Every person has at some time questioned why we have suffering and disease. We all struggle at some point with trying to understand in the inevitable attempt at making sense of what happens to ourselves and others. It’s an old question that not just physicians ponder when faced with illness, accidents, and death. One way of trying to gain some meaning in midst of suffering is to consider what our lives be like if we had no suffering at all. We all long for that. We all want that. We work for it. We go to doctors. Insurance policies are in place to try to lessen the damages we face. Most of us, religious or not, have a concept of what we think of as heaven as a place that is perfect. As Christians, we think of Revelation 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” In our desire, our longing, for relief from the pain of life, we impatiently want our lives to be like that now. However, time isn’t spent sometimes in considering what things would be like if we were able to achieve that wish in the present.
What would our lives be like with no suffering? Since that hasn’t happened to anyone I know, a close comparison would be life experienced by someone for whom all consequences of their actions are allowed to be desirable. If a child is never allowed to experience any of the results of their decisions and always allowed to do or say whatever they want for fear of them having hurt feelings, there will surely be one spoiled brat. Therefore, the reasonable among us know that we have to allow for suffering to occur because it is more than just pain; it is molding and shaping us. How the pain is perceived, in regard to the understanding of the good or evil intentions of the source of it, greatly influences the results of experiencing suffering. Suffering is guaranteed to occur and it can make us either better, or bitter; the choice is up to us in how we choose to perceive it.
In Romans 5:1-11, we find that Paul wrote that we are to “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” If we are never allowed to suffer, then we cannot learn to persevere through hardship. The very nature of persevering produces in us a good character that leads to us having hope. Look at the lives of those who seem to have everything and want for nothing; many times they do not have the one thing that all of us want – peace. Those who do not have to suffer lack a hope during this life and also for the afterlife. Too often, we read the tragic stories of early demise of those who seemed to have it all together. It should make us question what kind of people are going to be the result of a society that thinks it is supposed to remove hardship from everyone’s lives. The great entitlement society is a clue to this.
I am blessed every time I see certain patients who have such illness, hardship, and suffering in their lives, but possess a peace about them which I do not see in those for whom life has been so easy. They tell me about their struggles and problems while I cannot help but wonder how I would handle the same if it were present in my own life. It would be prideful to conclude how well I would do. I don’t know. What I do know is that I have such admiration for those patients who also hold on to a hope that is outside of them, but also within them. I have noticed that those people who have the best character also have suffered a lot. So, instead of us looking at the suffering that comes our way with a desire to push it so far away, should we not also understand that it might be a blessing in disguise to produce something in us far greater in value than anything money can buy?