by Martin, sx
If there is a word that has the power to summon at once our attention, I think, it is suffering. Anyone who reads our human history is caught up with a strange feeling at the sight of many lives forever prisoners in the nests of suffering. Let’s mention some of the ugliest faces of suffering that our history witnessed to: The First and Second World War and all the pain and damages they brought along with them. The Holocaust, so famous and so terrible for its systematic purpose to eradicate completely a nation. The trade of Africans during the conquests of that big continent. The apartheid that created hatred for decades between Blacks and Whites in South America and South Africa. The genocides observed both in Asia and Africa. The persecutions conveyed by the Inquisition without forgetting religious wars. The Black Death that destroyed almost a third of the European population between 1347 and 1369. The list is unending. It seems that suffering, no matter what progress we achieve, pervades our human history. At the dawn of the third millennium, which without any doubt has achieved remarkable and spectacular developments in almost all the fields of life, suffering finds still its dwelling among us. Racism, ethnocentrism, tribalism, poverty, exploitation of man by man, trade of human beings, force labor, slavery, terrorism, fanaticism, dictatorship, violence in all its forms, violation of human rights etc., all of these are contemporaries faces of sufferings though there is nothing new under the sun. It seems to me that whenever our societies develop, suffering develops too and gets more and more sophisticated. Some historian argue nowadays that the so-called neo-colonialism is far dangerous than its ancestor. But only a refined observation can realize it!
Since the reality of suffering is so obvious, questions have been asked and are still asked today: why is there suffering in the world? Why is evil in the world? Why do people have to experience suffering? All these questions have nothing to do with metaphysic or mere speculation. They are rooted in the concrete experience of suffering. For suffering is neither an idea nor a concept: it is a concrete reality. Some philosophers attempted in the past to reduce suffering in the sphere of the thinking mind. But common sense won over speculation. For the simple reason that when pain is there, whether you think about it or not, you feel its painfulness. So, this concrete reality of suffering raises pertinent questions namely why is there suffering?
As Christian, I would say that one way of understanding suffering is by looking at how Jesus, who is both man and God, dealt with it while living on earth. Let’s make it clear first and foremost that it is a common mistake to relegate suffering in the end of the earthly life of Jesus. This attitude that has gained many believers is misleading for it mistakenly implies that Christ experienced suffering only on Holy Thursday and Black Friday. The Gospels, though they are not historical narratives in the modern sense, show Christ facing suffering all along his journey. Christ’s suffering often took the face of temptations. Many times, it showed up as misunderstandings, insults and mockeries. Many are not probably aware that Christ was once described as “crazy”. Christ faced suffering in the lack of faith of his audience including his disciples. He was always on his guard for religious and political groups had set up their minds to trap him and therefore accuse him and condemn him. Christ experience suffering in taking radical decisions, like to go up to Jerusalem and endure his passion. What happened at Gethsemane and Golgotha are paramount of a reality that had been present all through Christ’s earthly journey.
Now, how did Christ deal with suffering? First, Christ fought against suffering. It is true that the primarily goal of miracles and healings was kerygmatic. They intended to corroborate Christ teaching on the Kingdom of God. However, they were also a clear message that suffering is not God’s will. So Christ tried, as much as he could, to free people from their sufferings. Second, Christ carried his own suffering like the Suffering Servant announced by Isaiah, who had to suffer for the good of his nation. Here, a question presses: did Christ have to suffer for our salvation? No one I believe can answer this question. Christ himself did not tell his disciples why the Messiah had to suffer in order to enter in his glory. Suffering has something mysterious.
Learning therefore from Christ’s example, I propose two attitudes that should constitute our stand vis-à-vis suffering. First, as much as we can, we should not allow suffering to happen. There are many sufferings in the world that could have been avoided. They should have been avoided! This also means that no one must voluntarily be responsible of others’ sufferings. Whenever a human being willingly and joyfully becomes agent of suffering, he ceases to be a human being. Second, some sufferings are beyond our understanding and control. They share in the mystery of life. In front of such sufferings, it is vain and even useless to ask: why does God allow this? Is God less powerful than evil? Etc. Again, the right attitude here is to turn to Christ and act as he acted. And this is what he did. He said to the Father: “Abba, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.” Not resignation, not narcissism, not pessimism but Humility and Faith in Abba, our Father.