Human suffering – what can we say about this subject? Much more than I could ever do it justice in a single article or two.
There are two things that are sure in this life, death and taxes … Wait there are three: death, taxes and suffering. Human suffering is part of the human condition, and it is sadly unavoidable in this life. It’s what cuts deep, causes our deepest wounds and greatest sorrows. Its forms and ways in which it weaves its way through life are countless and varied.
One can argue about the causality of suffering until the cows come home and people often ask ‘How could a loving God allow suffering?’. I won’t be arguing that here however, as human suffering is a statement of fact. That fact is self evident so I want to ask: what are we going to do about it?
There are two ways of dealing with it, the first would be resisting it, the second would be ‘leaning into’ it. Resisting suffering takes many forms; one is by numbing it out through distraction, addictions, drugs and alcohol etc. Another would be becoming embittered at the state of existence itself or our particular ‘form’ of suffering and in that embitterment causing others to ‘suffer alongside us’. A small example of this would be ‘tit for tat’, making others pay, cutting someone off who didn’t let us in on the freeway.
The most extreme and heinous examples would be the Columbine massacres where two individuals would ‘make the world pay’ by slaying the innocent. Following this, mass genocide and then events such as the holocaust. In this model of resistance, suffering begets suffering, there is no end to it and in its downward spiral is madness, horror and finally perdition.
The Path to Redemption
The second way of dealing with suffering is acknowledging it as part of life, it is not trying to work it out intellectually but to deal with it in the most humane – and somehow almost ironically – life-giving way.
Leaning into our suffering is accepting it, not resisting but accepting it as part of life and more specifically where we find ourselves in this particular moment of time. As Christians, this is also recognising it as part of our redemption, not only ours but the whole world. If truth be known this article was brought about through a dream I had a little while ago, it was a simple yet profound dream, but its entirety was summed up with the title of this very article, ‘Your suffering changes the world.’
The message I felt in my Spirit while dreaming was (if I can put it into words) someway, somehow our suffering can (and is) changing the world – for the better. That our suffering is not meaningless, it is somehow redeeming the parts that are hurting, disfigured, wrong and not how they are supposed to be.
Through it there is a bringing about of a greater and deeper purpose in this world – in this universe. By choosing to go through suffering this way, by classing it as serving God and by having the best attitude and cleanest heart we can, we are somehow partaking in changing the very fabric of being.
Our suffering actually has meaning, and it means something so deep that we cannot begin to comprehend it this side of eternity.
The way in which we handle and deal with suffering enables us to be partakers in Christ’s great work – redemption and salvation. Are we Christ, no! Do we save the world? No, only Christ can and has done that. But we do partake in his sufferings, (1 Pet 4:13).
We (the Church) are mystically the body of Christ – we are his body! So we mystically suffer with him and in that suffering comes our redemption, not only for us but the whole world! (1 John 2:2).
A lot of suffering in life is undeserved, unwanted and ultimately I don’t believe God wants us to suffer. But in this ‘the best of all possible worlds’ it is sadly inevitable. What we should not do though, is become martyrs and seek it out intentionally; but neither should we through choice (or lack of action) cause or allow the continuation of others to suffer.
In fact we are called to do the very opposite of that. But sadly, suffering sometimes simply cannot be avoided in this life, it is here we can learn to lean into it.
X marks the spot
One of my favourite quotes is from Jordan Peterson with his simple statement, ‘You are at the X where human suffering takes place, so what are you going to do about that? Are you going to whine and complain about it, or are you going to stand up and say, bring it on! No matter what it is.’ This would be a form of ‘leaning into’ our suffering.
Now turn that ‘X’ he speaks of on its side and you have the cross, the ultimate display of human suffering. It is brutal, harsh, cruel, torturous, shameful and despised. It is everything we dread – everything that is wrong with the world. Everything we try to avoid through revenge, addiction, rage, greed, malice and ignorance. Everything that Christ became on that cross is ironically the source of our salvation – ultimate suffering.
Ironically it is that cross, that X that shows the pathway to ultimate redemption, ultimate life, love and truth – all things that transcend suffering ultimately. Instead of intellectualising it, explaining it away, Christ identified with it in totality by suffering until the point of death (Phil 2:8). He ‘leaned into’ his suffering fully, he drank that cup until its filthy last dregs and did not turn his face away from the scorn, not one ounce of him resisted.
Not one part of his suffering did he fling back to his torturers, not one. He absorbed it all and he absorbed it all through obedience for a love for his Father and in turn, his love for humanity.
The image contained in this article shows a profound image. It is called, Christ the extreme humility. This icon aims to reveal that in Christ’s suffering there was not an ounce of it being externalised. All was being taken in, fully in pure humility and obedience, this is redemptive suffering fully experienced and fully expressed.
A few weeks after my dream I wanted to find a video to encapsulate what I felt was imparted to me and by God’s grace a wonderful clip appeared on my Youtube feed, I will place it here. A lovely guy by the name of John Piper brilliantly espouses a lot of what I felt in that dream. https://youtu.be/709s0O44Ois
If you are experiencing suffering right now, no matter how horrific or hopeless it may seem, know this: if our hearts are set towards God we willingly accept it, offering our body to God as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1).
No matter how weak or disfigured your efforts or resolve, your Father sees. If we consciously lean into it, don’t run or try to numb it out and accept it as humbly and as best we can with the cleanest heart we can, it is entirely meaningful and it is bringing about the unseen and unknowable plans of God in the universe. It can be (and it is) one of the most beautiful things we can offer to God.
One of the deepest and most profound truths that we will ever know is that our suffering has meaning, and in that meaning, beauty. There is beauty in our suffering and that suffering, that beauty … it changes the world.
‘For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.’ - 2 Corinthians 4:17
Tim Everton is from South Australia, is a youth worker by trade and runs his own small business making miniature things. In his off-time he enjoys making more miniature things, playing board games hanging out at the beach and seeking out the next best cafe latte.
Tim Everton’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-everton.html