Can I Eliminate Suffering From My Life?

Can I Eliminate Suffering From My Life? August 25, 2023

Image by photosforyou / Pixabay

Why do we suffer? When we ask this question, there are so many additional questions behind it. What do we mean by suffering? Is there good suffering, or maybe a good way to suffer? German philosopher Nietzsche notes:

“Man, the bravest animal and most prone to suffer, does not deny suffering as such: he wills it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering.”

I have a weird interest in the idea of suffering. I don’t think it’s unhealthy, but maybe more than most. Growing up as a Fundamentalist, we didn’t focus too much on the suffering of Jesus on the cross. We had empty crosses because Jesus was victorious. And I’ve written on there before – check it out here.

When we look at Nietzsche, we see 3 traits of suffering.

1. All Animals Suffer

While all animals suffer (and new research shows that plants are more self aware than we previously thought), Nietzsche thinks we suffer more. Or at least we’re more prone to suffering than most animals. This may be due to our ability to plan for the future, creating anxiety about the things that are yet to happen. It might be our love of violence and oppression as a species.

Christianity is not afraid of the idea that we all suffer. We often talk about the necessity of death for new life. The flowers fall in winter and are renewed in the spring. The death of the flower is suffering, yet there is a hope for new life in spring. The flower must pass through the suffering to receive the renewal.

2. We Seek Out Our Own Destruction

We all know someone who seemingly loves drama. Some people are never happy and always seem to be fighting with someone. While this may not seem like suffering, this puts a toll on that person that weighs them down. They might be suffering without anyone knowing.

We can of course talk about the obvious suffering we choose when we engage in war. We see the destruction we choose when we wage war. It’s not an easy decision, and it’s hard to know what is good about war. I talk about that a little in this article. While I don’t know what the “right Christian” position is on war, I know that we should constantly work towards peace.

3. Suffering Can Have A Purpose

This is an important piece for me. I used to be Reformed and saw the will of God as an unstoppable force. This unfolding story of God’s glory included the suffering of the world. Sometimes, God’s glory required the suffering of many.

I’ve left that concept of God and their will. I instead see purpose in an existential lens. I think Nietzsche would agree with me, but suffering does not have an inherent purpose. I no longer think that God gives us adversaries to build our character or spiritual life. Even though I would have agreed with that a few years ago, I now find that hard to swallow.

It is our job to find a purpose in our suffering. We can (and probably should) use our religious framework and language to make meaning, but to attribute the evils of the world to God’s will seems problematic at worst and cruel at least.

What Now?

Why do we suffer and can we eliminate it? There are things we can do to lessen the amount of suffering we experience. We can change the suffering we let in our lives, but we’ll never eliminate suffering. We are in a world that suffers, and to be is to experience all that is to experience.

We will always experience the suffering of being embodied, of growing older and failing bodies. We can use our religious traditions to grow in wisdom and make decisions that can limit the unnecessary suffering of ourselves and others. At the end of the day, we can create a narrative to use the suffering to strengthen ourselves and help those around us.

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