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Truth in Suffering

Originally published Monday, 18 November 2013.

I heard in a sermon on Sunday that the American culture is the only one that does not view suffering as an expected part of life.  Instead, when we encounter suffering, we view it as a surprise, an unfair occurrence, and something to move beyond immediately.  It's not to say that we should welcome suffering and adopt a victim mentality.  No.  But the pastor believes that our existing expectations have perhaps preconditioned our culture to depression.  Trials hit us even harder.  And the depression rate in our country is climbing at about 20% per year.

I began to reflect upon my studies as a World Religion major as a result of the pastor's point, and I found some resonance.  My degree required the study of Eastern and Western religions.  For my Eastern concentration, I chose Buddhism because of its raging appeal on campus.  I wanted to find out why.  And a primary belief of Buddhism is that life is suffering, or dukkha, which is certainly different from our pervasive cultural view.  I found a pithy explanation of the term on Wikipedia that reads:

Dukkha is commonly explained according to three different categories:

  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.

The Buddhist tradition emphasizes the importance of developing insight into the nature of dukkha, the conditions that cause it, it how it can be overcome.

Rather than conveying a negative world view, Buddhism offers a pragmatic approach to life as it exists and how to rectify it.

With an understanding of suffering being integral to the Buddhist path, I reflected on our Christian faith.  I believe it is no mistake that the cross is at the heart of it.  We worship a suffering God, and there is strength in that.  [Tweet that.]  We have a Friend who understands our brokenness.  We have a Confidant who knows firsthand about injustice in our world.  Christ's cross reflects the reality of suffering.  It helps to explain why he had to go through it.  Maybe it wasn't so much for God's sake as a righteous judge but for ours.

Buddhism offers a path, but Jesus offered his life.  By doing so he demonstrated where our real hope lies: his never-ending love.  His love acknowledges that even our worst sins cannot keep him away.  His love testifies to the future that awaits us beyond the grave.  We have resurrection power offered to us through faith in this life and the next on account of his victory.  That means no situation is too dark for Christ's light to break through.

What is your worldview of suffering?  Does it resonate with culture or your faith?

Let's not look anywhere else than to Christ, for it is he who expresses truth that will set us free.  Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18, NIV).  Jesus was actually quoting Isaiah when making this proclamation, so he's fulfilling a promise that's etched across scripture.  His words summarize his mission and reveal a keen understanding of the troubles of this world.  He knew what he was up against, and it didn't stop him.  And suffering shouldn't come as a surprise or become a barrier for us.

{Photo by Jungle Boy at Flickr}