Suffering is not as big a deal to God as it is to us because it is a much bigger deal to God than it is to us.
For us, suffering is a big, big deal.
For one thing, it comes to us a pointless and unplanned invasion, an obstacle to our questing. This is the very essence of a certain form of suffering that we have named frustration.
Our goals, conscious and hidden, are what give meaning to our lives. When they are frustrated, we suffer. Anger, it seems to me, is frustration resisted. So the initial suffering leads to frustration which leads to anger.
If we are inclined to turn our suffering inward instead of on others, we tend to become depressed. Through it all, every event of suffering and frustration prods a latent anxiety and sometimes makes it very active indeed.
What may not be so obvious is that all suffering is, arises from, or expresses death. Death has spread to all people, and it has also spread within all people.
My back and knee hurt all the time, not because life flows through them but because death has its grip on them. When my spirit resists the frustration and pain, instead of accepting it, this mild and early form of death brings anger and even depression.
Our goals, which have to do with comfort, looking good, impressing others, are all frustrated by suffering. Pain is simply something we have to get through so we can get back to our own goals.
Now, there is an exception, well summarized in the sports motto, “No pain; no gain.” When suffering moves us toward our goals, such as when we lift weights or run and “feel the burn,” then we accept it.
This changes things. For one thing, it makes a certain form of suffering legitimate and even, at a certain level, welcome. For another, it shows how utterly pointless suffering is when you don’t choose it and it doesn’t move you toward a goal of your choosing.
In short, suffering and pain are doubly pointless because, 1. they interfere with our quests, and 2. they come from nowhere with no explanation and no apology.
Add to that that our lives are single sweeps of a weaver’s shuttle, unendurably brief candles. To think that the whole of your candle’s existence is nothing but an agonizing burn is a bit much.
This existential abyss is too much for our spirits to bear. Children dying of cancer, brides killed by drunk drivers on their way to their wedding, shadow limbs reminding you of what you can never do, even though the desire to do it is natural – how can you not be angry.
To us, pain and death are a very, very big deal.
For God, it’s not as big a deal because it is an even bigger deal. For our Lord, little things like back aches and broken limbs and cancer are understood to be painful. But He sees past them. He sees souls embracing their own destruction, emptying themselves of their own being in a desperate flight from reality.
He stands beside the soul, putting His arm around his shoulder, and says, “Look.” And He points into the abyss. But the soul doesn’t trust Him, so it pulls back. It is too terrifying and senseless. So it draws back.
So God leaps in. He joins us in it all. He laughs at shame (what we fear most) and He embraces physical pain (what we fear second most). He tells us that if we will leap in with Him He will give us eternal glory (what we most desire) and become His temple, bride, children, and heirs.
In this light, the sufferings that we endure are less of a big deal to Him than they are to us, not because they hurt Him less (His capacity for suffering is infinite, ours is not) and not because He doesn’t care about them, but because He sees them as a price worth paying.
He has a goal. He allows no pointless sufferings, though we nihilists are determined to render them pointless.
Father Vladimir went to visit Fr. Sophrony at his monastery. Recognizing Fr. Sophrony’s spiritual insight, Fr. Vladimir asked him, Fr. Sophrony, give me a word for the salvation of my soul!” [this is how monks talk to each other, apparently].
The elder replied, “Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it any more, draw back a little and have a cup of tea.”
Our problem with understanding sufferings is not first philosophical or rational. That is, it is not that we cannot explain them. It is, first and foremost, that we don’t want what they are for.
How great is our love for the beauty of holiness? How ravished are our souls by the love of God. Are we willing to stand at the brink of the abyss of despair? You must know that that is where Christ is. You can blame Him, you can run from Him, or you can bind yourself to Him.
Suffering people and we ourselves need us to bind ourselves to Him. It’s not an argument; it’s life.