Suffering: why do we suffer?


#1

I’ve heard it said that suffering has redemptive value–how is that so?

Sure Christ died on the cross for us that sanctifies our suffering but that still doesn’t make one fell any better when he is suffering.

What is the Christian response to suffering?


#2

I posted a question a few months back about redemptive suffering. It had very few responses as yours is getting. The question was “Do you have to be in a state of grace for suffering to be redemptive?”. One poster said “yes”, you must be in a state of grace. It knocked the wind out of me. I have been in a state of sin most of my life, including what I thought was a grace that I could join in the sufferings of Christ and that was my fight with cancer. It was made a punishment and I now resent the suffering I have been through above and beyond a little thing of cancer that has been towered over by death itself. I’ve seen the rotting corpse of a loved one and held the hand of the dieing. I tried to reconcile and was told that asking “why” was a lament of pride. So I have left the Church and don’t see me going back any time soon. Hope someone can answer your question, but deep down, we know why we suffer. For some, it’s a taste of what awaits. Tim


#3

Well, first, my personal belief is that part of the Redemption is that Jesus taught us how to suffer. The proper Catholic response to suffering is to say, “Jesus endured far worse than this, and He didn’t deserve it. I deserve to suffer for all eternity in Hell for my sins, so I should embrace this. Jesus, I offer up my sufferings with your sacrifice on the Cross.”

When we talk about “suffering”, we must remember that “suffering” is an emotional state. We “suffer” from many things, and it is important to distinguish those causes.

  1. Suffering we receive from others’ sins and cruelty. This is obviously a consequence of original sin. It is what Socrates refers to when he says, “It is better to suffer wrong than to do it.” This would not exist without original sin, but even those without original sin–Jesus and Mary–experience it.

  2. Suffering from physical illness, deformity, etc. Regardless of whether illnesses or deformities existed in an unfallen world, it is very clear that they would not have caused suffering. Why? Our suffering from these problems is directly proportionate to our own selfishness.

I’ve written more elaborately on these distinctions in the past (in my master’s thesis, for example), but can’t think offhand of what I formulated.

But I’ve always wanted to write a book called, “The Divine Practical Joke”: we suffer because God finds it funny.

No matter what we complain about in this life, it is nothing compared to Heaven or Hell. No matter how bad things are here, for a short time, the Beatific Vision would wipe it away for ages of ages. On the other hand, if we end up in Hell, the sufferings there are far worse than the worst we experience here. In either case, complaining about suffering in this life is rather silly.

The fact that we suffer-that we have this selfish, “woe is me” reaction to inconvenience–is a consequence of original sin. But suffering itself, properly embraced, is the cure of original sin.


#4

I recommend a good book called Making Sense Out Of Suffering by Peter Kreeft.


#5

There may be information, on the forum, addressing redemptive suffering,
and perhaps another poster could note same.

I am not a Christian, yet I am familiar with Catholic theology.

If I could feel better, offering up my suffering, then I wouldn’t be in profound suffering.
Aching loss, lifelong illness, a difficult childhood - are not undone, emotionally,
by offering this suffering to God, in union with Christ’s own suffering.

In fact, Jesus cried out on the cross "Why have You forsaken me?"
The human emotions of Jesus are expressed, here.
He didn’t feel better, emotionally, offering his sense of abandonment by his Father.
He was offering the perfect sacrifice, according to Christian theology.

Yet St. Paul says:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…
Colossians 1: 24

This has been variously interpreted, but I see this as a reference to the fact that Jesus,
in his earthly life, could not possibly have endured all the different sufferings that are
the lot of mankind. He could not experience lifelong physical illness, nor mental illness.
He could not know what it is to have lost a child, or a beloved spouse.
He never lived in great poverty. He never had to contend with the losses one may face
as one ages.

Even though he said that “…the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head…” he did not
sleep on a subway grate, in a northeast winter.

So I figure that Catholicism teaches that - whatever one endures, may be offered to God

  • in union with that of the sufferings of Jesus.

Yet what is puzzling, about Paul’s observation, is that elsewhere, in his writings,
he is at pains to point out that Jesus is to be considered the perfect offering, once for all.

But maybe a Christian poster could address this point.

Best wishes,

reen12


#6

This is the ubiquitous and all-encompassing question, isn’t it? The one topic atheists jump to first and most enthusiastically to “discredit” God, and the one that troubles almost all of us severely at some point in life. Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do innocents suffer?

The first thing I have to say is you should read John Paul II’s encyclical on the subject (the name of which escapes me now).

There is a Franciscan prayer that goes something like “Lord, thank you for all the things You’ve given me, and thank You for everything You’ve taken away.” This is a beautiful prayer.

The Creator molds us like a piece of clay throughout our lives. Suffering can bring many positive effects in an of itself. The one that stands out to me most is that periods of suffering draw me to the Lord. I have experienced my most intense periods of spiritual growth in times of temporal darkness and pain.

Then there is the necessity to expiate sin - not personal sin, but the collective sin of mankind. How does God bring good out of the terrible tragedy of a child abused and murdered? By using that suffering of a pure innocent, which has enormous value, to expiate the terrible sins of many.

It is an honor to offer up one’s suffering in union with Christ’s. St. Paul spoke of the joy he experienced in this manner.

All true Christians must suffer in this life. I think it is totally unavoidable, and it’s unavoidable because it’s necessary.


#7

As long as we are committed to the fight for Christ, our suffering has value. Self-mortification and the acceptance of suffering are critical elements of self-sacrifice. We must sacrifice ourselves to our greater Christian cause.


#8

Read Suffering in Holiness


#9

Perhaps it would be even better if I phrased it how can one have a deeper conversion through his suffering?

I just don’t get it? Why is suffering such a part of the Christian life?


#10

The Trinity is an eternal process of the three Persons giving Themselves over to one another in an exchange of Love.

Suffering teaches us how to love.

When we act for others out of love, we are going to suffer. When we voluntarily suffer–when we perform penances and self-mortifications–we condition ourselves to suffer. We pray that we can take upon ourselves the sufferng that others are undergoing.

This physically and spiritually conditions us to be more self-sacrficiing. When we undergo illnesses and harship in our lives, and we learn to accept these trials, we learn to be more selfless. Again, the main reason we see these things as “problems” is that we are sinful and self-centered. Enduring these trials teaches us humility.

THen, when it comes to actualy giving of ourselves in love to others–whether in marriage, religious life, the priesthood, charitable works, our careers, etc.–we will be more giving and more generous because we are willing to accept the suffering that comes from being generous.

Too many people go around thinking that Christianity is somehow supposed to be about “happiness,” that, “If you just believe in Jesus, He’ll take away all your problems.”

You can read all the encyclicals and apologetics you want to, but it ain’t gonna solve the real issue.

A good novel or poem will do a lot better for you than a theological treatise (I recommend C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, and just about anything by T. S. Eliot).

If you really want to understand suffering, study the lives and spirituality of the Saints.

Pray the Stations of the Cross without the cop-out “fifteenth station”. Pray the fifteen prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden.

Read The Story of a Soul and Fatima: In Lucia’s Own Words.

Practice the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

And, most of all, do it . Start practicing fasting and self-mortification. When you’re stuck in traffic, instead of cussing people out, offer it up.
When you break a dish, offer it up.

I once said to my father, “Dad, when I golf, I pray, then I swing. When you golf, you do just the opposite.”

When you swing at your metaphorical golf ball and miss, don’t swear; stop and think about how maybe you didn’t take your action virtuously or prayerfully enough, and ask God’s forgiveness.

“Do small things with great love.”

This will teach you about suffering.


#11

*Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. *

I wish I could help you more. All I know is that suffering was not intended to be in this world. Did it come about as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden? Is that the reason why we have human suffering and awful feats of nature such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tornadoes?

St. John of the Cross wrote the poem Dark Night of the Soul about the suffering the soul endures en route to spiritual union with God. Perhaps, reading that book might help. Warning, I read that book and found it theologically hard.

  1. On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
    I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

  2. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
    In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

  3. In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

  4. This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday
    To the place where he (well I know who!) was awaiting me–
    A place where none appeared.

  5. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!

  6. Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone,
    There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

  7. The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks;
    With his gentle hand **he wounded my neck And caused all my sense to be suspended. **

  8. I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved. All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

*Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. *


#12

*Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. *

“When we know that the way of love – this exodus, this going out of oneself – is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish. Love itself is a passion, someting we endure. In love I experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness. Yet, on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand why it is so important to learn how to suffer – and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life.” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in “God and the world”

I will try to say a Rosary for you tomorrow.

  • Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. *

#13

I thirst 4 YOU! writes:

*"Perhaps it would be even better if I phrased it how can one have a deeper conversion through his suffering?

I just don’t get it? Why is suffering such a part of the Christian life?"*

Suffering assuages Christian guilt and shame to some degree and enables the sufferer to believe s/he is becoming more Christlike and, consequently, less guilty and shameful.

GodsGadfly would have us believe that acting out of love only brings suffering. (My marriage can attest to that, but it only partially addresses the nature of suffering.) Why, then, invite suffering? Why bother to love?

This poster also proposes the following: “Jesus endured far worse than this, and He didn’t deserve it. I deserve to suffer for all eternity in Hell for my sins, so I should embrace this. Jesus, I offer up my sufferings with your sacrifice on the Cross.” I’m sorry, did I hear someone say Purgatory? And where does this idea come from, that Jesus “didn’t deserve it”? Wasn’t the entire destiny of Jesus, the reason for His being, was to [teach and to] die on the cross for the sins of human beings? If that is so, then He was predisposed to this fate and He did deserve it.

While we’re at it, if He did die for our sins, which sins were they? Original Sin? Sins committed only after the age of reason? All sins past, present and future? If he died for our sins, why are we still considered sinners? I’ve addressed this on a few other threads and it generally gets glossed over.

No big deal. It’s just eternity.

marietta


#14

*Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. *

This poster also proposes the following: “Jesus endured far worse than this, and He didn’t deserve it. I deserve to suffer for all eternity in Hell for my sins, so I should embrace this. Jesus, I offer up my sufferings with your sacrifice on the Cross.” I’m sorry, did I hear someone say Purgatory? And where does this idea come from, that Jesus “didn’t deserve it?” Wasn’t the entire destiny of Jesus, the reason for His being, was to [teach and to] die on the cross for the sins of human beings? If that is so, then He was predisposed to this fate and He did deserve it.

While we’re at it, if He did die for our sins, which sins were they? Original Sin? Sins committed only after the age of reason? All sins past, present and future? If he died for our sins, why are we still considered sinners? I’ve addressed this on a few other threads and it generally gets glossed over."

I have not read St. Anselm, one of the Doctors of the Church, but wikipedia writes that he says that: all of Man’s actions are for the Glory of God. If Sin exists, wounding God’s honor, Man himself can give no satisifcation, but God’s justice demands satisfaction. Because God is infinite, however, any would to his honour must also be infinite. It follows that satisfaction must also be infinite: it must outweigh all that is not God.

Because humans are not infinite, such acts of satisfaction can only be paid by God himself and, as a penalty for Man, must be paid under the form of Man. By this, Anselm reasons that satisfaction is only possible through the sinless God-man Jesus. Because he is exempt from the punishment of Sin, the God’man’s punishment is voluntary. The merit of the act is then infinite, God’s justice is thus appeased and His mercy may extend to Man."

I wonder: why is Man not infinite as he exists forever? even in Hell? But it seems that: since God is perfect, he demands justice. King Ahasueurs was offended, so he removed Vashti from his throne. If God is offended, would he kill all of mankind off as he did during the flood? So God gave mankind an out by sending his son Jesus Christ to the world and his blessed Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. But, mankind has to take this out, and that is why we still have to be perfected even though Jesus died for us. Is it that since God is perfect, he cannot abide the imperfect? He created something perfect that was corrupted by Satan, Adam, and Eve. Therefore, since Adam and Eve chose the evil over the good and made themselves imperfect, they and their corrupted children were thrust into an imperfect world? Pope Gregory I, Doctor of the Church, wrote *Commentary on the Book of Job *, surely worth a read though I have not read it, and Cure Deus Homo (“Why did God become Man”) is the book (that I also have not read) by St. Anselm, Doctor of the Church.

*Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. *


#15

There’s a tale told of Siddhartha Gautama, the ‘enlightened one,’ the *buddha.
*One day, outside a small village, a woman came up to him and asked him
why she was both a widow, and a mother who’s son had died. How could this
have happened to her?
Instead of offering a reply, he gave the woman a small bowl of dried beans.
He told her to go, from one home to another, and where great suffering
had been endured - she was to ask that person to take a bean out of the bowl.
Hours later, when she returned, the bowl was empty, and the
questions no longer tormented her. Siddhartha didn’t say a word.

There are all kinds of explanations offered, for why human beings suffer.
Some suffer of profoundly. Yet, in the end, there is no ‘satisfactory’ answer.
satis facere - 'to make enough.'
Catholic doctrine sanctifies suffering endured. *sancta facere. ‘*to make sacred’ -
by teaching the doctrine of redemptive suffering.

Uniting one’s own suffering with the suffering endured by Jesus,
in his work of redemption and justification. This has an aspect of mystery.

reen12


#16

Again, the OP’s question is not “why do we suffer” but “why does suffering improve our spiritual life?”

Nowhere did I say that “love only brings suffering.” That is your interpretation of my word’s. I said that love requires suffering. There is suffering required in being open to life. There is suffering required in abstaining for just reasons. There is suffering required in celibacy. There is suffering required in caring for the poor and the sick. There is suffering required in changing a baby’s diaper or getting up every morning to go work. That is not to say these things only involve suffering.

I speak from experience here. I am 31 years old, and, when I was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome at the age of 2, my life expectancy was 20. I had open heart surgery at 19. I live in almost constant pain and fatigue from various problems.

The reason I am a Catholic is not just that I was born a Catholic, but that Catholicism is the only belief system that gives my suffering a purpose.

Protestantism (and “charismatic” Catholicism) say, “If you’re suffering, you don’t have enough faith.”

I am not an atheist because, if I were an atheist, I’d kill myself.

(I will not elaborate on various non-Christiain religions at this juncture).

Only in Catholicism do I see that my misery can be elevated to a higher purpose.

As for Jesus “deserving” suffering because He came here to suffer and die for us, that’s kind of an intellectual stretch. I don’t know what your belief system is, but it sounds like the kind of “made-up” contradiction that atheists use to justify their intellectual errors.

That’s like saying that a soldier “deserves” to die in battle or that a cop “deserves” to be shot by a drug dealer.

Jesus came to reveal God’s love to us. As it happened, we forced the issue and demanded that He reveal God’s love by dying for us.


#17

GodsGadfly writes:

“Jesus came to reveal God’s love to us. As it happened, we forced the issue and demanded that He reveal God’s love by dying for us.”

Do you believe that we forced the issue? Do you not believe that Jesus’ destiny lay in first, revealing God’s love to us and, second, dying on the cross as our Redeemer? You think that in the broad scheme of things, Jesus’ death on the cross was just a matter of regional politics and only secondarily do we benefit from His dying for our sins?

That blows me away.

Since you have access to the Internet, you may want to consider Googling “Religion and Suffering”. It will help you to define your own position more strongly.

marietta


#18

Marietta,

Define my position more strongly???
I already said I did my master’s thesis on the subject! What is not “strong” about what I’ve already stated?

I have also stated that I do not believe this is ultimately a matter of philosophy but of spirituality.

No, I do not believe Jesus’ death was a matter of regional politics. But many Saints have suggested that, had the Fall never occured, Jesus would still have been incarnated.

And it was possible for us to have accepted Jesus. It was possible that Jesus could have come, and been embraced by humanity.

That is not how it happened, because of our sinfulness.


#19

GodsGadfly,

Well, jeepers, I must have missed that little mention of the master’s thesis. Was the topic of your thesis specifically “Why Do We Suffer?” I would very much enjoy reading your analytical comparisons on “various non-Christiain religions at this juncture”.

And why do you feel that if you were an atheist you would kill yourself? Do you believe that an atheist has no reason to exist and no hope of leading a good, fulfilling life because s/he is without God?

Thank you.

marietta


#20

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…
Colossians 1: 24

Is this the theological basis on which the doctrine
of redemptive suffering is built?

That the suffering, of one individual, is somehow transformed - into grace - for another?

Does the doctrine of redemptive suffering teach that a
human being - offering up his/her own suffering to God,
in union with the sacrifice of Jesus - may participate in
the salvific act of Jesus?

reen12


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