Monday, December 9, 2013

The "Problem" of Suffering

One of the oldest and most recurring questions in all of history is, "Why do we suffer?"  It's not possible for me to cover every aspect of this question in a simple blog entry, so I just want to share some thoughts and observations based on my own experiences.
From my Dad's memorial service two years ago.
This post is prompted by thoughts and prayers for a friend today as doctors take his dying father off the ventilator.  My heart aches for him and his family and brings into focus all sorts of heartaches I've had in the last few years: my own cancer journey as well as the deaths of my father and several friends who were my age and younger.

There is no way to avoid suffering and death in this life, even though people spend a lot of time and money trying to do just that.  Wouldn't any sane person want to avoid unpleasantness and agony?  I used to think so, too.  After all, what good could possibly come from suffering and death?

Here's a short and incomplete list of what suffering can accomplish, even in a hard-headed German like me:

*Compassion for others who are suffering.
*A greater appreciation for and delight in each moment of life.
*The ability to discern what is truly important in life.
*Growth in character and maturity.
*And the most important of all--greater faith and trust in God as a result of humility learned during the suffering.

I would never, NEVER downplay the agony someone is suffering while in the midst of their pain.  I did not understand all the tangled-up feelings of a cancer patient until I became one.  I did not understand the heart-wrenching despair of watching a loved one suffer an agonizing death until I walked through the valley of the shadow of death with my father, step by step.  I did not understand the guilt of surviving cancer when so many my age and younger have lost their battles with the monster until the first friend died.

But I know there is hope.  I am completely and utterly convinced of this.  As we learned when I taught Latin to homeschoolers, "Dum spiro, spero." ("While I breathe, I hope.")  For the Christian our hope is "a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul" (Hebrews 6:19).

I now also know that paradoxically, there is joy to be found in suffering.  Not joy DURING the suffering, but after the suffering comes the joy of truths learned and growth experienced.  (I Peter 1:6-7, James 1:3-4, II Corinthians 12:7-10, among others)

As near as I can tell, the biggest "problem" with suffering is that so many fail to learn its life-changing lessons.  We have a phobia of death in America and avoid talking about it or preparing for it.  But it is unavoidable; all of us will die someday.  Instead of fearing suffering and death, we can turn our focus to that which follows death and the One who by His great suffering opened the Way to heaven (Hebrews 12:1-2).

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints."  Psalm 116:15

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