What is suffering? What do we know about suffering? Why do we suffer? Why can some of us deal with it and some of us not?
Well I don't have the answers. I don't know any more than any psychologist. And quite honestly I believe that at least half of psychologists have barely the same or worse ability to deal with their crap than the rest of us--talk about the blind leading the blind! Not all of them, but enough. Don’t get me wrong, psychologists and psychiatrists are also human beings who are no less prone to life full of hardships and the struggle that comes with us trying to heal from them (or not—some just don’t live by their own wisdom) and they are a valuable asset for the least and the most of us, but it is rather hard to stomach getting help from those who cannot help themselves. I would know. On two accounts. 1) Receiving advice from those with personal, massively scarred history that was still bleeding OR could not even begin to draw from any relatable prior experience; 2) giving advice when I was struggling with my own inner toils. In the end, I still believe in the healing their profession brings and studies in that field to date which bring a scientific method to overcoming our personal wounds.
Anyway, I don’t have the answers, but I have done a lot of thinking about it. In these past 7 months, with my daughters living over 2,000 miles away, it has been its own kind of hell and I've had lots of time to think about the decisions I've made that brought me here (to this point in my life, to this particular location on the map, everything.) No mother has ever been as upset in the world as I have been for having to apply theory to reality: understanding that children need the freedom to make choices, giving them that choice, and having to follow through--allowing their choice to stand. The pain of their absence re-roots itself like a knife in the soul every single time they experience something I can't be there for. And though all things in life change and will change, especially as the cycle of life renews itself, it must be stated that sometimes there are just no other ways out.
That being said, it is not them I blame. No way, not for one singular, tradable moment in the world. I blame myself in adequate measure. I blame myself primarily for letting my own life get to a point that I felt like leaving drop, stock, and barrel--with them--was the very last but only, critically singular option there was. I also put fault with a few other things, other situations, and yes, some people in equally adequate measure, adequate to mean ample but not overdone. But this is not about that blame. This entry isn't even about what I can and cannot control, or how hard it has been to stay the course without having been able to fully explain these things that have taken me years to come to. It's about suffering. Everyone suffers, even if not continuously.
And what suffering brings.
Is it supposed to bring something? Interesting thought, isn't it.
Generally, yes. It is. Suffering was designed for something, and not just to make us feel like crap and emotionally paralyzed. If we go back to the first account of human suffering, we could take Adam and Eve in the bible, when God kicked them out of Eden and told Adam he'd have to sweat and work his butt off to bring home the bread ("till the land") and to Eve she'd have to experience pains in childbirth. Immediately, obtaining food and bearing children, things that God was just going to give them for nothing, were to become the rewards for the hardship.
But Adam and Eve didn't get away with such a clean break. They had to learn how to make clothes, take care of their children, one of whom ended up killing the other, and surely a great number of other things that we could read in the book of Genesis in the bible, or only speculate on as their lives unrolled until they died. Through their choice to disobey, they came to know suffering.
But God did not abandon them. Through their choices, they lost paradise, they had to suffer, but they were not alone. Their creator was still there with them, manifesting Himself with them, speaking to them, and giving them morsels of relief, companionship, and establishing an order.
The NON-depressing part of this new routine Adam and Eve came to know, of what we now know as the daily grind, is that because of this first stupid oops, a plan of hope which was set to unfold was engaged. Yes, even with evolution of man or creation and the thousands of theories to befall or explain our existence on this planet—all human explanations, mind you—there was suffering (suffering to get what we needed and then what we wanted), but just as instantly there was hope in being told (by God himself, through prophetic persons, and later by Jesus himself) that a saviour was coming. A new hope to be relieved of our suffering. Even people who didn't believe it or thought the news of some promised man to come ('future king', 'saviour of the world', or other such terms so foreign on the tongues of secular or pagan crowds) was far-fetched were aware that Jesus was someone people believed in; and were no less prone to suffering than anyone else.
So he came. This light of the world, prince-of-peace fellow came into the world. And he suffered. He suffered so bad—more than any other person in the entire world because it was physical and emotional torture of literally, all ages—for the sake of every person in the entire world to have existed or would exist, whether they accepted him or not, giving every single human soul all the chances they could handle in their lifetimes to choose (or not to choose) to make heaven their final destination—an infinite afterlife with a loving, majestic god, his loving son, the spirit that unites them, all the angels and saints, Mary, Queen of Heaven (just to name a few), loved ones, with experience of love so full and brilliant, it encapsulates the soul, saturating a soul with the kind of bliss it could not contain. (Imagine that high school crush falling in love with you, a major epiphany in your life, a warm towel after a shower, the glee of going to your favourite musician’s concert, and the sun in your eyes altogether in one heap of emotion times a billion, I’m guessing.)
In that ultimate price, ultimate suffering, and ultimate redemption, humanity was given multiple chances to make that choice on their own, multiple choices of right or wrong, to screw up, to get it right, to learn, to grow, but every single time a choice that was completely and totally his or her own until death. He suffered for us as a human, among us in our very corporal humanity, so that if we ever chose to come to him, to see him in our lives, to invite him into our hearts, or even just to open ourselves to the hope of his message (which you can’t argue was pretty damned convincing and loving) for even ONE second, we could never accuse him of not understanding us.
At the very least, Jesus was so central a figure in history that we measure time according his existence on earth. B.C., or, before Christ. All of us humans, only on this side of the A.D. fence, know what life is like on this side of the fence--since the days of Christ. Whether we are Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, Catholics, Muslims, protestants, the hardest core atheists, agnostics, white witches, satanic followers, extremists, diplomats, peacemakers, scientists, fanatics, communist, socialist, democratic, common man, simple, however instrinsic, intelligent, bright, handicapped with disability, whatever country, whatever creed, whatever race, we ALL measure time in A.D.
We only know the values that came from life after Jesus was on earth, every generation imbedding their own take on the next generation, based on what they were taught, since the dawn of time and of the days of Christ, regardless of faith, in spite of or in connection with any given moral set. His existence has created more controversy over beliefs and system of choice than any other figure in all of history or time, even to say that the ancient religions prior to Christ were also affected in some way after Christ because they are not all practiced in their purest forms today, if there is such a thing.
Confucius in all of his wisdom still doesn’t quite stir up the kind of animation that Jesus did. There were far less divisions of basic faith systems before Christ than after (generally derivative of Christianity) and all matters of creed and belief were changed in some way, even for those who could say their beliefs were not changed because no one in all of history has sparked so much debate and reflection as this one man. Whatever calendar we measure by, whatever inaccuracies are in those calendars (Gregorian, Julian, Aztec, Chinese, etc.), whatever variances in the time line created by Before Christ and everything Anno Domini, it is all still measured by that point in history, and when we have to work together as a world, we still arrange meetings, conferences, summits, roundtables by the calendar, the calculator, and the clock that was configured A.D.
God knew this.
But he gave us the choice. To believe as we choose, to be inspired by the precepts of others or swayed by fallacies, to discern between them, to ignore them altogether, to pretend like none of it matters or choose nothing at all. He gave us the choice between right and wrong and with that, the right to choose the same thing over and over again, to stop choosing, even the choice to reject or accept his very proof of love for us (an only son, the only truly pure thing he had to give who was the only soul capable of taking on the literal weight of the world for the stains of many.) He gave us all the choice to accept love, too, a concept evermore declining in the world’s society, the choice to accept mercy, compassion, loyalty, holiness, and devotion, even in a world today where consolation, touch, emotion, and vulnerability have been tragically abused. He gave us all the choice-making freedom we could handle from the very first day. And he did it for a love of a people he created, even those that would reject Him or “just” break his laws.
He did not grandstand Adam and Eve on the day of their sin, with his almighty power, to make them feel scorned and shameful, nor did he damn them. He asked them one simple question, which he already knew the answer to, and which implied accountability as much as truth. “How did you know you were naked?” The consequence of their choice to eat the apple was immediate awareness of their bodies and subsequently to hide themselves and to explain to God why they were hiding. God was teaching them this accountability, which any parent might recognize as the root of the lesson, but he did it with love.
Their self-consciousness was not to be the only consequence of a seemingly harmless act, but also their removal from Eden and engagement with suffering and the suffering for the rest of humanity. Suffering became the price we would pay for our disobedience, not just one time but repeatedly over time, not just individual but also communally, and not just for Adam and Eve's mistake but also for our own.
However, it was not without recompense. We would eventually learn that it was not the punishment of a wrathful entity, but part of the plan of a loving god—the way it had to be so that humans could come to appreciate Our Father for his love and forgiveness. (How much more do we appreciate good days because we have bad days?) God himself promised aid and protection all throughout the history of the bible as long as we remained devoted to him, but in our freedom to choose—free will—humanity chose repeatedly to concern themselves with themselves, rather than God, and so therefore were defeated or chastised or ignored by God.
With the suffering and resurrection of Jesus, a new order of love, life, suffering and forgiveness came into effect and we could put our suffering to different use. Even if Adam and Eve, the tree, and the serpent are all just primeval analogies for the way man began and simply give us a general base of morale, there is still a more powerful being than us who taught the first lesson in responsible decision-making and that consequence always follows choice. In the plan he designed, the plan he created with love out of love because He is Love, he gave us choice because, in love, it was to be all the sweeter when the subjects he loved chose to love him back.