From the first moment of birth we all experience suffering. A doctor rips a newborn child from a comfortable, warm, and familiar setting. Naked and thrown into an unknown world, he experiences hunger and cold.
The mother also feels intense suffering through nine months of enduring uncomfortable, sleepless nights, worrying about the health of the baby and her health. And of course, the mother experiences the intense physical pain of labor.
But with all that pain a new life enters the world. It is easy to see where this type of suffering leads. However, it is very difficult to see how other types of suffering lead to something as good as a newborn child.
Is suffering needless? What is its purpose? It seems all suffering seems useless but to grow we need to suffer. When a person wants to succeed at his job, he has to work harder and later in the day. He has to improve himself by going to industry and corporate meetings which might involve days and nights away from family or friends. To be a better student, he needs to study late in the night, take the difficult courses, and forgo parties with friends.
The above examples are sufferings which one might choose to do to achieve a goal or desire but the sufferings which most people think of do not have any tangible happy ending someone can foresee or plan for.
It is the sufferings which are unplanned, unexpected, and undesirable that shock us. This type of pain shocks us because it is unexpected and undesirable. Then, we become distraught, distrustful and discouraged about life. Sufferings which seem needless are the ones which focus the mind. These needless sufferings are the ones that we need the help of God. It is God who will help us persevere.
Purpose of Suffering
I experienced intense suffering while growing up without a father. Well, he was around but he was an alcoholic and lived on the street. He died at 39 when I was 13. I felt immense suffering, anguish, and loneliness at the time.
So what was God’s purpose for a child suffering? God’s purpose, I think, was that I learn from my experience to be the best father and husband I can be to my family. God showed me what a broken family can do to children. The uncertainty, the mortal danger of strange men coming into the house, the feeling of the lack of love, and the instability; all these cause havoc on the emotional well-being of children.
God’s purpose for me is to have me show my children and society the consequences of a marriage failing and when the responsibilities of being a father and mother are not taken seriously.
Look at Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe’s suffering. Saint Kolbe was a Catholic priest held prisoner at Auschwitz. He continued to perform the duties of a priest and the Nazis beat and harassed him. When 10 prisoners disappeared, the Nazis picked 10 men to be starved to death. One of the men selected cried out, “My wife! My children!”. Saint Kolbe volunteered to take his place. He later was killed by lethal injection.
But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. (1 Peter 4:16)
What was the purpose of Saint Kolbe’s suffering? Well, he continued to practice his duties as a priest and gave hope to the other prisoners. He saved a man’s life. He continued to practice Christ’s work in the most extreme circumstances.
Most of our suffering is not as intense as Saint Kolbe’s or as devastating as the pain of a parent who loses a young child.
I do not mean to be a Pollyanna but when people endure suffering it can be turned into a positive with the right attitude and outlook. In fact, good can come from suffering as seen by Saint Kolbe.
For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer.(2 Corinthians 1:5-6)
Suffering in life is inevitable. It is part of the human experience. Sometimes we choose to suffer, other times it is forced upon us by circumstance beyond our control. Either way, we cannot allow the suffering to morph into victimhood. We have free will and feeling as if you are a victim allows others to control you. Remember no man can control your thoughts. It is difficult, but to live a more fulfilling life, one is required to look for the purpose and good of suffering.
We should also remember that suffering is not an isolated feeling. All humans suffer at one time or another in their lives. It is not a new phenomenon. All through history humans have suffered. We should use the many examples of the Saints and the examples of courage shown by ordinary people that we run into in our day; the woman suffering from cancer, the boy who has lost a parent, or the neighbor suffering from a loss of a job. We must remember that we are not alone in our suffering. God is with us. But we are here too, to reach out and help each other.
If we cannot redirect our feelings of sufferings then we cannot fully enjoy the glory of God and live a joyful and happy life.
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance,and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. (Romans 5:3-5)