy in Christ, uniting our sufferings with His.

Please pray for me, that I move towards my own sufferings, and seek to understand them. Please pray also that I would seek to be in perfect union with Christ, both in His suffering on earth and His perfect love and joy in heaven.

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