You are here

Passion: What Is The Meaning Behind Suffering?

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 13.1

Why do we suffer?  Why do bad things happen to good, bad, and indifferent people?

It’s a mystery, a philosophical conundrum that thinkers, writers, the religious, philosophers, and most human beings, have struggled with at some time or another, for as long as anyone has been writing and thinking. It’s caused books to be written, poems to be composed, great music to be created. It’s been a point of disagreement and distress for people through the ages. There’s a book of the Bible entirely devoted to ‘the problem of suffering’, the book of Job, a myth about a man who is, the story goes, tested - with God’s permission - to see if he will break, deny God, and turn faithless.  At least, that’s what the later editors seem to have made of it - the earlier version of the book probaby didn’t have the ‘helpful’ rationale at the beggining, nor the happy ending which concludes it.

In fact the book of Job in it’s primitive form - the story of a man who goes through great suffering and questions why - is probably a better answer to the question ‘why suffering’ than the fairytale opening and beginning we now have.  Because the answer given is “because.”

As creatures who create meaning, we struggle when there is no meaning to be found - no reason, no blame to be attributed, when this person dies tragically, or that disaster happens, or this person gets sick, or that person is hurt.  And so we attribute it to ‘a plan’ or ‘the will of God’ - as if God were using suffering as a teaching tool, or to direct us in a certain way.

But perhaps suffering just is. It is meaningless - there is no aim to it, no reason. We may be able to find reasons why one thing or another may have contributed to events, but to try and give a greater meaning to the reasons behind suffering is to give it more credit than it deserves. Suffering is never something we should give credence to, but it is always something to seek to eridacate wherever we are able, and to accept its existence but its essential wrongness where we can do nothing.