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.