Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Suffering is the hardest, worst, most confusing part of this life. Suffering is one thing speaking academically and a very different thing as you experience it. All people suffer. Wealth does not shield you from it. Privilege does not ease your suffering. Education does not give you immunity from it. We all suffer. We all suffer differently as well. A child stubs their toe and screams in agony. To that child this is the very worst pain that can exist as they have never experienced anything worse. Each of us has our own standard of suffering reflecting in the level of pain we ourselves have experienced.
When I was quite young a thing happened to me that I had no control over. This thing spanned years and destroyed me as a person for a very long time. I remember sitting in group counseling and meeting a young lady that had been locked in a closet for years on end, only being fed enough to stay alive, barely. As we each shared our experiences this young lady upon hearing my story broke down in tears and asked me "how could you endure that? It is so awful!" I had no answer of course, but I remember the shock that someone who had endured so much could look to me and feel compassion for the thing I had been through. In her mind my experience was unbearable, while in my mind hers was without question the worst thing imaginable. Both of us were in the same position, unable to grasp the full understanding of the others suffering. This however did form a kind of bond between us and ultimately helped both of us. We became friends and talked about anything and everything. This helped us heal a bit. When we speak of suffering it can not be a simple exercise in philosophy but must be real and speak to the trauma we experience as humans.
Suffering does not care what religion or philosophy you adhere to. It does not care about your ancestry or what part of the world you live in. It does not care what your social status you have acquired. One in one people die and all experience death of those we love. At that moment in the thralls of the pain we can not seek a judgement or ideal that makes the suffering less. In the midst of the suffering there is nothing that can justify the wrongness of it all. There is an injustice we endure robbing us of any relief. We simply grieve and hurt and over time the pain fades. In many instances it never leaves entirely but fades enough so that we can continue on.
I have known others that have suffered terribly as well. Many of us know of experiences ourselves or others have had that stuns the imagination and offends the morality within us. It hurts our hearts to hear of these kinds of sufferings. I knew a man who had spent most of his life in prison. He had been raised in a fighting ring and his father had pitted him against much stronger and older boys forcing him to fight for his food. This man was never able to remove this from his life. He was a fighter and this is all he had ever known. He was quite a powerful man, not one you would want to offend or upset. He was not a good man. I knew a woman who grew up in a middle class home, had many things that others did not. She had a very soft heart and was so very deeply hurt by anything that happened to her, even things that should not have wounded her were somehow deeply grievous to her. She suffered because she could not control the pain within her heart, feeling even a pinprick as though it was an ice pick and magnifying the suffering to an unreasonable level. She knew only fleeting moments of joy through her life and suffered a great deal. She however was exceedingly kind and spent her life caring for the homeless and children. She did not have wealth, in fact her suffering took such a toll on her that she herself spent a great deal of time homeless and hungry herself. When she did have food she gave some to those that did not have. When she had a place to sleep she invited those that had none into her apartment to have a warm place to rest.
What is the difference between these two people? Why do we have suffering and yet one person is full of rage and fear while another is giving the little they have for another's good? Rejection of negative emotion and the self regulating of those emotions determines the response. In the case of the woman she embraced the negative emotions of anxiety and sorrow and this gave her compassion for others that experience these things. The man however rejected any sign or response to a negative emotion and removed the consequences of the emotion from his psyche. He became a monster. Guilt and shame and grief is the difference between these people. One lived their life drowning in it, the other removed it from themselves as completely as they could, perhaps entirely.
n. a self-conscious emotion characterized by a painful appraisal of having done (or thought) something that is wrong and often by a readiness to take action designed to undo or mitigate this wrong. It is distinct from shame, in which there is the additional strong fear of one’s deeds being publicly exposed to judgment or ridicule. —guilty adj.
n. a highly unpleasant self-conscious emotion arising from the sense of there being something dishonorable, immodest, or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances.
n. the anguish experienced after significant loss, usually the death of a beloved person. Grief is often distinguished from bereavement and mourning.
These are the defining differences between individuals and the manner in which we handle suffering. The first two are only applicable to those with a moral code of sorts. Stalin killed millions of people and showed no signs of guilt nor shame in the light of his actions. This is because without a moral God there is not moral authority as we discussed earlier. Stalin could literally do anything and there was no wrong in it in his eyes. Also given his position he had no shame, anything he did was considered acceptable as he was the one that decided what was acceptable and what was not. Grief however says something different. It says there has been a loss of something or someone valuable. As we also stated earlier without God mankind has no value. The removal of these produces Joseph Stalin, Mengele, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot.
The opposite ideal would be the embracing of these emotions. To fully embrace guilt, shame, and grief.
The power of shame is that it makes you run and hide. It produces an anxiety that creates isolation and fear. These are usually very destructive and create a cycle that is not easy to break. The further you fear discovery the more you hide, then you fear the discovery that you are hiding. Many lies are generated for this reason. Instead if we are open and honest about the acts we are ashamed of not only is this cycle broken but others who fear discovery can see the way out as well. Our honesty helps those that are crippled by their own shame. Shame is not about the action but about you as a person. It is something integrally wrong with you as a human. It is very personal. Showing everyone else how flawed you are as a person liberates you from unrealistic expectations as no one can be anything other than human.
Sam Osherson Ph.D.(Jun 01, 2018) Since Our Shame Is Adhesive, Can We Learn to Embrace It? Embarrassment.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/listen/201806/our-shame-is-adhesive-can-we-learn-embrace-it While I may be ashamed of something I am, I can only be guilty of the things I have done. Guilt has an external component that shame does not. Guilt is an offense that we have committed and not a state of our own being like shame is. Guilt is shame pointed at an action rather than a person. Recompense or compensation is the resolution to guilt. nearly all societies have a form of compensation for offenses committed. However it is interesting to know that the more strict a form of punishment a society deems for a particular crime has almost no effect on the frequency that the crime is committed.
National Institute of Justice, "Five Things About Deterrence," June 5, 2016, nij.ojp.gov
What is more is that only restitution by a willing party does good for both involved. An apology only goes so far but when it is accompanied by willing restitution the results are greatly increased. This is the only combination that can have a positive result the majority of the time.
Witvliet, Charlotte V O et al. “Apology and Restitution: The Psychophysiology of Forgiveness After Accountable Relational Repair Responses.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 11 284. 13 Mar. 2020, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00284
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7082420/ Greif is the result of suffering. Shame and guilt should result in grief, and certainly result in grief for the victim of the offence committed. The only way to heal this relationship is by identifying the offence, accepting the shame and guilt, approaching the offended party with humility and openness, making an apology and restitution. It is quite something that psychology agrees perfectly with the biblical standard. What is more is that the biblical standard is focused on healing the relationship above all else, which is exactly what psychology tells us is the determinant factor in the progress of dealing with these negative emotions. Without these emotions pushing us to deal with these situations, especially in the short term, we find that relationships are broken, people are hurt more often and resentment, fear, anxiety, and depression are the result. Spend any amount of time in any prison in the United States and you will see this played out time after time in each person you meet. Love is the cure for suffering. Love grieves with those that hurt. Love Seeks urgently to forgive. Love runs to those that have been wronged that healing may begin. Love is bound together with humility and honor. When the relationship is more important than a person's pride or sence of justice then the pride and the outcry for justice can be resolved. Justice can never account for the loss of a relationship. Love seeks mercy and grace for wrongs committed against us as seeks reconciliation with those who we commit wrongs against. Matthew 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." If there is trouble between you and another God does not want to hear anything from us until we go and seek reconciliation. This is God's response to suffering. Do not cause suffering, however we are fallen, therefore when you do cause suffering you go immediately and resolve it. In Proverbs 6:31 we see how seriously God takes recompense. "Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house". Psychology tells us that this is exactly the right thing to do. What's more, only the bible provides requirements for those that suffer. Those that do not suffer presently are to take care of those that do. If they are hungry, feed them, if they are sad, grieve with them. If they are sick, care for them. Now most people would agree that these measures are common sense and not exclusive to the bible, however the exclusivity of it comes from commands and requirements. The book of James says: 14. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15. Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17. In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead 18. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." Furthermore the bible says all have sinned, all have fallen short, no one can love perfectly, Humans all harm each other in various ways. This is a constant and consistent theme throughout scripture. Honestly though, did we really need God to tell us this? Do each of us not experience this on a daily basis? The paralyzing effect shame has is based on a failure of a person as a person. Yet with the news that all people fail, then we can easily accept that failure as we may fail in the perfection department, yet as humans go, we are just fine . The problem as stated in the bible is not that we fail as humans, it is that humans fail to be perfect. The obvious nature of this and the escape from the hard line of failure because, after all, if all humans fail and I fail then I am just like all other people, allows for the power of shame to be rendered moot. Christianity is often accused of destroying the emotional stability and self esteem of the individual, shaming them for everything they ever do wrong. This is false. Christianity simply exposes a person's sins by the law and then once the infection is exposed provides the cure. I can make the argument that most of the book of Romans is dedicated to this philosophy and understanding. Humans hurt each other, it is a fact. How we deal with that makes a huge difference to our health and well being. The bible makes it perfectly clear on how this is to be dealt with and how we can stay healthy and stable. A Wonderful person once changed my entire life forever. She told me, "everything that you ever will care about on your deathbed, every regret and joy will be an experience between you and another person". This is the gravity of healthy relationships. Obedience to God provides this in full measure and teaches us how to handle suffering along the way. "So why not just POOF! and we are healthy, happy and stable without all the suffering"? That is a logical fallacy. Did you know heat is only a measure of the movement of molecules? Did you know light is measured in intensity? By scientific definition and by every calculation mankind has, there is no way to measure cold. Light can be measured to within extremely fine detail. There is no way to measure darkness. There is no scale that determines cold. So what does this have to do with suffering? Suffering is the physical result of evil. Thinking about hurting someone is one thing, it is an evil thought. However the thought and idea is very different from the action (until you get into the quantum mechanics of it). Love is the opposite of evil. Love we know what it is. It is the giving of yourself for another's well being regardless of circumstances, cost ,or consequences to yourself. Evil has no real definition. Now I am sure that someone somewhere could come up with an example of a definition of evil but let's take a look at this for a moment. evil noun [ C or U ] US /ˈiː.vəl/ UK /ˈiː.vəl/ B2 something that is very bad and harmful: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/evil I would ask if this definition is true. The reason I must ask is because it does not seem to fit quite right. In physics we take the simplest version of the equation, then apply it to the greatest example and the least example. Let's apply this test here. The greatest example is Hitler. Very evil by 99.9% of accounts and those same accounts would classify Hitler as both very bad and harmful. The least example of evil would be good, and thus we are inverting the definition and result. Good must be very good and harmless. This is not true. We have police who dedicate their lives to stop harm from coming to others. They have weapons needed to do so. They are not harmless. Doctors cut people open and even use poisons and radiation which kill cells to treat people. This is not harmless. Children hurt each other and can be extremely selfish, yet they are good. Not to mention, in order to qualify Good you must therefore have an authority outside of yourself to make any determination that has meaning as previously discussed. Furthermore I would argue that evil is simply the absence of Good. Allow me to explain. In defining evil we can look to philosophers, theologians, and noted thinkers. After studying Nietzsche, Aquinas, and the like, I have come to the conclusion that we can not use these ideas at all. I look to the child who has been hurt. I look to the parent who has lost a child. I look to those that have been wronged. I look to the harm I have committed in my life. Who among us can say "I have never committed an evil act"? Who can say "no one has ever done any evil to me."? I have yet to meet this person who can say these things. We all know what evil is. Evil is anything that causes suffering. So now we must ask what causes suffering? There are two kinds of suffering as demonstrated in the philosophical world. There is objective and incidental suffering. Hitler was objective in that he directly and intentionally caused suffering. Incidental is a car accident or tornado. There is no action of ill will in an incidental suffering. There is no purpose to cause suffering. This does nothing to stop the suffering and the end result is the same. If my child is murdered or simply dies from natural causes I still suffer. I would still want justice and cry out for relief as impossible as this may be. Following the definition we find anything that is harmful or very harmful is evil. The adjective "very" used in this definition is subjective. The child that stubbed their toe would definitively qualify that as "very harmful" while there are doctors that believe that infanticide is a moral and beneficial act, as insane as this sounds.
Jessica Chasmar - The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2015 Princeton bioethics professor faces calls for resignation over infanticide support.
We have no more need to define evil than we do pain. It is simply obvious and plain. We see it daily and live our lives in spite of it. However placing a specific definition on it seems to fall short doesn't it? Can you truly put into a definition the act of evil? The intensity of harm and the lasting effects it has? Can you honestly describe it to finality and exhaust the idea so that that which is evil is defined and accurate and exact? Causing harm can be a good thing can it not? We discipline children, not pleasant for either party but beneficial to the child if used properly. We punish wrongdoers by causing suffering, this too is seen as good but the definition implies that this is evil as well. The doctor's knife comes to mind yet again. Evil is not that which causes harm in almost everyone's point of view. However let's look deeper and find out how deep this rabbit hole goes. We discipline children for wrong actions. We cut open humans to correct a disease, we have a penal system to deter and correct crimes. In these cases the initial act of disobedience, disease, and crime are the cause and source of the evil, the secondary effects that initiate the tertiary cause are the furthering of the evil. Disobedience is caused by a lack of understanding the purpose of the instructions or, more often, is simply a stubborn heart . Disease is caused by a lack of genetic purity or contact with a toxin. Crime is caused by a lack of love. Let me show you a more clear example. A Robber breaks into a house to steal enough to eat and have a warm place to sleep tonight. He is caught by the homeowner who in a moment of fear and shock shoots the intruder. Upon examination it is learned the intruder had a terminal condition and was an alcoholic. So the sequence of events is : Terminal diagnosis, depression and anxiety, alcoholism, poverty, theft, killing, and psychological trauma to all involved as well as the family of the intruder. The cause is the disease as well as the lack of skills and facilities to adequately process the diagnosis. Everything that followed is another evil but there is a root cause and a series of intentional and unintentional actions leading to death. This is sin as described in the bible. The Greek word for sin is "hamartia". meaning missing the mark in 1 John 3:4. However it is also more than that it is an ever present disease innate in mankind. There is an aspect of sin that is akin to fire or cancer. It is self promoting and creates favorable conditions for itself to propagate. It changes the environment to better suit its needs to spread. This occurs through time and evolution into something we can not escape or contain. However there is a cure for Sin. Wisdom and obedience. I know, you thought I was going to say Jesus. We will get there but Jesus does not simply POOF us out of sin, instead He allows us to experience sin and suffering in his infinite wisdom and grace. Love is the only thing God equates to Himself. Wisdom and Obedience run a close second to this. Wisdom knows how to avoid the initial situation of the trap and cyclic nature of sin. Obedience allows God's understanding to take over and we can avoid these traps without ever knowing or understanding the infinitesimal details leading to, causing, and continuing the spread of the sin. This is the reverse of the idea of Nike as discussed earlier. IN the Nike explanation we learned how a single act can have everlasting consequences. Sin can act the same way. This is defined in physics as the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy will always increase and information will always decrease. This principle holds true in every aspect of the cosmos, not just in the matter-energy state of materialistic science. Here a little there a little here a little there a little line upon line line upon line, precept upon precept precept upon precept. For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. These concepts exist in God's law just as gravity and electromagnetism do. They are laws governing the universe and life itself. In the same way we humans can land on the moon or find cures to diseases using laws God has made, we can also do many other things concerning suffering and honor using laws of suffering and obedience. Soloman is a very good example of this as is David. One was quite wise and sturdy. Soloman had a fleet of ships dedicated to sailing the gold he had mined from havilah, he avoided terrible situations he could have gotten himself into by foolish choices, and was known worldwide for his wisdom. Differing to God's knowledge instead of our understanding is wisdom. Think of it like this, if I am trying to do a differential equation would I try to learn calculus or instead would I simply ask a math professor how this works and have their understanding help me work through the problem? God knows everything and can easily solve anything in your life He chooses to, and He will. The only problem is that He does not solve it the way we want Him to anymore than the professor solves the differential equation the way we think it should be solved. SIn and death are our problems, Suffering is the consequence. Suffering, like entropy, is cyclic in nature and feeds itself, like a fire that grows and adapts to gain strength and consume more. Wisdom and obedience can interrupt this process and halt the progression of sin and death. Wisdom does this by refusing to take the next step or stepping out of the path leading to the sequential progression of the sin chain.. Obedience does this by understanding that the Lord is infinitely intelligent and can see the past present and future at once thereby seeing the trap laid for you in the future and if you listen obey you will avoid this trap. The design God has laid out for us involves suffering so that we might know love.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. If evil is the lack of love then evil is : Impatient, rude and selfish. envious, boastful and proud. Evil has no honor, is self serving, wrathful, fault finding, holding of grudges, Evil hates truth, delights in suffering, it does not protect, it does not trust, there is no hope and can not persevere. Let us see if this matches. Hitler: found fault with the Hebrew people and where none was found he made up lies to hold the innocent guilty of any crime conceivable. He expounded at great length the pride and strength of the German people. Hitler was known to be extremely impatient. Hitler cared more for his own scheme and power than he did for the suffering of the entire world. Hitler was paranoid and trusted nothing and no one. He commonly executed his own leaders for imagined failures or schemes. Hitler killed himself rather than persevere through any punishment he would have received. Yes this definition fits very well with evil. Therefore evil is simply the lack of love. Jesus said "The greatest commandment is this, that you love the Lord your God with all your Heart, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is like it, to love your neighbor as you love yourself". This was later changed to "love your neighbor as I have loved you" after Jesus had demonstrated His love for us. Jesus said "all the law and all the prophets are summed up in these two commandments". This is what Jesus meant. In seeking light we avoid darkness. In seeking love we avoid evil. In loving and caring for others we reduce suffering. In accepting our own faults, turning and repenting we avoid the consequences of shame and guilt which destroy our ability to love others. Suffering is always painful and always is unjust. However it is required and can be quite holy and useful. There are those who feel no pain. These people have terrible lives and are in constant danger of unknown injury. You would think it would be bliss but it is a very arduous and hazardous existence. Suffering in this sense is beneficial as it lets us know there is something wrong. If you can not understand or sense you have been wounded then you can die from something very easy to treat. Pain is very important now matter how much suffering is caused by the ability to feel the pain. Somehow we equate suffering with evil. We tend to think suffering is bad. I might ask "why is suffering bad?". When I was a boy, pain I felt was awful and nearly unbearable. I had a very hard time understanding how people on a day to day basis lived with pain. Whether its knee pain, a pulled muscle, or emotional pain I could not fathom how pain was part of everyday life or more importantly how people did not lose their ever loving minds consistently due to the unceasing pain we all face. When I learned of how people lived in third world countries I struggled with this on a deep level for quite a long while. To me, suffering was hell. I met my father when I was 30 years old. He had spent the majority of his life in prison and had suffered much more than I had in many ways. It made him stronger in many ways as well. Now, as a man I see how the suffering I endured throughout my life has shaped who I am today and my understanding of God and the cosmos. The way a samurai sword is created helped me understand this. It takes days to create this exquisite weapon. The right fire has to be built, not too hot, not too cool but just right. The right amount of carbon and iron in the right places. The Masamune (creator of the samurai sword) does not sleep during the sword making process. Then it is folded many times. This folding process creates a very powerful weapon. The sword becomes more pure, more durable, more consistent, better in every aspect. The folding and fire create the best possible weapon. Suffering can do exactly the same thing for us. It can also have the opposite effect. The choice is ours. 1 Peter 4:12-17 says 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" Here it is plain we are addressing two types of suffering one is common to mankind the other is persecution for the faith. The word "test" in verse 12 is peirasmon or πειρασμὸν in Greek denotes a evil thing that is for a good result. Just as the folding of a katana, the discipline of a child, or the training of an athlete, suffering produces a goodness in us if we allow it to have its work in us. The resistance of this causes the opposite effect however. Instead of becoming wise and loving, full of compassion and grace, we can become hard hearted and cruel, without compassion or sympathy for others. Do you believe Jeffery Dahmer suffered much and his evil actions are due to his terrible suffering? Do you think that Billy Graham or Mother Theresa never suffered or suffered little during their lives and are good people because of this? Do you think you are a product of your suffering? One of my hero's I had the privilege of knowing was a Vietnam veteran. He served 4 tours and was POW 3 times in three separate tours. He was among the most honorable men I have ever met. He was also terminal. He taught me much as I was a teenager when I knew him. His words were strong and short. I asked him about the man that hurt me so badly when I was a boy. He told me that anyone that could hurt someone that way was that way before they went to war. The suffering had nothing to do with the monster. This man would know, his suffering was among the worst I have seen. If suffering produces monsters this man would have been a monster himself, that however was not the result.
Suffering does not create monsters but it can break people. In fact it does break people.
When someone has an issue with suffering what they are really saying is "If God loves us why does a loving God allow such terrible suffering?".
The answer is because He is wise.
When you hurt someone you are in need of forgiveness. If you are guilty of a crime you need mercy. If you are sad you need empathy. If you hunger you need compassion and food. If you are hurt you need care. Forgiveness , Mercy, Compassion, Empathy, care are the greatest attributes of mankind. The only reason these exist is because of suffering. If you remove suffering you remove these things as well. When I consider this I see the world in its vast array of color and splendor. Removal of the suffering is removal of the color we see, not only the dark ones but the bright ones as well. Life at this point is sterile. There is no joy if there is no sorrow. There is no love if there is no hate. There is no courage if there is no fear. If we remove suffering there is nothing worthwhile left of this life. Suffering is awful, it is. Nihilism is worse.
If I never harm then who will show me forgiveness? If no one harms me how can I learn mercy? The greatest attributes of mankind are the same attributes brought about because we suffer, not only at the hands of other people but also by incidental suffering. The Red Cross exists because of natural disasters and wars alike. Doctors Without Borders go where they are needed no matter why they are needed. UNICEF is not exclusive to natural disasters or human caused suffering but seeks to help where they can when they can however they can.