The Suffering that is Life

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When I read the New Testament for this Friday before Advent, this verse jumped out at me:

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
~1 Peter 3:17

I was stirred by the idea that there is quite a lot of suffering to go around, enough that I can choose to suffer for doing good, or for doing evil, but either way there was suffering to be had.

There has been a lot of suffering in my life lately. Most of it is what I would think of as neutral suffering: health issues of my own and those close to me, politically based fear and worry, and embedded social unfairness, and economic uncertainty. None of this is suffering I chose. None of it reflects active decisions of mine to embrace good or evil. It is just there, suffering and anxiety hanging about in the background and occasionally pushing through to take over.

When thinking about making a choice to suffer for good or evil, it boils down to whether or not I take an active or a passive role in my own life. If I accept suffering as my lot and take no action, that can easily become a passive acceptance of evil.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
~Edmund Burke

My own personal suffering can either lock me in a stasis of never-ending self-absorption or help me be more compassionate and to understand better the struggles of others.

My social and political suffering can either tempt me into accepting that nothing I can do is ‘enough’ that I should just give up on the outside world or it can inspire me to be the drop of water that wears away the stone of injustice.

Jesus’s example comes to me in the moments when I want to turn away from the world in hopes that my suffering will be lessened if I just give in. Jesus kept going in his ministry. He suffered from his own fear and doubt, he saw how his ministry on earth would end in pain and death. He even put up with foolish disciples who inflicted their doubts and fear, envy and anger, desire for status and power on Jesus as shown in the Gospel reading for Friday (Matthew 20:17-28)

I think that on-going choice to confront suffering, to call it out and say that not all suffering is inevitable, some is a product of our social structures is what is meant when 1 Peter talks about it being better to suffer for doing good.

Life has a lot of pain and suffering it in; however, life does not have to be all suffering. Suffering that is done for good can be transmuted from passive acceptance to active resistance of evil. It can be come something greater. It can be a living sacrifice to God, it can be our communion with the suffering of Christ on the Cross.

Suffering will always be thrust upon humans, the very nature of the universe means that entropy will eventually have it’s way with us. However there is other suffering, suffering created by humans for humans and that we can do something about.

The prayer for the First Sunday in Advent calls us to action:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 


 

All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.

The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent is from the Book of Common Prayer, page 211.

Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.

Image: By NASA and the European Space Agency. – http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2004/07/image/a/warn/, Public Domain, Link

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John D Madison
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John D Madison

Thank you. I always appreciate compassionate thoughts and intelligent words regarding suffering. I lost my seventeen year old son to suicide in 2001. Since then I take special notice of someone when he or she speaks of having lost a child. What I find is, when I first speak to them to say how sorry I am, I immediately see in their eyes, "You have no way of knowing". But something changes in the way they look at me as soon as I say, "I too have last a child". And its the same way I react to someone who approaches me. It is if each one of us carries within our souls a balm for the other that no one else can prepare; and as soon one of us says, "I too..." we feel the healing.

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