Looking Suffering in the Eyes and Saying “Yes”

The problem of evil is a tough one and not by any means one that I am qualified to address. I’d need to define terms like “suffering,” “evil,” and “Jesus” before I could even think about it. Such work is outside of the scope of both my skill and current mental capacity. That said, suffering has been on my mind of late. Not just “why do we suffer,” which seems to me a moot point, but how we should react to suffering. On the one hand, we love progress and so it is easy to view suffering as a stepping stone. Bad things happen, but their good consequences make them worth happening. Admittedly, this is how I’ve felt for much of my life. Suffering has always had some kind of meaning for me. I mean the clicker needs to be a little far away when I’m lazing about on the couch so that I’ll get off my backside and be slightly less obese than most Americans (or Mexican, as recent data suggest. And I hate data). On the other hand, can we really just write suffering off as something meant for self-betterment? Or are we just deluding ourselves because it’s damn hard to look suffering straight in its lifeless, black eyes?

For Christians, suffering must necessarily have meaning. Jesus suffered and died. That is what it is. In this light, Luther talks about a theology of glory and a theology of the cross. The former is the progressive idea I put forth above. Reason allows us to discern the meaning in suffering; God is that much more knowable as our suffering leads us to an understanding. The latter concentrates on suffering qua suffering, as it were. We are asked to stare deep into its eyes, accept that we can gain betterment from suffering, but also recognize that suffering is a mystery and that it isn’t here just for our betterment. It’s the anti-New Age, positive-thinking hippy stuff, or at least that’s how I’m framing it. I’ve always been partial to the first one. I’ve seen a lot of suffering. Not Mexico City street child suffering, but cancer, pain, tears, whatever. But recently, the beauty of mystery has been overtaking me. Isn’t it more mature to stare suffering down instead of twisting it to our own human will, making it what we want it to be instead of accepting the mystery that is life?

Maybe I’m just becoming a skeptic, slowly rejecting most certain knowledge. Or maybe I’m just completely insane (check my Facebook for endorsements for the latter position), but I’m not sure it’s all that healthy for us to continue to force the world onto our own Procrustean tables as opposed to appreciating the beauty that is mystery. Call me an Augustinian; call me Ishmael; I don’t care. What I do know is that by assuming that we aren’t big boys and big girls who can take grief and experience it as a transcendent and not an immanent experience, we’re selling ourselves short, making suffering into self-help. Credo ut intelligam, ladies and gentlemen; credo ut intelligam.