The title of this post may have been sufficient to prompt people to push the delete button or to click away to something more inviting. Suffering is something people would like to keep at several arms lengths from their lives. We medicate and premedicate to alleviate it or to avoid it. We trivialize our lives with shallowness so we can step away at the first sign of suffering. We cocoon ourselves lest our relationships and/or environment introduce suffering into our experience. We often measure success by the pleasure we had in achieving it–an approach that tends to discount the necessity of suffering.
Yet suffering is part of life; but suffering is also more than fate. Suffering is a key ingredient in developing a quality of life that sustains us far beyond the moment. And it helps exert an impact and influence upon our neighbor than can outlast our temporary residence on this planet.
Consider these observations on the idea that suffering is essential.
“The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.” – Helen Keller
“Suffering is but another name for the teaching of experience, which is the parent of instruction and the schoolmaster of life.” – Horace
“It is a glorious thing to be indifferent to suffering, but only to one’s own suffering.” – Robert Lynd
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller
“Deep, unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state. “-George Eliot in Adam Bede
“One of the greatest sources of suffering is to have an inborn sense of honor” – De Casseres
“Suffering is part of the human condition, and it comes to us all. The key is how we react to it, either turning away from God in anger and bitterness or growing closer to Him in trust and confidence.” – Bill Graham in Just As I Am
One of the things that makes Christianity unattractive to some, but signficiant to others is its position that suffering is essential. Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-4. “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
As Christians we embrace the idea that suffering is part of God’s plan to shape each of us into the character of Christ so that we can carry out the mission of Christ to bring hope to the world. This is not senseless suffering. It is suffering with a purpose. It is not suffering born of our sin or circumstances. It is suffering that is embraced as a part of our calling to bring the hope of God to the world. When a Christian suffers injustice or misunderstanding to reflect the core values of God’s love, they are doing an honorable thing. When a Christian suffers the loss of status or the loss of their comfort to go and serve among the least, the last, and the lost on this plan; they are providing a countercultural witness that reminds all of us of a more perfect way–the way of love. When Christians walk through the valley of the shadow of death with someone, sharing their grief and suffering, they bring comfort and strength.
We take our cue from Jesus, who engaged in the suffering first of being human; but ultimately the suffering of death on a cross for a crime he did not commit so that we might be freed from our sin. His suffering was essential to our eternal destiny.