Views on Suffering

Which religion or worldview has the best grasp on suffering? The various religions of the world all have proposed solutions to this issue. Here are some of their conclusions.

Atheism
There is no reason or purpose for suffering. Likewise there is no end to suffering besides death.

From The Humanist Manifesto III
“Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.”

Atheists tend to seek the greater good over individual good. They propose to reduce suffering in this life, because it is the only one.

Buddhism
From The Foundation of the Kingdom of Righteousness (Buddha’s first sermon)
“This, monks, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering; decay is suffering; death is suffering; presence of objects we hate is suffering; separation from objects we love is suffering; not to obtain what we desire is suffering. In brief … they are painful.

“This, monks, is the noble truth concerning the origin of suffering; verily it originates in that craving which causes the renewal of becomings, is accompanied by sensual delight, and weeks satisfaction now here, now there; that is to say, craving for pleasures, craving for becoming, craving for not becoming.”

Because of reincarnation, suffering does not even end at death.

The end of suffering comes from ending craving. This comes from obtaining knowledge of the religion, generosity, right speech, abstinence, self-sufficiency, effort, and mindfulness.

Life and death are suffering. Desire leads to suffering. Eliminating desire eliminates suffering.

Hinduism
(Similar to Buddhism)
Suffering in this life is a consequence of your disobedience in a previous life. The more you accept and are obedient in your current position in the world, the better off you will be in the next life. Ultimately, you hope to escape the wheel of rebirth and be united with the brahman (like “The Force”).

Sometimes we get caught up in the actions of the gods, and if that leads to suffering, it is a mysterious thing.

From The Bhagavad Gita
“If you think of him as being constantly born and constantly dying…you should not grieve. For certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead; therefore over the inevitable you should not grieve.”

Suffering is an inevitable, uncontrollable part of life. Only by escaping reincarnation can you escape suffering.

Islam
From The Quran
“Do you think that you will enter Heaven, while you have not yet suffered similar afflictions which befell those who have passed away before you? Distress and affliction befell them, and they were made to suffer violent shaking, so that the Messenger and those who believed along with him cried out: “When will come the help of God?” Then they were told, ‘Behold! Surely the help of God is always nearby.'” (Chapter 2, Al-Baqara, verse 215)

With some similarity to Christianity, suffering is seen as a punishment for sin or as a test to remind us to be obedient to God.

Animism
From Canada and the World
“Many animist religions teach that humankind is doomed to pain and suffering. However, this can be stopped by following the correct rituals. These may involve the sacrificing of animals so that people can control their world.”

Judaism
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:11, 13, 14, 16, 17 ESV)

Jews tend not to emphasize the afterlife, so like the atheist, they seek solutions to suffering primarily here-and-now. Social justice plays a prime role in their response.

Christianity
In Christianity, we see that suffering is all-of-the-above. Suffering is the result of either sin, generally, or sin, specifically. People sometimes suffer specific consequences for specific sins. People suffer from “random cataclysm” because of the fallenness we have instituted in the world. Suffering in this life is not the final word.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:14-21 ESV)

It is through the suffering of Christ that we are saved. Likewise, his resurrection is a promise of our own. In suffering we are identified in Christ. In suffering we are unified with Christ. Christ’s promise of love and unity with Him is the final word.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:26, 28, 29, 32, 35-39 ESV)

Hopefully this helps as you consider the ideas the world has to offer and what we can experience in Christ.

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About Michael Yates

I have taught Bible at the Secondary level for 8 years. I have a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Evangel University. I have also been educated as a husband and father by my wife and 3 lovely children. I enjoy reading about political theory and theology. Mostly I have learned that a theologian is one who prays; therefore, I pray for my family, friends, and for you. View all posts by Michael Yates

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