There was an interesting thought that crept into my consciousness today. I read that some one on a religious Internet site asked the question, "Is it right to ask God to cure my suffering?" You have to admit that this is not your ordinary cute little challenging question such as makes the rounds on the Internet now and then. You know the kind of question I mean. The famous question about why we "get into an automobile but get on a bus." No. This is not a George Carlin question. This is a real one coming from a spiritually alert person. Not that I am saying that Carlin was not a spiritually alert person. The reason why the question intrigues me is that if I were suffering I would not be shy about turning to God and asking Him to get me out of the situation. This is a question that could only come from a Christian, more than likely a Catholic one at that. But is is intriguing. Why would anyone think that suffering is a morally proper state to live in? Why would someone think that it would be sinful to wish to be relived of suffering? I think I know why. I do have some ideas that I will put on the table after I make a couple of short points.
~Suffering is not synonymous with pain. My father lived for some 40 years with daily pain. He led a fruitful life. In fact, I saw him truly suffer for one whole year, one time, but not from what was causing him the pain. He had contracted Rheumatic fever and it was excruciating. Not from the pain, but from the forced inactivity. Rheumatic fever is a very dangerous illness.
~I have a very exciting and fiery case of gout. Since the age of thirty-two I have endured this painful condition. I've never missed a day's work because of it. I have it in just about every joint known to man and woman, and I suppose, God too. Two years ago I was flat on my back for a couple of months. True, for a while the pain was "killing" me. I was suffering more from the situation that I was in than the pain. I want you all to know that I prayed that I would walk through that valley and get high enough up on the sunny side of the hill to see something toward the future. I did. I am convinced that God did it. He provided me with a loving community of generous people to help me through the valley of darkness.
I think that the big difference between pain and suffering is that suffering is communitarian. It affects the whole environment. The pain of suffering is not necessarily physical. In some cases it attacks your wallet more than your body. In many cases it affects your identity as it relates to your place in the world. I was in a wheel chair for about ten or twelve weeks and I have to say that I would have swapped an extra dose of bodily pain for freedom from that Satanical instrument of torture.
We have a very good example of the difference between suffering and pain in the Gospel of Luke. The story of the rich man and the poor Lazarus. The poor man lingered and loitered around the rich man's table to snag what he could falling from the table, despite the avaricious behavior of the rich man. He even was satisfied to let the dogs lick his pullulating skin lesions. He died and went to Heaven. The rich man went to Hell. There he suffered. And how! We never hear about the poor man's state of mind. All we know is that he was not a very healthy individual.
The people whom we see suffering in the Gospel are those who have not yet met Jesus or who have met Him and rejected him. We have to believe that the Pharisees, as religiously fervent as they were had to be extremely uncomfortable around Him. The Sadduccees even worse.
Consider Judas. He suffered so badly that he did himself in.
That brings me to the reason why it is perfectly correct to pray to be delivered from suffering. It is, briefly, because in that prayer, we meet Jesus. We humans relate to the pain of Jesus. We wonder how He could have lived though it all for so long. Actually, the physical torture was nothing compared to the centuries of rejection that the Father, Son and Spirit had undergone at the hands of the Chosen People to that point. It is because of that personally insulting rejection that Jesus was suffering. It is because He is the only One who knows the depth of that suffering and has lived it in His divinity that He can save us from committing that very sin. It is therefore easy for me to say that the value of suffering lies in the fact that it puts us in the same situation as Jesus was. This unity between Him and us is so intimate that our suffering becomes His and we are delivered from owning it. When we unite ourselves with Jesus on this very intimate level, our suffering is offered for the spiritual good of others. In this intimate relationship, physical pain, though present, becomes unimportant.
It is through the example of Jesus that we know that suffering is a communitarian reality. He did not do it alone. He did not do it for me or for anybody else personally. He did it for the People. He did it for the human race. He did it for the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, i.e., for us all. He did it in public. He did it in the main street of the Holy City. The City over which He had shed bitter tears. The City that had killed Prophets. When we suffer, it is not we who suffer. It is we and Jesus. When it is WE and JESUS, the pain is secondary.
So that is where the question is born. "If we are so close to Jesus in suffering, shouldn't it be wrong to pray for it to stop?" The answer is no for three good reasons.
ONE. Even Jesus prayed for it to stop. Remember? It didn't, but He suffered in the presence of His Father. Just as we suffer in His presence for His Will to be done.
TWO. Among the scoffers and the indifferent passers-by there were those who were impressed by the strength of the person being tortured. Jesus even won one of them over. That's the goal. That's our goal too. But we can only get it if we are suffering in and with the Father, Son and Spirit.
THREE. When He resurrected, look at all the unfinished business He cleaned up. It's after He suffered that He told the Apostles to get going and to spread the word. When we are delivered from our suffering, Jesus knows that we will do everything in our capability to spread the word.
Finally, suffering is good because it teaches the one who goes through it with Jesus and comes out the other side to pitch in and try harder to be a more faithful and righteous disciple. In my case, this part was done for me. My loving and devoted spouse, Belle, promised God that if He got me through it, she and I would offer the rest of our lives working for Him. Now you know why I don't want anybody crying at my funeral.