Suffering, like many things in life, is a mystery, and one that is impossible to understand. Most of what makes suffering so difficult is that its constant companion is fear. It’s almost as if it’s the fear that causes the suffering. Will it always be this way? Will I ever be happy again? Will it get worse? Will it ever end?
We’re fine with suffering when we’re in control of how much and what kind. We’re not overwhelmed by suffering created by giving an extra $5.00 to charity. We’re completely in control. We can decide that perhaps $5.00 is just a little too much, and we’d like to give $3.00 instead.
When we’re in control, suffering isn’t difficult. We make the rules, and we decide if we want to break them.
We’re even fine with suffering when we trust the person in control of how much and what kind of suffering we will undergo.
As athletes, we learn to trust coaches to know exactly how much running we can handle before our body actually gives up. Often, we endure much more suffering than we ever thought possible because we trust that if our coach thinks we can handle it, we actually can — and we surprise ourselves by finding out that we survived a workout we thought was impossible.
Along the way, we learn, “No pain, no gain.”
It’s when we have no control, when we can’t see who or what is in control of what kind of suffering we will endure or for how long we will endure it, that we panic.
In these circumstances, we question — do I actually believe in a God who loves me and wants what is best for me? Do I believe that God is more talented than the greatest surgeon in history — in a God who would only allow exactly the amount of pain I need to get to heaven? Do I even believe God exists? Do I believe God cares?
Our options remain: God exists, He is good, and pain has a purpose; God doesn’t exist; or God exists, is evil or ambivalent, and doesn’t care about suffering.
For me, everything in this world — even suffering itself — points to God’s existence. If He didn’t exist, where did everything begin?
To quote the Sound of Music, “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.”
Even suffering, itself, points to God’s existence. If there weren’t a perfect being, if I didn’t know how something should be, I would never feel deprived of a good. The fact that I do feel something is missing, points to the ultimate Good, and so, I am left with two choices.
Either God exists and suffering has a purpose, or God exists and He doesn’t care.
When we are removed from suffering, we are able to see the way it fosters virtue.
We are amazed by the heroic faith of Anthony Mini, a man who cared for his wife with Alzheimer’s for years, and confidently proclaimed at her funeral, “I can’t wait to see her again.”
We stand in awe of the courage of Kiera Chirdon, a 16-year-old girl who heroically fought cancer and throughout her treatments told her loved ones, “Don’t cry for me. I can’t wait to meet God.”
In these cases, we can see, at least to some extent, that though the suffering was terrible, some good — some virtue or heroism — came out of it.
It’s when suffering touches our own lives or the lives of those we love dearly, or when the suffering we see is too great for us to even comprehend, that it is hardest to trust that there is a God, that He is in control, and that He is allowing this suffering for a purpose.
It’s like being afraid of heights and going to an amusement park. As you wait watching people ride the rollercoaster, you’re not afraid the harness will break. But somehow, the second you step onto the ride, suddenly, you are certain the entire structure will fall apart, and you will tumble to your death. It’s not difficult to know intellectually that the structure will hold; it’s the feeling part that is difficult.
When your life is the one on the rollercoaster — when you’re the one afraid that no one is watching, no one is in control, and no one is taking care of you — it is hardest to trust.
It’s even more challenging to look at the cross and recognize that we do not suffer alone — that God Himself suffered and died for us in the most meaningful, most loving, most purposeful act in history. And it is because of the cross that I can conclude that God is good and that suffering has a purpose.
Suffering is a crazy ride. I don’t understand it. I don’t know why suffering exists. When experiencing it, I’m terrified that maybe it will never end.
But I know the Being who created the rollercoaster is the greatest engineer there ever is, was, or will be. I know that I’m held, not only by a harness, but also right in the palm of His hand, and I know that He will never let me fall.