We, all of us as human beings, know that in this life we will to some degree and extent suffer and endure pain, whether physical or emotional. The pain and suffering we will come to endure throughout our lives at various times from birth to death is an ever-present reality. We come to this life in pain and in the process of living and then dying, we are inflicted with pain and suffering.
Some pain we cannot escape. This pain and suffering comes upon us through agencies beyond our control such as disease, illness, or natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes or pestilence. On the other hand, most of the pain and suffering that comes upon us as human beings, comes to us through human actions and agencies: wars, crime, the cruelty of our spouse who knows us well enough to know our every weakness, or at our jobs through the power wielded by those above us. The fact of the matter is that our fellow human beings given power over us will often cause us pain and suffering. It is only men who invented the whip, the rack, the hangman’s noose, and the electric chair.
In this essay I will examine why I think we suffer as human beings and the cause and reason for pain and suffering in this life. Let me begin by saying that I who have endured little or no physical or emotional pain and have hardly suffered in my life, am hardly in a position to comment or speak on or to this issue. I have never known the pain of the terminally ill cancer patient. One can say, I admit, that my thoughts on this subject have a hollow ring.Nevertheless, I will try to give some thoughts on why we as human beings must suffer and the use and reason for pain and suffering.
Let me attempt to explain involuntary pain or the pain that comes upon us in natural events. For the Christian, this pain is thought to result from our fallen humanity, or, better put, our degraded and corrupt human nature. One might say that in the fall of Adam into death and sin our otherwise perfect relationship with God the creator was twisted and shattered with the result that pain and suffering came into the world that formerly knew nothing of pain, whether pain in the form of a natural disaster, the pain of childbirth, or the pain associated with death and dying. This,one can say is the involuntary infliction of pain and can be said to result from our broken relationship with our Creator. This is one, albeit perhaps unacceptable and weak explanation of the presence of involuntary pain and suffering in the world, however tentative, inadequate or inexplicable.
Having, to some extent, explained the involuntary presence of pain and suffering in the world I would say the explanation is lame since a merciful and compassionate God whose love is so great that it did not stop at the sacrifice, torture and death of the Son of God for all humankind who neither knew him, were indifferent to him, not loved him in return or at all, allows this pain to permeate our earthly lives and actually ends them, I offer here a number of explanations.
First, I think I am safe in saying that if we do not suffer and experience some pain in the course of our earthly lives, we do not grow and develop as human beings. Suffering allows us to develop compassion for those around us, for their tribulations and for their sufferings, that there is some chance we would not we would not be able to apprehend. I think it is a sure thing that we cannot grow and love or are not able to love absent pain and suffering in our earthly lives. Without suffering and pain, we remain selfish and egocentric, never fully understanding the suffering and pain of our fellow beings. In this sense, pain is a tool enabling us to grow as persons in love, understanding, and compassion.
Second, Christ, the paragon and model of the new man or woman or the image of the new creation, took pain and suffering upon himself. From eternity he chose to lower himself to take on human form and limitations. He had no wealth or power in his earthly life and chose to be a carpenter, or, more exactly put, a working man. He died a most ghastly and awful death of slow and agonizing crucifixion. He did all this out of love for all, past, present and future generations, and human beings who did not know him at all and perhaps did not and do not love him, and have rejected and continue to reject him.
We cannot apprehend Christ or his underlying mercy and love without also taking upon ourselves in some fashion this pain, sacrifice, and suffering. We cannot grasp and understand his eternal sacrifice and love without doing the same.
Third, although this life has its share of natural pain which we cannot control or avoid, nevertheless it must be said that much pain comes from the malice and wickedness of others, who inflict pain on those around them on a regular, and, it is safe to say, historical basis. We cannot blame god for allowing pain when he grants us freedom of choice and free will. We may choose in our relationships with others to ignore their needs and choose not to relieve their pain or even deliberately cause others pain by our acquisition of power and position over them. The history of the world is filled with torture, slavery, oppression, war and genocides, and continues to be so. We cannot blame god for our free choice of wickedness and evil.
Pain originally came into our fallen world and continues to be caused by ourselves on a continuous basis. The Creator, as he does with all things and events, uses pain for his own purposes so that we may come to know by and through pain the bases and wellspring of love, compassion, charity, and mercy, that if we are totally protected and barricaded in our lives we would never come to know. Pain comes from our corrupt, twisted, and degraded human nature and in a turnaround makes us fully human, enabling us to overcome our selfishness and self-love. In pain, we take up the cross that leads us to eternal life and eternal love, a life without suffering and pain. One is safe in saying that one can only reach love and relationship through sacrifice and to some extent suffering and sorrow.
It is significant that the love of the mother, the highest and most elevated forms of our earthly loves, can only be attained through the pain and suffering of pregnancy and childbirth and a life of nurturing, sacrifice and unconditional love and giving.
It is only in pain that we can come to know ourselves, truly and deeply, come to know others, and come to know Jesus Christ the image of eternal and undying love.