The “How” of Suffering

Throughout history, many people, poets, pastors, theologians and even philosophers have tried to do the best that they can to make sense of suffering within the human experience. After all suffering has been with us since the beginning of time and human existence. Even though, I myself have much first hand experience with suffering, there is something inside me that hesitates. Probably because so many other thoughts of wisdom and hope have already been uttered.

Yet, I believe that holy spirit is softly whispering from within, saying “share what I have placed inside you.” So when the holy spirit commands, the obedient son or daughter must follow. One of the most frequent objections to the existence of God or any other divine figure has been the reality of suffering. Cancer, AIDS, rape, murder and suffering in all other forms all stop us in our tracks.

Why would any sort of higher power even allow suffering? That’s a very good question that we all have asked regardless of creed or background. Cerebral Palsy, was the cross I was given when I was born. If you want a full breakdown of my story, you can check out my first book The Emotional Struggle on Amazon.

With having cerebral palsy, my life has been tested with not just physical pain from surgeries and therapy. But emotional and mental pain as well. I’ve had the entire lower half of my body operated on, each other operation taking a year or more to recover from. Doctors and professionals with the realm of education, telling me that I wouldn’t amount to much because I wasn’t smart enough.

To add more to the equation, throughout my 36 of life, there have been battles against depression, anxiety and there was once an attempted suicide. Why? Because I felt so trapped in my own life circumstances, as though nothing could or would ever change. Others in the world have faced suffering far greater than even my own.

Nowhere in my life was I ever starved to death, or tortured by evil and wicked people. Which is another reason why there was a hesitation inside me to share in the first place. And yet the starkest of realities is that some of us never make it out of suffering. Not so much in the reality of suicide, but that some of us never find a way to prevail in spite of it. Some make the choice to let the weight of suffering swallow them up like a tidal wave. As mentioned above, many of us ask of the why of suffering.

The why is important, but dare I suggest that the why is not as important as the how. How are we not going to let suffering swallow us up? How are we going to come out the suffering more brighter and courageous? I will caution you (the reader) in that, if you decide to ask the how. You must also decide to follow through with whatever the how asks of you.

For example, if you discover that your how, is being able to look at years of trauma or destructive habits. Are you willing to face it all? Are you willing to endure the process of what it takes to heal and start new chapters of your life? The consequence of not doing so, means that everything in your life stays the same.

And in choosing to stay in that reality, also then means that you’re fundamentally making a choice to cling to that suffering. Reasons for that might very well be, that it’s all you know. On the other hand, some of us are far too stubborn (such as myself) and know what we should do and end up not do it. Regardless, we both are making a choice.

In processing and embarking on our how, we first need a new perspective on suffering. That may raise some eyebrows, but it’s the only option we have. We can agree that suffering sucks, it hurts and can beat the will out of us. But if we slowly started looking at the suffering in our lives differently, we might very well find that there is more to live for.

The author of the book of James in the Bible, he says to “count it all joy” when trials come our way. As humans, we scoff and even are appalled by such statements. Because there is nothing joyful about suffering on the surface. But as the author continues by saying

“for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James says, in other words that suffering we endure, produces something in that. That something is steadfastness. Meaning that we are anchored in something greater than ourselves. We admit that suffering is awful but we are not destroyed by it. When the grace of God allows to become more steadfast with time, we can find that a sense of calmness fills us up. Where we don’t always have to fly off the handle because life is not going how we want it.

This true peace and steadfastness is in divine, because one could not find it anywhere else. As much as I love stoic philosophy and philosophy in general. It does not lead to true peace. In my own life, I have surveyed every world religion and even tried meditation and even believed that I would come back in my next life as some other person. The biggest problem with that rests in the reality that, you can never know if you have done enough good to outweigh the bad. 

Biblical writes like James and Paul, their how is Christ himself. Christ for them, is the how to transcending the suffering and not simply running from it. But rather they can stare that suffering in the eye knowing it won’t win in the end. For James and Paul, they know that something far sweeter is at the end of suffering.

So that patiently and even joyfully endure, while living out the mission that God has set before them. Let us not forget Christ himself, Christ was sent by God the father in human likeness. In the Philippians 2:7, it says that Christ “emptied himself” interesting, what on earth might that mean? To empty comes from the Greek word Kenosis, Tony Evans has a very clear and beautiful way of explaining this, when he writes:

What does the self-emptying of Christ mean? The theological doctrine is called the kenosis, from the Greek verb meaning “to empty.” Did He empty Himself of His deity and become merely a man? No, the focus of His self-emptying is not heaven, but earth; that is, what Christ emptied Himself into.
He didn’t empty out God and pour in man. Rather, He emptied all of God into man. In other words, He didn’t stop being God. He didn’t say, “Deity, I’m going to leave You in heaven and go down to become humanity.”
Furthermore he writes: What Jesus did was take all of His deity and pour it into humanity so that He became much more than mere man. He became the God-man-God poured into man.
Let me tell you something impor¬tant. When Jesus Christ did something about your sin and mine, He didn’t give us the leftovers. He poured all that made Him God into man so that man would have all of God. There is nothing that belonged to God that man didn’t have when Jesus emptied Himself into man.

One of the reasons that Christ came to live among us, I believe, was to show us humans that he is the answer to the human condition and suffering. Even when on the cross, Christ took all our suffering on himself. Moreover, the cross shows that even in spite of suffering still present. The cross still shows that Christ is present with us. I don’t believe I’ll ever understand why God chooses to heal some but not others, but I do believe that he has given me the greatest gift ever, himself, his love, his presence and grace. What is more amazing, is that eternity with Christ, means no more suffering and complete joy.

Until then, Christ is my how in my own journey. He is why I can give all my fear and anxiety, and instead breath in his peace. He is why I can have joy and smile in the midst of life not being as desired.    

The Path of Destruction

Philosophically speaking, there are two ways in which we view the world or rather people that inhabit the world. The first way people believe is that we are inherently good and some of us become wayward either due to be misguided along the way or some sort of traumatic experience along the way. This particular world view is in some ways easy to live with, because it also becomes easy to dismiss the darkness caused by others is only due to deviating from a path of goodness.

This particular philosophical out look can be a real stumbling block for my mind to try and comprehend. Having once worked in a Child Advocacy center, knowing that the young children coming into the center everyday faced a real physical evil causes something to rage against the view of inherent goodness. Sure, one could submit that the abuser experienced their own pain and tragedy. Yet the very rebuttal is not enough to make up for the pain caused.

Some where along the way personal ownership of ones actions has to be set in motion. In the A.A. movement one of the most important steps is to take ownership of ones actions and try to make as much restitution for prior actions. More on this point in a bit.

The second outlook then, is the belief or understanding that we humans are not inherently good. Quite the opposite, that we are all for a lack of better words evil, with a dark dragon inside us as it were. And left to our own devices, we are bent toward a path of destruction. Admittedly, this view is much harder for people to swallow, usually people are deeply offended by this particular view at first and carry a look in their eyes as though to say:

“How dare you say I’m evil!”

Trust me, this view wasn’t something that was easily accepted for me either. The biggest problem that some people have in accepting this view, is that we humans don’t want to take on the challenging and uncomfortable task of taking a cold hard look at ourselves. Down to the core of who we are. Again, this is very uncomfortable to do, because you may discover things about yourself that you never even knew about. And then you have to work on those areas too.

This isn’t something that people want to do, but it must be done none the less. It’s how we start to combat the dark dragon inside of us all. Going back to the A.A. example, for that person to begin to make restitution for past transgression. He or she has to first see that they first have a problem. A problem that they are fundamentally powerless over, and that they need divine help from. They need Christ to come in a make them a new creation.

If Alcoholics do not take the steps needed to combat the dragon inside them, they will die in a state of destruction of the soul. Even if you do not believe in a literally hell as depicted in the Christian narrative, there still is in a sense- a hell that happens to the soul when it is swallowed by darkness.

You might submit that you don’t wrestle with addiction to substance, but if you look deeper at your self and life you lead. You certainly do wrestle and stumble in other ways. Perhaps you have made a lot of bad choices in your life and your past eats your soul alive all the time. Perhaps you’re filled with resentment and hatred for things done to you, that is something you should aggressively work on before you are on your death bed.

Whatever it may be, we all have things within the stories of our lives that we must deal with. You have to do the hard work of finding out what that is for you. Write it down, even if it’s multiple items and them aim at overcoming them to the best of your finite ability.

Christ said in Matthew 7:13: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

The narrow gate is not a comfortable one, it was never intended to be. Yet it does lead to the most joy and freedom. The narrow gate requires to say no to things that will do us harm, and others harm. The narrow gate calls us to make war against the sin inside us the tangles us up. Finally, the narrow gate that Christ calls us to, demands that we are too weak to bare our burdens on our own accord and yet be filled with the courage to bare our crosses until our stories are over.

Do the hard work, it’s calling at you daily, screaming at you saying : “DEAL WITH ME DAMMIT!” Deal with it while you still can.

A Christian Stoic- Me?

Not really, but I do like a part of Stoicism or rather a definition of it:

the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.

In college, my senior year I took a crash course in philosophy, and loved every moment of it. Particularly weighing other branches of philosophy against my own Christian world view. A lot of the different philosophies and even religions, try and make sense of human existence and suffering. growing up around the Buddhist perspective. The thought of reincarnation was once cool to me, because I would never really die, I would just come back in another human life… Or something else. When I truly began to understand what reincarnation was, I understood it as endless cycle of paying past debts and sins. If you did not make amends for your past in some fashion.

I just did not like the idea of not knowing if I would have done enough to write my own wrongs in my life. Furthermore- I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept that suffering was an illusion. Or that there was really no rhyme or reason to it. It just was… What spurred me onto the Christian perspective and following Jesus, was that I could see from the beginning that the world was the way it was because of sin.

On top of that Jesus even says that life is going to be hard (my own words- John 16:33). At least, with these two ways of understanding, I could wrap my head around why the world was the way it was. Better yet, someone that not only says that right out of the gate, but transcends it and over comes it as well with his death, burial and resurrection. I accept that as truth, because God has shown me his love in the actions and character of Christ.

Moreover, I know that I am not strong enough to absolve or atone for my own sin by myself. For as long as I have been trying to live this truth out, by the grace of God. I have been learning ways to handle adversity and suffering in life, in its many forms. That not only speaks and points to the heart and character of God. But the fruit of the spirit, that enables me to stand up as a man.

I look to how Jesus conducted himself as a man, within the pages of the new testament. Christ was a man- a God-man that was in control of his emotions. Always slow to anger, and when he did show anger, it was always calculated. He had a spine to him, wasn’t afraid to stand up to the religious big shots of his day. He was okay breaking away from people, to embrace solitude and divine connection with his father.

As I recall scenes from Mel Gibsons, Passion of the Christ. I can recall Jesus being calm while the Roman guards led him away. They beat him to a bloody pulp, mocked him, reviled him. And there he stood, silent in the face of the agony that was about to be set before him. He didn’t make a sound..

(By now if you’re still reading this, you might be thinking, get to the bloody point sir!) To me, some of the characteristics of Jesus seem very stoic, and as I have stumbled upon the definition of stoicism above. I have found that it has filled me with a new level of strength and even hope. As well as a way of conducting myself as man. Life has and will bring pain and adversity. But its how we deal with it that makes it all the difference.

A lot of us freak out when things don’t go our way, or have a level of ease. We lose our tempers, say things we don’t mean and sometimes even get violent… But, in reality that is nothing good or worthy that comes from that. So instead of doing all of that negative garbage. Why not look at adversity and suffering in a new way? When frustration comes our way, when pain comes our way. How about simply acknowledging its presence,