Suffering is optional.

I’ve been studying religion of late. I’m currently taking a course about Christianity. I remember more than I thought. There’s also much I didn’t know. I just finished day seven: “Death and resurrection, violence, suffering, and justice.”  These topics were not emphasized in Sunday school.

There is darkness in the Bible. There’s violence, pain, and a great deal of death. I have questions about what we’re supposed to learn and who is imparting the lesson. Do we have to suffer to get closer to God? Some certainly think so.

“Christians often gave a very positive valence to suffering, poverty, and even death by persecution.  The primary image for most Christians was and is the torture and brutal execution of Jesus by the Romans.  Insofar as he is held to be sinless and divine, and his death is understood by most Christians to be the source of salvation and eternal life for believers, his suffering is held in great esteem.  Many scriptural passages portray his suffering as a model for his followers.” *

I wonder about that. I wonder if venerating suffering was the correct path to take. It leads to all kinds of problems down the road.

Suffering is defined as a state characterized by pain, distress, and hardship. I’ve suffered myself although not in pursuit of God. It’s not a state I recommend. Why people suppose this is what God wants is a mystery.

There’s no denying Jesus had pain. I’m sure he struggled with his own darkness. His life was probably challenging at times; knowing you’re fated to die young and painfully, cutting your life, hopes, and dreams short must be hard to deal with. I’m not sure Jesus wished suffering on others though. That position doesn’t gibe with my interpretation of the things I read in the Gospels. Which I admit, could be completely wrong.

“Some Early Christian texts rejected the notion that God would desire the suffering of his Son and of believers.  One of these, The Letter of Peter to Philip, found among the collection of early Christian literature at Nag Hammadi, accepts the reality of Jesus’s physical suffering and death but considers salvation to come from Jesus’s teaching and healing ministry, not his death and resurrection.” *

I prefer this interpretation. It aligns nicely with the two most important rules: love God above all others and love your neighbour as yourself. “There is no commandment greater than these.” ** Nothing here suggest suffering is an exalted position.

Although if suffering is required, most of us will be in luck. We seem fond of choices that guarantee misery. We take a perverse pride in our hair shirts and refuse to modify our wardrobes. Look at me. See my pain. See my suffering.

We’re voyeuristic. We like to watch other people’s pain. We like to pretend it has meaning. Sometimes pain leads to growth. Mostly, pain is just pain.

Jesus was theoretically in his early thirties when he died. I don’t believe his life was unrelentingly awful. I imagine there were good days and good times. I hope he played soccer. I hope he had a first kiss. What purpose would it serve to have him live a life of unrelieved misery?

If God is, at the heart, about love, the veneration of suffering seems wrong-headed and pointless. Am I not supposed to smile at the hummingbird, revel in the ocean, delight in children’s laughter? Am I not allowed to let the wounds close, let the pain go?

I suspect the veneration of suffering is a societal convention. A human invention. It’s not required by God. That doesn’t mean a life of nothing-but-bliss. It does mean you don’t have to seek or prolong the torturous. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering, [however] is optional.” ***

*Christianity Through Its Scriptures. Day 7: Death and Resurrection; Violence, Suffering, Justice Existential Questions: Violence, Suffering, Justice, and Peace-making: Martyrdom. HarvardX. Online.

** Mark 12:28-31. The Bible Gateway. Website.

*** Buddha

14 thoughts on “Suffering is optional.

  1. I wholly agree with you. The veneration of suffering is a ridiculous nonsence. The message of the synoptic gospels is not about violence. My recommendation is to take the decent bits of christianity and ditch the rest. I love the sermon on the mount, I hate the Pauline nonsence and much of the rest of the dogmatic nonsence. There are parts of the old testament I adore but the violence and general unlikeability of Jahweh is not very attractive! Ditch the violence and the idiotic original sin and some of it is worth listening to.


        1. I like learning and stories and philosophies but I think mostly what it does is hone the ideas and characteristics I’ve already developed. That’s irony, I suppose. I look for the way but I mostly have a gut feeling about what it’s supposed to look like, so mostly I’m seeking supports.


        2. I understand. And that has been my experience too over the last 30 years. I have always know what makes me tick and yet ages 64 I have only just given into it. Mysticism and meditation mostly. Nature, beauty of all kinds. Writing. Sitting in my garden. Walking along beaches.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Its fun to say that suffering is optional. Its also fun to say that we suffer because we want things to be different than they are. Call me when you find an equanimity pill (you only need one). 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I briefly started looking into early Christianity once, just because I love learning about history. I remember being pleasantly surprised at the diversity of thought among early Christians, much of which got shunted away as “heresies” during some of the early consensus councils. Might be interesting to go back and learn more. That letter you mentioned is intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find some of the most interesting things, the most “Christian” things that are find are the ones that are outside the official books of the Bible. I like the Gospel of Thomas too. I got curious about it after watching the movie “Stigmata” with Patricia Arquette.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I see this somewhat differently.
    When it comes to Jesus and His death, it’s not about venerating the pain and suffering but the reasoning behind it. He endured it all for us. He was kind, dedicated, passionate about the cause, etc.
    The same with early Christians – it’s not that they suffered and died but because they were willing to stand up for what they believed in.
    So no, I don’t think we need to suffer. Yes, I think it has a purpose but is in no way necessary. If you’re able to avoid it, I am happy for you.
    Think of a mother that pushes a kid out of a car’s way and sacrifices herself in the process. You don’t glorify her death but her courage and love for her child.

    Liked by 1 person

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