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.
(1) Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning.
(2) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, published in “Star of the West”, volume 14, number 2, May 1923.
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- Somalia famine: When does large-scale hunger become a famine, and who decides? (slate.com)
- What is a famine? – BBC News (news.google.com)
- Measuring Human Rights (22): When Can You Call Something a “Famine”? (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)