There is a thing that happens when Good is missing, and we generally call it Bad.
Bad always results in suffering, either indirect or direct, personal or projected. And where would we be without suffering?
I think for most people this question is obsolete. It is hard enough to just get past the word: ‘suffering’. It is a loaded word, pregnant with hallucinogenic properties. When we hear it, when we read it, when we think about it, there is an involuntary reaction that manifests in many different ways. Stoicism, anger, bitterness, resolution, rebellion, sympathy… The reaction, though, is always one of mourning. It is instant and tangible, and the spark is lit that fuels the emotion. We immediately think of our own suffering. We immediately think of the suffering that has fallen onto our loved ones, which in turn caused us to suffer on their behalf. We think of Big suffering, such as the Holocaust and the Crusades. We think of Personal suffering, such as our failed relationships, our illnesses and diseases, our sense of loss at the death of someone we were close to. We think of how we have suffered at the hands of others, and how needless that was, and what an impact it has made on our lives. We think of Scary suffering, which is all over the news and can happen to anyone, and which triggers a sub-suffering due to the anxiety: the ministrations of a serial killer, the school shootings, accidents as the result of negligence.
Standing alone, suffering is the ultimate injustice. It is the truest agony. It is the blackest hole.
I think we do not realize, though, that suffering is never alone. If it were than it would not be suffering. It would merely be Life; it would be total reality. As it stands, suffering walks hand in hand with Hope; for many it is the conception of Faith (and for just as many it is the deterioration of it). It is the precursor to Peace. It is the forger of Love. It is the recognition of Goodness, and it is the backbone of Compassion.
If we take the reverse journey: would we have compassion without suffering? If we did not see the pain in someone’s eyes, if we did not watch strangers crying in their cars, if it was not depicted so dramatically in movies, would we even care at all? I think we would continue about our daily lives with very little reason to interact on a deeper level. Instead, we reach out to others when we are hurting; we expect them to console us, to feel it with us, to care. And all of that is instinctual. We must train ourselves, or be trained, to react differently. The most regrettable thing is when there are those of us who have never experienced the caring. If only every human being had at least one other human being to be all of these things to them… Alas, without that one person, relationships remain two-dimensional.
If we did not suffer we would not recognize good things. Sometimes that recognition can be out-and-out jealousy. When we have those good things, when we are through the suffering, maybe they are not so good as we imagined they would be, or maybe they are the sweetest reward.
In everything there is balance. That is the very law of nature, and nothing can be done about it. We either fall deeper in love with people when we are suffering, or vice versa. Ties are formed when the raw wounds are soothed and healed by another, and we see the power of what it means to love when someone stands by our sides at our most ugly, at our most wretched, and they help us to put ourselves back together again. Without that suffering, which we should know by now is inevitable (why are people still so surprised when it comes?), there would not be any need for the ties. There wouldn’t be any need for anything, really.
There would be no respect for peace at all if there was no suffering. You might argue that naivety is peace, because there has never been any suffering, but I counter that naivety is its most basic definition: it is simplicity, and nothing more. To be naïve is to be inexperienced, and it is no secret that a human being must become subject to experiences in order to have life. Peace is the sweet cloud on the other side of the opposite spectrum, and that is what makes it so delicious, and so seemingly unattainable.
Let us not forget faith, which is such a touchy subject these days. People become so uptight when the word is used, but it doesn’t even need to be religious. Jesus did not invent the word ‘faith’. It is a perfect word to describe one’s belief in Him, but Faith and Jesus are not synonymous, such as Music and Rock Star are not synonymous. You can have one without the other. Faith is merely a confidence, it is a belief that something is true without proof (please note that I use the word Proof, and not the word Evidence, which are also not synonymous). It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as it takes to be a believer in some religion, and that is just the honest depiction of the literal words. I am sure any atheist would be outraged at this, and I am sure many religious believers would be indignant. But you must believe that there is no God in order to call oneself an atheist, and that belief is based on the fact that there is no Proof. To believe that there is a God an individual is willing to rely on the Evidence. In association with suffering: the road of suffering always leads to decisions, and decision-making takes faith. You can have faith that you are not a victim, or you can choose to believe that you are. Either way is a life course, and you are making the decision to go down it. Sometimes that faith is rooted in religion, as suffering opens our eyes to our infallibility, our vulnerability, our absolute mortality. Sometimes that faith is completely self-reliant, and we believe that we are the only correct and trustworthy being.
Perhaps, most frighteningly, suffering is what really brings us face to face with the fact that we have no control. You can argue the contrary, and I will allow that we actually have more control than we might think, but the truth is that we have control over ourselves and only ourselves, which is actually not the smallest control, as people tend to think, but indeed the largest. Let us come out of the need to go global: what is one person’s control against billions? Instead, we look at our own little worlds, and the people we come into contact with daily. The control that we have to smile at the slow cashier, instead of hurting their feelings by being rude. The amount of suffering that we have the capacity to inflict is unfathomable. It jumps from person to person to person until, finally, the whole world is infected, and not just immediately, but for generations. We have effect on people’s lives. Only, the hard part is that we cannot control how others interact with us, and everyone else. We can only control our reactions, and know that it will make a positive difference in the end. It is so much better to endure the suffering than to inflict it. It really is. This is why respect is so important, why love is so crucial, and compassion so essential. Strangely, some people spend their entire lives in denial that other human beings truly exist alongside them. Or, even more horrifying, they just don’t care.
Hence, the suffering.
The compassion, the love, the peace, the goodness, the faith, the hope.
So what about hope? If human beings, in essence, have only self-control, the most powerful and capable creatures on earth, brilliant enough to develop systems that connect every single person on the planet, rich enough to bend and mold the very earth surrounding us, and the water surrounding the earth, if these creatures have such limited control, what actually is Hope? Hope is beauty, and it is married to Desire, and the offspring is Creativity. Are you beginning to see that everything, even the good, is connected to suffering?
I am not a natural born optimist. I have never been an optimist, and I always expect that optimism to me will be like peroxide to a wound. I do not like the roller-coaster of optimism, and at times in my life I have seen hope as a great and grave weakness. Even now, it is hard for me to decide to take action, to take control of my own personal sphere, and to hope. What power is in hope! It reminds me that my body is broken, and that my mind is unsafe, but that I can still get out of bed and contribute good things to my life, and good things to the lives of those that I come into contact with. That is all I can ask; it is all I can hope for.
Three hundred sixty degrees has brought us back to suffering, and what it really means, what it is really good for, and how it pertains to God. I think the most expected and readily applied question in regards to this topic is: why is there suffering? And rightly so. It is natural to ask this question, or else perhaps we do not really have an acknowledgement of the condition.
Every human being is designed for a purpose, and not everyone is willing to fulfill that purpose. Not everyone is willing to accept that they make mistakes. But it really does all go back to God. He created the earth and gave man dominion. Man decided he wanted to be like God, instead of being satisfied that he was created in God’s image. He wanted more control than he was created to handle, and disorder came into effect.
For some reason, it is easier to get hung up on the flimsy argument of why man made a drastic choice, and whether or not God allowed the temptation and if so how could He, and that you could not expect the man to do anything differently since he didn’t know any better, and overall just how unfair it all is. There is genuine rage at the injustice of God being omniscient, able to know everything, and how He still allowed things to progress as they did. Why didn’t He just design it a different way? The question causes people to turn their backs on God, to scoff at religion, to call the belief foolish and cracked. I hasten to encourage us to remember that we are not God. For some of us, this realization will be a relief, and the recitation of it will allow us to continue on in our lives in a more natural order, peaceful in the simple fact that the weight of the world is not on our shoulders. For some of us, it will only fuel the fire. These people apparently want that burden. The real problem is not about whether or not God knows, the problem lies in the fact that we, human beings, do not know. We just don’t. We can go before Him for our guidance, we can study His Word for directions, and we can mingle with others of common belief to maintain clarity. This was part of the design, and it cannot be rewritten. Or, we can do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, and assume that the best has been done, the most effort has been given, and that all has no choice but to be well.
Perhaps you have reached a level of acceptance that man made a mistake (and not God). This is only the beginning of everything that came next, the most wonderful thing that ever happened. And this is why I love God, and no other deity could ever measure up: He loved us so much that He wanted to save us. No other higher power of any other belief system chose to save humankind. Sure, they pose many options of how you can reach maturity by what you do with your life, but they did not decide to take the burden upon themselves. They did not care about what we experience in our lives, and how much it just absolutely hurts sometimes. They have left us to our own devices. Not God, not His Son. This is why Jesus Christ is awesome, and this proves His love for us.
Man chose suffering, and so suffering is on this earth. But God designed a way to alleviate all suffering. He understands that we still suffer while we are here, and He offers the solace that He takes our suffering into account, and that one day we will be justified, and He will bring everything to its full and natural order. He reminds us that He suffered too, more than any other being because He bore the suffering weight of the entire world, and we bear only that of one person.
If we are honest with ourselves, we can see that the largest percentage of suffering occurs at the hands of other human beings. This would be called “the missing good”, and it is less handsomely known as ‘sin’. When good is missing, we allow the alternative to dictate our lives, and the largest cancer of these is selfishness. From selfishness all fallacies are bred, and they feed on each other. It would seem that, aside from natural disasters, disaster of all kinds is man-made. Hunger and poverty are in direct descent of selfishness, and even now it could be eradicated in a miniscule span of time. The problem lies in the fact that people have become quite comfortable, and have forgotten that sacrifice is to be pursued. Sacrifice on behalf of others should be desired. There are enough people with enough resources to relieve the pain that so many people endure every single day. And yet the pain is not relieved. Surely, that can not be blamed on God, for that is a choice that we each make every single day of our lives. To sacrifice, or not. Human trafficking: by men, for men. Abuse: by men, out of uncontrollable urges and unchecked delusions. We decide every word that we say, and that word could make a positive impact, or it could cause suffering.
Yes, there are diseases and death. This is the most unfortunate part of the whole thing. Death was never supposed to be. Disease was not in the plan. Both made their appearance upon invitation by man, and since we are descendants of men, we remain the recipients of such hazards. Surely, there are accidents. Sadly, we must endure a design that was not original, and is thus very, very flawed.
I urge you not to rush to your next question: why doesn’t God just end it all? Undoubtedly, that will be glorious, and the concept is magnificent. But we mustn’t allow ourselves to be naïve or, even worse, ignorant. If God were to step in and replace the missing good, time would cease. The cessation of time means the cessation of life and death as we know it. The cessation of life and death means that every being will be reunited with whom they have chosen: the Good or the Bad. This is it. That is all there is to it. The fact that the world continues as we know it is a mercy on behalf of God. At any moment He could sweep away the pain and suffering, but to do that would be to sweep away the cause of the pain and suffering, and that is us, each and every one. By allowing us to maintain our existence, He is allowing us a few more moments to realize the missing good in our lives. He is giving us the opportunity to bring to light the missing good to others, and this only by taking example of His Son, who lived as a human being to be the perfect example.
A vast and heavy existence stretches between the span our lives. As time passes, as the missing good grows larger and larger, the link that binds us all as humans is becoming more and more corroded. Before long, we will be making decisions based on what the animals do, if we are not already there: how can I fill my own needs? How can I ensure my own survival? How can I make sure that nobody takes what is mine? A meager and narrow existence that is. The animal world must not be allowed to meld with that of humankind, or the suffering will become very great indeed.