Suffering or pain is a reality that we do not understand. Many have accepted suffering as good and many have rejected suffering as something unwanted and unacceptable. Christ and His teachings accept suffering as something joyful. What is this suffering?
Half of the sufferings may be caused because of the selfishness of human beings. Selfishness can create suffering for human beings. All the wars and quarrels are the result of selfishness. We create them for our self-interest and the poor victims are sufferers. Again, half of the suffering could be caused by the loving God who wants us to share sufferings of the world, which can be said as His mystical body on earth.
Every sickness and illness of body or mind causes us pain or suffering. Hence, pain is the outcome of illness. Science has discovered medicines to reduce or annihilate pains. If we are able to accept our sufferings as a gift from our loving God, we may not find it so hard. Hence, even the painful cancer also can be accepted as a gift from our loving God. Again, even the betrayal of our friends can be accepted as a gift from God. Jesus could do so. Hence, Jesus could thank God the Father for the sufferings.
“If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:20-23)
If so, there will be no difficulty to accept pains as they are. Every pain is a gift from our loving God.
Coming to the question of understanding the suffering by religions and religious leaders, we find Christianity as the only religion that sees meaning for suffering as the participation of the divine mystery of Christ who came to save the world by his menial birth at the manger, life of an ordinary poor child at home, suffering, crucifixion and death on a cross. His disciples as well as followers found meaning in suffering and happiness in suffering. His followers who accepted suffering as a gift enjoyed suffering and finally they have become saints in the world. Even the thief who was hanged on the right side of the cross of Jesus accepted suffering as a gift to suffer for Christ and His kingdom. He is considered as a saint who reached paradise, which is heaven.
I understand that nothing in the world happens by chance. As all creatures living and nonliving have a reason for their existence, there is reason for the existence of pain. There are two ways to look at it. One can see it with a purpose or without a purpose. Jesus and the two thieves at Calvary teach us the difference. All the three crucified suffered at the cross. The thief at the left side of Jesus accepted and ended suffering with a curse. The thief on the right side of Jesus accepted and ended the suffering with a blessing.
The thief on the right side of the cross had meaning in suffering. He could join Jesus with his sufferings. With the very little time he spent with Jesus, he could understand the meaning of cross and pain suffered by Jesus. When he shared his suffering with that of Jesus, he could attain paradise. Pain is bearable for him. The failure to understand the meaning of suffering would make it unbearable. In our understanding of suffering, are we on the right side of the cross or on the left side of the cross?
Rev. Thomas Kakkaniyil is the priest at Creston’s Holy Cross Catholic Church.