Suffering is usually perceived as a negative experience since it is commonly believed that it is a punishment for the sinner. Yet, I believe that suffering is a much broader notion. Even if a person is virtuous and there is no real ground for him/her to be punished, there is no guarantee that he/she will avoid suffering.
We will write a custom Essay on Testing a Person for His Faith and Devotion to God specifically for you
301 certified writers online
If we address the Old Testament for the answer, we will see that not only those who deserved suffering suffered. In some cases, this experience was aimed to test a person in his/her faith and devotion to God. For instance, Job could not be blamed for any sins; yet, he had to suffer a lot to prove that his commitment to God is unquestionable.
Although this position seems Christian and deserves respect and even admiration, I believe that Henri Nouwen’s understanding of suffering was much more deep-rooted and grounded. The point is that he does not perceive suffering as a punishment or even an obstacle to joy. On the contrary, suffering is a kind of means to it. It is important to understand that suffering is both gladness and sadness since any disaster should be perceived as a way to joy. Moreover, even the most negative experience is a part of the realization of our humanity.1
It is still unclear why people must suffer. According to the Bible, this is the major way to repent for our sins. Yet, there are many cases when people suffer even though they do not deserve it. Thus, there arises a question where sufferings come from. On the one hand, we may answer as Nowen does: It comes from the necessity to realize what joy is (as according to Asian painters, beauty cannot be fully understood without ugliness).
On the other hand, we may find more profound reasons for humanity to suffer. “Why suffering?” is a question that cannot be answered objectively. If we resort to James Baldwin’s contemplations on the topic, we will see that there is more than punishment for sins in it. Baldwin teaches us that any pains of our lives (even if they seem unbearable to us) are intimately connected with the pains of Jesus Christ; therefore, we must be proud that our sorrows contribute to the general hope of humanity.
Alice Walker goes even further, claiming that the sense of suffering is collective. Thus, it means that the reason for our sufferings is not only our failures, injustices, and errors. We may suffer from injustices committed to our family, community, nation, race, and even the whole of humanity. Thus, we can conclude that our response to suffering may come not only from our failures or unpleasant experiences. The notions are much broader: we may respond to other people’s sufferings if we feel that they are closely related to our understanding of justice. For instance, it is not necessary to undergo physical tortures, punishments, or humiliations to realize that slavery contradicts the idea of humanity.2
As far as spiritual practices are concerned, I believe that meditation, yoga, and all kinds of creative activities (poetry, music, painting, etc.) might be helpful; yet, they do not decide if a person is truly convinced that he/she suffers for a good reason. Again, if we address the Bible, we will see that people who believed that they suffer for a good reason (the best reason was to show how truly devoted they are to God) never needed any additional practices to go through this hard experience. That is why I am convinced that all spiritual practices are useful to relieve suffering but are still complimentary. 3
Nouwen, Henri JM. Life of the Beloved. London: Hachette, 2016.
Gilbert, Paul. Human nature and suffering. London: Routledge, 2016.
- Henry JM Nouwen, Life of the Beloved (London: Hachette, 2016), 28.
- Paul Gilbert, Human nature and suffering (London: Routledge, 2016), 59.
- Ibid, 61.