Suffering…what is it good for?

Evil causes suffering and evil is preventable, but even in a paradisiacal world without evil, suffering would still exist.

In the most wonderful and peaceful of worlds, completely free of war and violence and famine and prejudice, children will still die and be bereaved, people will become ill and have accidents, make mistakes – there will be natural disasters and unfortunate events. Suffering will still exist.

So.  What is the point of suffering?

Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said that suffering should be alleviated whenever possible but when it isn’t possible it presents us with an opportunity for change.

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. (1)

What does this mean?  Perhaps it means that suffering changes us anyway and we can either be a part of that change or allow ourselves to be formed against our will by circumstances outside of our control?

The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes…Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows. (2)

Maybe the purpose of suffering is so incredibly individual that there is no one answer other than that its very inevitability suggests it does have a purpose – however hidden?

Maybe it exists so that we’ll question the things around us that seem real and permanent and important and learn to distinguish between them?

Maybe our suffering can soften our hearts so that when we see others suffer we respond?

I don’t presume to know.

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(1) Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning.

(2) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, published in “Star of the West”, volume 14, number 2, May 1923.

7 Comments

  1. I agree with Michaela. Your posts are always a delight to read . . . even when I don’t agree completely.

    In part, sorrow is the price we pay for joy.
    If we didn’t enjoy our time together, we would feel no sorrow at our parting.

  2. I agree with Michaela. Your posts are always a delight to read . . . even when I don’t agree completely.

    In part, sorrow is the price we pay for joy.
    If we didn’t enjoy our time together, we would feel no sorrow at our parting.

    1. Thank you also, Nancy – right back at you. I have to say I very much value your engagement – the world doesn’t need everyone to agree – just to want to find the solutions enough to be willing to wholehearted engage. Thanks for the encouragement.

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