Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

The Meaning of Suffering

January 11, 2019

In this life, suffering is part of the territory.

We must learn to deal with it.

God told Cain that sin was crouching at his door and that he must “master it.”

Cain did not oppose the bitter/resentful part of himself. Rather, he took his bitterness out on someone else—his brother. He killed Abel.

People who allow the bitter badness of this life to defeat their attitude–those people end up taking their frustration out on other people.

A person who has been corrupted by his own bitterness/anger will likely turn to destructive behavior to express his/her frustration.  That person may concoct an evil plan to hurt/ kill some person who has gotten in their way.  Or worse yet, that person may go ballistic, sociopathic, and decide to go on shooting spree before turning the gun on himself.

If we do not cope with suffering, if we do not contend the resulting resentment, it will master us, instead of us mastering it. 

If and when that happens—if the urge to extract vengeance takes control of us—instead of us controlling it—we buckle under the pressure and things get worse.

Such evil also manifests collectively in historical ways. In the 1930’s-40’s, the Nazis took out their bitterness agains other Europeans who had previously defeated them militarily. They also embodied depravity by inflicting their hyped-up vengeance against Jews, because they entertained the lie that Jews were responsible for their social/cultural failures.

The fundamental struggle in this life—both individually and collectively— is to somehow accept that shit happens (we will have a certain amount of suffering) and then contend against own bitterness, and thereby defeat the urge to take out our troubles on others.

This requires a certain acceptance of suffering. No person escapes it entirely.

Understand that suffering is a part of life. Trouble is built in, because (in my view) opposing it builds godly character.

So we must overcome the urge to blame others for our troubles. We need to take responsibility for our own lives—our own failures, as well as our own successes.

But it’s not easy; we need help.

The follower of Christ realizes that we cannot undertake that battle without our Creator’s help.

Like it or not, God has constructed this life in such a way that we must admit our inadequacy and turn to Him for help, so as to overcome the destructive influences of this world instead of turning those destructions on other people.

And he has given us his Son, who contended with evil and suffering to the nth degree—to the very end of his own tortured life—in order to demonstrate that suffering is not meaningless. It’s just part of the territory in this world, especially if we resolve to do any “good.”

Furthermore, the inevitable death that is the result of this troublesome life–that dreaded death lands us–if you can allow yourself to believe it– in a place that is even greater than this present life—resurrection into eternal life.

So accept that this life is difficult, and suffering is part of the territory, and don’t take out your anger on others. Do unto them what you would have them do unto you.

Life ain’t no bowl of cherries. That much is plain to see. It’s no walk in the park.

Deal with it. Master it. Turn it over to the one who endured the absolute worst suffering as a consequence of his living  life totally void of destructive resentment. Otherwise you may hurt yourself badly; and if that is not enough you may hurt someone else. Don’t go down that path.

Rather,  when you find yourself at the crossroads of bitterness and injustice, take up the deepest challenge that this life presents. Accept your suffering  willingly. Endure, persevere while manifesting love and goodwill, and thereby defeat the urge to do wrong to others and to yourself.

King of Soul

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Surely, He has born our griefs

December 13, 2014

Every now and then in world news, it is reported that Muslims have taken offense because the Prophet Mohammed was insulted by some disrespectful kaffir journalist, speaker, or movie. In such cases, followers of Islam have been known to demonstrate their ire publicly.

This does not generally happen–it should not–among Christians, because our Savior has already suffered just about every insult, torture, or disgrace known to man– when he was nailed to a cross. There is nothing a person can say or do to humiliate Jesus that hasn’t already been spoken or done.

People who do not believe in Christ sometimes say that ours is a weak religion–even pathetic–because we put all our hope and faith in a Messiah who was judged to be a criminal and blasphemer and then publicly humiliated by torture and death on a cross.

The Muslim religion, by contrast, is founded on belief in the spoken word and action of a different person, Mohammed, who was a very successful man. Although he was opposed by many religious people of his day–as Christ also was–Mohammed surmounted the opposition of his enemies. In spite of his contentions against the stubborn Arab old-religionists of Mecca, he became, during his lifetime, a highly respected religious leader, revelator, military leader, judge, and founder of a world religion. Along the way he who took multiple wives, fathered many children and grandchildren, and died a natural death.

Jesus Christ, however, died on a cross after being publicly humiliated and tortured.

People who criticize Christians for following a suffering, crucified Savior think we have been misled or duped to put our faith in such a loser.

Whatever. It doesn’t matter what they think. Whatever abuse, verbal or physical, was heaped upon Jesus, is to be expected in the Christian life, and we must bear that humiliation with the same dignity that Christ bore his.

And that is a major point of Christianity–learning to bear the humiliation and suffering that this life generates, even as he did.

The real frustrations and failings of our life, after all, usually center around our defeats, not our victories.

So, by going to the cross, which facilitated his later resurrection on the third day afterward, Jesus showed us how to accomplish the greatest–the most necessary–victory in life. This overcoming is obtained through facing, bearing, and overcoming whatever-the-hell trouble life throws at us, including the worst adversity of all–death itself.

The Jewish prophet Isaiah foreshadowed this exemplary, salvatory role of Messiah when Isaiah presciently spoke:

“Surely, He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows!”

Several millenia later, the composer Georg Friedrich Handel included these prophetic words from Isaiah in his great musical oratorio, Messiah:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OT8tR1azaIw

This motivates us to proclaim, as Paul did:

“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation–giving no cause for offense in anything. . .”

Life is sad, and difficult, but our God has shown us how to get through it victoriously; this does not require taking offense at every little errant word or insult. He was our example in this forebearance. Furthermore, we have better things to do.

Glass half-Full

To Save the World

October 11, 2014

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing, end them. . .

This problem, described in archaic language by a Shakespearean prince, Hamlet, can be stated more simply this way:

Should we suffer, or should we fight?

Should we accept the world as it, or is it better to struggle against all the bad stuff?

Should we concede, or strive toward tikkun olam, the repairing of the world?

And even if we choose to oppose the (sea of) troubles in this life, can our resistance put an end to them? Can “opposing” those troubles  actually defeat them?

If you or I can put an end to the injustice and or dysfunction of this world, then maybe we should get busy working toward that end. But if this quest–to resist the evil of this world– is fruitless,  a lost cause, then why bother? What difference does it make?

Maybe we just have to suffer through it.

That’s what  one religious founder, Jesus of Nazareth, did. He suffered through the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that were flung upon him. He suffered all the way through torture and crucifixion until death itself overtook him.

For a few days.

But his boldly compassionate life included not only suffering and bearing the pain, it also included serious resistance against the powers that be. He was a man who took arms, spiritually, against a sea of troubles, by speaking publicly against the injustice that humans impose upon one another, and he used his hands proactively to heal people, and to release folks from suffering and oppression.

I think his life was quite unique in this respect: he actually, and very effectively, trod a middle path between these two choices–submission and resistance.

He was an example of bearing up under the burden of suffering, while simultaneously launching a campaign against what is wrong in this world of human striving that manifests as dogmatic religion and ineffective government.

Now we know from history that Jesus’ struggle to live a meaningful life, a life that truly made a difference, was a failure.

Because, you know, he ended up dead and publicly humiliated and all that.

On the other hand, if you consider what all has been done in his name since he lived, it could be that the work of his life–the suffering and the active resistance–attests that his legacy is more perpetual than it may at first appear.

From the standpoint of world history, his story is everlasting. This persistent story of a savior who conquered death itself has transcended the world. He has won the world by overcoming the world’s cynical resistance.

His was the greatest life ever lived. He opposed the slings and arrows by submitting to them. Thus he rendered them powerless against his sacred work. He  overcame the world. Who else has done such a thing? and then lived to tell about it. You gotta believe.

This was accomplished, paradoxically, without actually “taking arms.” He fired no gun, wielded no knife. Jesus’ only sword was the one in his mouth. What an exceptional way to repair the hearts of men, as if that were possible!

While other religionists have resorted to the sword of conquest, here was a man whose only weapon for opposing the evils of mankind was the sword of the Spirit.

To be, or not to be (with Him). . . that is the question.

Glass half-Full

Balancing Contentment and Discontent

March 2, 2014

Paul of Tarsus, a founder of what has come to be called Christianity, spent most of his life promoting–not  himself–but  the work of another person, Jesus Christ. In so doing, Paul built a foundation of faith upon the redemptive cornerstone that Jesus had laid at Calvary. That foundation has been expanded and strengthened over the last two thousand years, and is now known as Christianity.

How did this one man, Paul, make, by his life’s work, such a lasting impact on the whole world? For starters, he traveled all over the eastern Mediterranean teaching and expounding one very important message, which eventually became known as  the Gospel. While he was doing all that, he endured, and survived, a myriad of dangerous situations. Paul was an adventurer who got into trouble just about everywhere he went, went through life constantly misunderstood and misinterperted, came perilously close to death on several occasions, suffered through shipwrecks, snakebites and being the object of riotous mobs.

He was a nonviolent revolutionary, whose life mission was to enable  the world to be delivered  from doing bad shit.

And yet, in the midst of all that Paul said and did to establish the work of Christ in this world, do you think he was a happy man? Did he go into eternity with a satisfaction that he had done the best he could to live what he believed?

In a letter to his friends in Philipi, Paul wrote:

. . . I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

I heard a pastor speak about this morning. His sermon, using Paul as the example, was all about contentment and discontent. There is a tension, you know, between these two–being content or being discontent. It was a very good teaching about learning to be content in this life. Of course, we all want to learn this principle, don’t we? as Paul did, or we will spend our life being miserable.

And who the hell wants to be miserable? Not me. So yes, I want to learn that lesson that Paul learned, and wrote about–that lesson that was passed down through a couple of centuries and was renewed in my hearing this morning when Mickey expounded on it.

I want to be content in this life. I mean, who doesn’t?

So there I was sitting in church this morning hearing encouragement through the mouth of a contemporary preacher about the wisdom that Paul had recorded in a letter two centuries ago. It was encouragement to learn more about finding contentment. That’s good advice.

On the other hand, Karl Marx taught that religion was the opiate of the people. If I am accepting, through my faith in Christ, contentment,  I am copping out? Should I, instead of cultivating contentment, allow my periodic discontent about the injustice and cruelty of this world propel  me to burn zealously in this life as an activist to stop injustice and end violence and prevent the cruel exploitation of helpless people and eliminate the income inequality gap? So I’m thinking about this tension between desiring contentment, and allowing discontent to become a productive motivator to make life somehow better. Paul said he had learned to be content, and yet he was not content to sit on his duff and watch tv or surf the net (just kidding), but rather he allowed a little personal discontent about the sorry state of this world to motivate himself to go into the world and try to change it for the better.

Meanwhile, while I was listening to Mickey’s lesson about Paul’s contentment, I remembered the subject of the last article that I had been reading this morning before I closed the laptop and drove to church. It’s called  “The Winter of our Discontent.” You may want to check it out if your are interested in economics–real economics, not this hyped-up QE stuff that the Fed has been dishing out since 1987.

Of course, the article by Eric Parnell that I just linked above for you doesn’t really have much to do with Paul of Tarsus or learning to be content. But what’s curious to me is that the spiritual lesson and the economics article, both of which I encountered this Sunday morning, were both dealing with the tension between contentment and “discontent.”

And that got my attention. This is the kind of incidental interlude that contributes greatly to my cognitively dissonant celebration of life!  I want you to know that I can be content about what the Lord has given me to do in this life, while still appreciating the motivational value of a little discontent and disruption every now and then.

Now go; be well and prosper, but don’t get too comfortable with our success.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, to publish soon