SUFFERING AND NOBILITY PT. I

 

        Will greater merits or rewards be granted in the hereafter for one's successes or for one's ability to suffer or endure hardships? Does not the one who had never known or been granted any visible recognition and prestige, yet remained faithful to God, enduring everything for Him deserve, although temporarily invisible, nonetheless lasting prestige? Is not the life and the end of Christ's life a clear indication what is precious in God's sight?

       Sufferings are anticipated with alarm not so much because of fearing the pain itself, but rather of what might be discovered as a result of enduring the pain, since pain can not only make us feel quite isolated, but also through pain the obtained insight may correspondingly cause even greater pain, demanding further significant effort and change. It is certainly disturbing and painful to learn about our deficiencies, faults, inability to fully or unconditionally forgive, and to realize how pitiable, wretched and fragile we truly are. And, yet, as Merton properly claimed, everything else on this earth can give us pain. There is an extended - encyclopedic catalog of painful circumstances, perplexities and predicaments that affect our nonuniform or unparalleled intrinsicality multi-dimensionally; moral suffering which is inconceivable, not communicable - that is beyond description and as such it cannot be approached by human remedial treatment alone. Agonizing pain, which comes from the recognition that no matter how great our efforts are, the results always fall short to what the divine providence demands of us. "What is of more importance for us" Tournier contends is "the feeling of guilt which every man experiences not for the evil he has done but for the good he has not done" (Guilt and Grace, p. 51). Pain, caused even by contentment, for complacency, felicity or pleasure may be the reason for our inattentiveness or disregard for the interest of the indigent, making us altogether unheeding to the significant issues that warrant resolution, which later on brings upon a sense of failure, sadness or distress. Growing in faith, hope and love, is always achieved through enormous struggles of the soul; it is inevitably being built-in in endless and illimitable exertion and anguish. As Merton writes: "As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another... Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them" (A Thomas Merton Reader, p. 320). The insufficiency of our awareness or lacking appropriateness of judgment can readily become a source of absorbing and acute grief, worry and pain. Everyone also suffers because all judge or inappropriately prejudge. All humanity is to a substantial extent disorganized, and abides in falsity and distress because of various self-centered and deceptive thoughts, wishes and actions - all influencing the quality of our individual and collective lives. All suffer, not only because all inflict injuries upon themselves and others through the choices made, but also because of being excessively attached to, or unduly valuing things, which in themselves are futile, delusive and hollow. They acquire eternal value depending on how those privileges and possessions are used. Far too frequently, comparisons are made to assess how well someone performs in reference to us, how powerful his/her status might be. Evaluations like these are confirmatory that what is happening in our public (or private) lives is assessed according to secular standards - standards, which are falling short (to say the least!) to those standards that have lasting and absolute value. Suffering takes its source also from the misrelation that exists between self-concern and sacrificial magnanimity; between self-preoccupation and self-giving knightliness; between the importance of our own sufferings and those of another. Suffering may have its roots in not suffering; feeling pain can originate from having realized that our joy deprives others of their joy... indeed even laughter can cause pain. Human suffering may be a direct result of inappreciation for the suffering itself. Avoiding suffering or attempting to assuage suffering brings about greater suffering.

       The conception of suffering is thus ordinarily associated with an experience of some kind of evil or diminution of good. In the Old Testament, the experience of evil and suffering are indivisible companions. Human finitude in general is the major reason for which humanity experiences existential pain - the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual torment. For Christians there are many reasons that can purvey the potentiality of suffering - "Having a body means being able to stumble. Being a limited spirit includes freedom and the possibility of rejection on the part of others, as well as, conversely, an evil personal use of freedom with the consequences flowing therefrom. To preclude all possibilities of suffering would mean to abolish finitude and make the human being God - that is, to yield to the original temptation of Eden and attempt the impossible " (God the Father of Mercy, pp. 87-88).

       The human is liable to weaknesses and imperfections; what is human has some degree of either realness and unreality; maturity and immaturity; prudence and unwiseness; consideration and inconsideration; rationality and irrationality; nobility and wretchedness; competence and incompetence and so on. All these coexisting antinomies though causing pain and leading to pain can be valuable in human existence.

       Since, everything can inflict pain; everything either begins in pain or leads to it, (e.g., Pain, arising from uncertainty or insecurity may become the motive power for self-explorations and self-discoveries that result in greater awareness, greater concern and thus even greater pain), many therefore believe in the enthronement of pain. No person has become a saint, as Merton contended without unraveling the problem of suffering. Yet, holiness is not merely the result of suffering, he affirms, "for many have suffered and have become devils rather than saints" (A Thomas Merton Reader, p. 288).

      

Christian Works by Dorothy Kardas, Psy.D. Th.D. 

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