Suffering is a one of the largest issues that is addressed by all the major religions. In Christianity, Jesus suffers on the cross to absolve us of our sins. It is taught in fact, that it is our sinful nature that causes us all of our suffering. The more we forsake and resist our sinful nature, the closer we come to God and Jesus and the less suffering we are likely to endure. The final payday comes when we gain our admission to Heaven for having lived as close to the ideals held in high regard. Of course as humans who ate the forbidden fruit, we can never completely reach this ideal but as long as we repent our sins and admit these faults, there will be a place in Eden awaiting us. It is this hope for a rewarding and well-earned afterlife that should presumably make the suffering acceptable to bear.
In Buddhism, suffering is similarly seen as having been caused by our desires for material things, selfish wants, etc… Instead of heaven, the goal is to reach Nirvana where one loses their individuality by forsaking their earthly desires.
There is of course much more to it than that in both religious views, but the bottom line is that suffering is a part of the human condition.
You know what I think? Suffering just is and it’s not caused by our sinful nature nor is it caused by our desires for stuff. Sure, if we let either of those things become the end all of our existence, then some problems and issues are very likely to follow.
Some using the religious reasoning would put forth that we deserve our suffering because of our sinful nature. But we ate the fruit and we liked it! And there’s nothing wrong with liking things like sex, drugs, rock n roll, playing a game of chance, etc…. as long as you don’t do it to the exclusion of everything else and at other people’s expense.
A lot of suffering and pain happens….just because it does. Are you going to tell me that the 8 year old girl who loses both of her parents in a car crash and is physically deformed by that same crash somehow deserved it because of her sinful nature?
Some put forth the notion that suffering and hardships are supposed to be part of the equation and that dealing with it is how we grow and evolve. Many of the great thinkers have put forth the notion
that the most enlightened souls are those that have suffered greatly and come out on the other side.
Here’s what I personally think about suffering, what is true for me regarding suffering. We all suffer but they key is how we react to it, what we do about it, if anything. I have chronic physical pain that causes suffering and it will never go away. The best I can do is try and mitigate that pain, to reduce it and learn to live with it and continue to do the things I want to do to the best of my ability until I can’t.
I think the same is true with emotional or mental suffering. I still suffer from little episodes of social anxiety, rarely, but they still occur from time to time. The reason they don’t occur often is because I forced myself to be out there, to learn better skills, to listen more attentively, to truly empathize, etc….
I still suffer from the fact that my son has not let lessoned his resentments towards my past and has made the decision to basically not have a relationship. I mitigate that by continually reaching out to him, to make myself available and to show by example that I am no longer that person. It doesn’t completely eliminate the suffering, but it certainly does lessen the pain.
So I see some truth put forth by the notion that the people that come the closest to self-actualization or enlightenment, are those that have experienced great sorrow, great tragedies or great suffering and managed to come through it stronger, wiser, more aware. My soul or intuition lead me to believe that there is probably something to that. I do know that as long as we’re alive and kicking, that suffering to some degree or another, is part of the equation. It’s how you accept the reality of it to a point and how you mitigate its effect on you that ultimately forms in large part, your sense of how OK you are with your place in the world.
You can take the “life is hard, is a struggle and then you die” approach or you can take the “life is hard but it’s also good, I’ll deal with the suffering and mitigate its impact and enjoy the moment anyway approach”. In the end some might argue that it doesn’t make a bit of difference but I think I’ll go with the latter approach just the same.
As for my place in the afterlife if there is one, I’m not perfect nor am I going to try to be. I’m not giving away my 1975 Les Paul either. So I certainly am not sin free nor am I going to forsake all of my possessions. I’m not obsessed with either and just not worried about it. I do the best I can and think I do the next right thing more times than not. If that’s not good enough for whatever lies out there, oops Oh Well.
In the next blog I’ll just talk a little about how suffering comes into play in dependency issues.