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What is suffering?

I am reading through a short book by Nicholas Wolterstorf called Lament for a Son. Nicholas Wolterstorf, a Christian philosopher, lost his 25 year old son and this book is a record of his transparent grieving. I am so appreciative of his honest wrestlings of life, death and suffering. It is a book that puts words to grief–and in it I find my heart that I am unable to express at this time.

Page 89-90 speaks of suffering—suffering, a word, a feeling, a lifestyle. Suffering, is something I am constantly pressing into and wrestling within these past years. I love his words on suffering below. His words spoke to my soul. Love and suffering-they are one.

What is suffering? When something prized or loved is ripped away or never granted – work, someone loved, recognition of one’s dignity, life without physical pain – that is suffering.

Or rather, that’s when suffering happens. What it is, I do not know. For many days I had been reflecting on it. Then suddenly, as I watched the flicker of orange-pink evening light on almost still water, the thought overwhelmed me: I know nothing of it. Of pain, yes: cut fingers, broken bones. Of sorrow and suffering, nothing at all. Suffering is a mystery as deep as any in our existence. It is not of course a mystery whose reality some doubt. Suffering keeps its face hid from each while making itself known to all.

We are one in suffering. Some are wealthy, some bright, some athletic, some admired. But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn’t be this agony.

This said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.

God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love.

So suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. Suffering is the meaning of our world. For love is the meaning. And love suffers. The tears of God are the meaning of history.

But the mystery remains. Why isn’t Love-without suffering the meaning of things? Why is suffering-Love the meaning? Why does God endure his suffering? Why does he not at once relieve his agony by relieving ours?”

I love how he puts it, “Every lament, after all, is a love-song. Will love-songs one day no longer be laments?”

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  1. Leanne Popkes Sype says:

    I just got done reading Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard that explores this very concept. It is an allegory of a girl named Much-Afraid who accepts an invitation from the Chief Shepherd to the High Places. He gives her two special (and what turn out to be necessary) companions, Sorrow and Suffering, who she comes to depend on in order to make the journey. Before she leaves, the Shepherd plants the seed of love into her heart, with the warning that with this Love comes much pain… and as she journeys, the seed blossoms into something quite magnificent. Anyway, your post here brought me right to that book… if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. If you already have, then I apologize for the repeat. 🙂

    Anyway, you hit it perfectly my dear: Suffering is for the loving. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn’t be this agony… In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.

  2. Carole L. Frybarger says:

    Oh Katie I had no idea you had not read that book hinds feet on high places, it is amazing, so please read it there is a sequel to it also called Mountain of Spices. As the other post said it was the first book I thought of instantly reading your post. Having lost so many of my siblings, two who were so close to my heart that I truly thought I would not be able to go on without, I understand your grief. Deal with it as your heart dictates, there are no time limits on grief, it is individual and truly only from and within your own heart. I will always be here if you need me honey. Love you

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