The question of why there is suffering is an interesting question in an of itself because there is a hidden assumption in the question that there shouldn’t be suffering.
Let’s first make the distinction between suffering and pain. I think of them as two different things. It appears that pain is a necessary part of life and has great survival value because it is a signal that there is a problem. Without pain we would not be aware that we are injured or that our body is not functioning properly. Without pain we would not become aware that our behavior is ineffective or objectionable to others. Pain provides important information and it benefits us immensely. Without pain we would surely die sooner and so it has great survival value for us.
Because we experience pain, we sometimes, but don’t have to, suffer. Suffering is the result of our interpretation of the meaning of pain. Often we believe we don’t deserve pain or that we are victimized by pain when it fact pain is a friend which is trying to teach us something. Sometimes the more we resist and avoid pain the more we suffer because we are unwilling to recognize pain, acknowledge it, learn from it, and act appropriately to manage it.
Pain is part of life, suffering is optional. It helps in diminishing and eliminating suffering if we understand our pain, where it stems from, what causes it, what will decrease it, how we can manage it so it no longer scares us. It helps in diminishing and eliminating suffering to have people in our lives who are witnesses to our pain and can reassure us, help us alleviate our pain, and assist us through it. Pain is worse when we endure it alone. Often it is lonliness which turns pain into suffering. The old saying that “misery loves company” is true. Pain loves companionship, understanding, explanation, consolation.
Many times people see pain as punishment and in some instances it is, but more often it is a signal that something is wrong. Spirituality helps us become aware of context, see things in perspective, understand the circumstances of pain, and thereby decrease or eliminate suffering.
When my two children were killed in a drunk driving crash I was suffering terribly. Brigid was 5 and Ryan was 8. They were the youngest of Angela and my 9 children. One day I stupidly said to her, “Did you ever think that we would have been better off if we had stopped having children after the seventh? If Ryan and Brigid had never been born we wouldn’t be going through this now.” As soon as I said these words, I realized how stupid they were. I imagined in my mind God saying to me, “David, I have given you 7 beautiful, healthy, attractive, intelligent, good children, and I will give you two more but you can only the boy for 8 years, and the girl for 5 years, and then you have to give them back to me, do you still want them?”
I would have said enthusiastically, “Yes, Lord!” because they were beautiful children. I enjoyed them so much and they brought so much to the world. The world is much better off having had them for 8 years and 5 years. They have enriched the lives of all who knew them, and continue to enrich the lives of those who hear the stories about them.
Their deaths pain me still but I don’t suffer because I have been richly blessed far beyond what any man deserves in a lifetime. I am extremely grateful and appreciative and filled with great joy and contentment and satisfaction.
Suffering is the result of mismanagement of pain. Pain is a gift, suffering is a curse. Suffering has nothing to do with God or spirituality, we bring it upon ourselves.
All people want happiness and to avoid suffering. This can be achieved through a healthy spirituality, and this involves the acceptance of pain as a gift to learn from and manage effectively. If we are suffering ask for help from a wise family member, friend, pastor and/or counselor, because it is not necessary.
God does not want us to suffer. God loves us unconditionally. To rise above suffering we must forgive the things we have become attached to on the ego plane for not making us happy and realize that our true happiness is found on the path of the Spirit where we realize that we are One with God and all living things.