A friend recently shared an article that asked why Christians feel the need to make everything better and, consequently, often deny the suffering of others or feel the need to explain their suffering away. If you doubt the truth of that claim all you need to do is log into Facebook and read the comments of well meaning but misguided Christians. “God will take your pain away” sounds great, but isn’t the experience of most people with chronic pain, to cite but one example. When God doesn’t deliver on promises made on God’s behalf, the focus quickly shifts to the victim – “God would have healed you if you weren’t such a miserable sinner, or if you had more faith,” or any of a number of equally absurd explanations that allow us to dismiss our suffering friend and not concern ourselves with them any more.
Such attitudes and practices are perversions of Jesus’s teachings. They reflect our own fears, our own often subconscious realization that we, too, will get sick, experience pain and loss, and die. The Buddha spoke to these issues quite directly. Life, he said, is unsatisfactory. We suffer and we do things that make our suffering worse. The good news, he said, is that there is a way out of suffering. It’s important to distinguish between pain and suffering. Pain is part of life. Suffering is the story we tell ourselves about that pain. The way out of suffering is through facing it, not looking to be delivered from it!
Jesus told his disciples that the world would hate them because it hated him. He did NOT say that God would swoop down from on high to extract them from the world, from their suffering. Instead he told them not to worry because he had overcome the world, he had overcome suffering. He implied that we can do the same, and help others do the same, by learning to sit with them in their pain rather than telling them it doesn’t, or shouldn’t exist!