What is the purpose of suffering

Does suffering have a purpose?

Suffering is an occurrence that thwarts our desire for a good life. Elementary horrors such as famines, wars and natural disasters go beyond the secure framework of life. Not only our feelings and senses are attacked, suffering also threatens our thinking. Human thinking is fundamentally geared towards understanding. Suffering often contradicts understanding. Not understanding something, however, means being unable to make sense of it. That is why suffering affects the lifeblood of our existence.



The Corona crisis has made this why question of suffering virulent again for many people. Images of overcrowded intensive care units, overwhelmed doctors and nurses, patients struggling with death went around the world and reveal powerlessness and despair. Now we humans of the 21st century are well aware of the natural causes of such catastrophes, even if important details are perhaps in the dark. But, remarkably, we are not satisfied with the scientific answers to these evils. Especially not when someone is affected by severe suffering. For example, if you suffer from a life-threatening illness, understanding the causes and effects of such an illness helps, but this does not yet provide an answer to the question “Why me?”.



It is therefore a very human reaction to ask and search for a “sense” of suffering in such crises. For as long as there has been high civilization, we have been able to watch people develop answers to the burning questions of suffering. Above all, it was and is the religions that have developed the answers. Very different answers! I am thinking of the Far Eastern traditions with their ideas of karma (retaliation) and samsara (cycle of rebirth), while our biblical tradition had to reconcile suffering with belief in God as the good Creator.
The most significant discussion of suffering in the Bible is the book of Job. Job, a gentile but God-fearing man, suffers terrible suffering. At first he endures it with brave faith: “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken.” - He submits to the order of good and bad days under God's blessing. But when suffering completely overwhelms him, he shouts his “why?” To God - but God remains mute. Job does not accept that he or anyone else is to blame for his suffering, so he demands an account of God. But God does not answer. The book ends with a long-suffering job who recognizes that there is no satisfactory answer to the question "Why?" But he has learned to live with his suffering. He has learned that he can hurl his pain and disappointment at God and accepts that he will not get an answer. In the end, Job's life will be fine again. A happy ending.


Live with suffering

However, there is an infinite amount of suffering that has no happy ending. But on the contrary. Nevertheless, the book of Job is a school of life and faith that is still valid today: to live with suffering without being destroyed by it or destroying others; live with suffering and try to overcome it where it can be overcome and must be resolved; Live with suffering, endure the question of why and still trust God that everything will be fine in the end. That is the power of faith, hope, love. «