Sunday, August 24, 2014

Suffering: Handling the Inevitable

Many have told me:

  • My life is perfectly fine the way it is. I see no need for a God, thank you!
I do not dispute their feelings. They know about what they are feeling better than I do. However, I do point out that they will not always feel this way. Life is filled with frustrations, failures, failing health issues, and just plain suffering. It is certain that things will change, even for those who have everything.

As a consequence, we will have to learn how to deal with suffering, but how? It isn’t easy. When we hurt, we obsess, trying to make sense out of predicament. We ask questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people,” or “Why do bad things happen to me, and how do I make the pain end.” Often times, we can’t!

In The Noonday Demon, termed by one reviewer as “the definitive book on depression,” Andrew Solomon, himself a long-time sufferer, recommended humor, but admitted:

  • "Of course it can be hard to sustain a sense of humor during an experience that is really not so funny. It is urgently necessary to do so…Whatever time is eaten by a depression is gone forever. The minutes that are ticking by as you experience the illness are minutes that you will not know again. No matter how bad you feel you have to do everything you can to keep living, even if all you can do for the moment is breathe. Wait it out and occupy the time of waiting as fully as you can. That’s my big piece of advice to depressed people."

However, it is hard to wait, especially when we lack hope. In Man’s Search for Meaning, the late psychiatrist and death camp survivor Victor Frankl observed that we need to find more than just an understanding of our predicament. We also need hope and a purpose amidst our suffering:

  • "The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay."

Frankl wrote that it is imperative that we find purpose in the midst of suffering. The negative has to be converted into a positive commodity – something that will motivate and place our focus on a valuable goal. For the death camp internee, the goal or focus should have been very clear – to survive, to be reunited with loved one, and to tell the story. However, long-term suffering often becomes very debilitating and hope-devouring.

The Late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, writes 15 years later about his journey from Zen Buddhism to Christianity. He had repeatedly observed that his Christian clients would improve, no matter how serious their psychiatric condition. He concluded:

  • "The quickest way to change your attitude toward pain is to accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth…We cannot lose once we realize that everything that happens to us has been designed to teach us holiness…We are guaranteed winners!"

Ironically, the very One we reject is the very solution to our suffering. While the God of the Bible promises that we must go through suffering, He also helps us to bear it, promising:

  • No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:13)

Consequently, when we reject God, we ultimately reject the only possible source of hope. When we realize that we are not alone, and that God is holding our hand, everything looks and feels differently. We know we will make it.

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