Why do we suffer? It is not a new question, and it is not one we like to deal with. It has been since the Book of Job, one of the wisdom books in the Hebrew testament, and we continue to ask today. In this day and age, though, such a question is more often than not met with ridicule and sarcasm. After all, we live in a scientific age, a technological age, right? We are supposed to be able to solve the problem of suffering through the wisdoms of science and medicine and technology. Most of us see suffering as unfair, unjust. How could there be any “meaning” in suffering?

No one gets to go through this life without suffering of some kind or another. Suffering is our common inheritance: physical pain in our very first moments to emotional pains that come in such variety that it would take a book to list them all. And all of us suffer fears of every kind. Our ultimate fear, the greatest suffering of all, is our fear of death. None of us get out of here alive. Knowing these things, how do we come to grips with our own pain and suffering?

A woman crouches alone in despair

Suffering can be overwhelming to us, it can make us feel isolated, depressed. This sense of darkness can threaten to dehumanize us. Suffering is real, but what makes it even more real is that we can choose how we are going to deal with this suffering. Do we despair? Do we blame others for it, maybe even especially, God? Or do we face it, look at it, accept it and ultimately find the meaning in it? For Christians, faith, that unique and powerful grace from God, is our greatest tool for both confronting suffering and finding meaning in it. Scripture tells us that faith is a crucial basic attitude through which to face suffering. Jesus always tells people after he has healed them, “Your faith has made you well” (Mk. 5:34,36).

Faith can give meaning even to the greatest of our sufferings, death. What is this faith? It is the love of God and the hope in his goodness. This is what defeats the darkness of sin and suffering and death.

We have a perfect model in Jesus. Isaiah calls him the man of suffering. So how did the Son of God confront his own pain? What can we learn from his suffering? In short, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the only thing that brings any sense of meaning to this life’s suffering. Jesus, the Son of God, chose willingly to enter into our flesh, into our realm of suffering, even unto death, a death on a cross, suspended between the silence of the Father and the rejection of humanity, for the sake of his love for each and every one of us.

Meaningless suffering is the source of despair. And certainly, with the lack of faith that is so prevalent today, there seems to be an overabundance of meaningless suffering all around us. Indeed, this lack of faith and ignorance of God and his law, is the source of much of that suffering. How do we deal with the senselessness of murder rates in our inner cities, the raging opioid epidemic, abortion or child abuse? How is the homelessness we see in our cities meaningful? These are powerful questions, but questions like this, indeed all questions, exist because of hope, not because of despair. We asks questions because we seek answers and because we have some hope in finding the answers.