By Fr George Adimike
Suffering, thought to be senseless, calls to question one’s faith in God. It is a conundrum setting out to fathom the meaning, value and origin of suffering. Apparently, suffering contradicts the identity of the Christian God. In reality, the ramifications of the Christian faith invite us to interrogate the mystery of suffering and hope anew.
Though both concepts appear to have a dialectical relationship, they are dialogical within the Christian context. While suffering is a way to hope, the same hope, on the other hand, is the motor that drives suffering to its raison d’être. In Christian anthropology, suffering features as part of the process of the reconstitution and reintegration of reality.
Even though suffering acquired its negative import from the original fall of Adam and Eve, the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery of Christ inaugurated a reconciliation, recovery, and restoration of reality in him. Christ restored reality and enriched it with more profound significance in his redemption. Suffering can only be adequately understood in the Christ event, in which gruesome Friday became the Good Friday because of Easter.
Without its cruxi-formative context, suffering will be inexplicable, vacuous, and purposeless. Thus, in relation to the Christ event, suffering spells life as a project in progress – perfection in progress and a mystery of God’s ongoing construction of the world. In this continuous construction process, the Father, who goes on working, engages not only with His Christ but also with humans.
This human engagement in God’s temporal workshop or divine construction site, that is, the world, in order to advance creation to its perfection, involves active participation on our part. Such active engagement entails carrying from below the world’s burden (suffering) to bring forward progress (offering).
In other words, offering presupposes suffering and that dynamism is textured by hope and leads to progress when it reaches the full cycle. This demand on us to offer for the construction of the world spells suffering, which can be psychological, physical, moral, emotional, spiritual or somatic.
Therefore, the value of suffering is measured by its contribution to our salvation. Hence, Christ’s invitation to his disciples to carry their cross daily after his example translates its salvific quality and offers a glimpse into its instrumental value.
True discipleship of Christ demands a conscious acceptance of challenges and difficulties as our participation in the ongoing redemption, salvation and perfection of creation. But brokenness arises from human actions and inactions. So, suffering or cross-carrying entails that through these challenges and unpleasant and painful realities, a patient (pain-bearer) becomes a hope-bringer. Thus, a sufferer becomes an offerer. Suffering undertaken in this way makes the person sweet instead of bitter, exuding hope and sweetness.
Suffering is the dynamic pattern of creation in which offering requires the involvement of the offerer; hence, the offerer is a sufferer, a perfect model of which is Christ, the Christoffer. Through suffering, humans offer their contributions to bring the world to perfection, meaning and to Christ, who offers it back to God in a complete and fulfilled form.
Suffering (from Latin sufferre meaning to bear from below/under) is the process of bearing the burden of the brokenness and incompleteness of reality. This brokenness includes but is not limited to human actions that derail the meaning of reality.
The world experiences healing through the involvement of Christ’s friends and disciples, and often follows toilsome paths as it gradually inches to wholeness, completeness, and integration, not without imposing discomfort on us. For instance, a woman has to pass through the pain of gestation and delivery to bring her baby into the world.
A disciple of Christ lives in the hope that reality does not end in futility, fatality or nothingness. Instead, it is on a path of melioration through suffering, which could be exemplary, participatory, revelatory, compensatory or salvific.
The suffering-less world is a utopia that cannot offer anything since one has to suffer to offer. The world cannot exist as apatheia; it is a dynamic and power-driven reality. As such, suffering has to be redeemed to convey its proper meaning. It is a reality built into the process of growth, manufacturing, cultivation and perfection. It is in the rubric of all becoming – the unfolding of the existence of all essences.
There is no newness, no creation, no fruitfulness without death and cultivation. Crushing precedes a new reality, a new product. There is no suffering in God and angels because there is no becoming. While God is the eternal ground of being of all becoming, He dwells beyond all nirvana, pathos, and apatheia. He is not subject to becoming, being the perfect ‘Ipsum esse subsistens’ self-subsisting being.
At the same time, angels do not suffer because they are pure spirits in perfect union with God. Their happiness is in a constant and perfect state, devoid of becoming. On the other hand, the demons are antithetical to the angels. They are the opposite of the angels and are in permanent isolation from God, which we call suffering for the poverty of expression. Outside of God, there is pain without becoming – never-ending suffering. It’s constant.
Hence, suffering presupposes hope when it moves uninterruptedly to its terminal point. Hope accompanies suffering and fuels its drive to its destination. So, any proper treatment of suffering for a Christian includes hope, for Christianity is the perfect and the most rational and coherent religion.
It advances towards the recapitulation of all things in Christ. In that sense, hope contextualises suffering and redeems it from fatalistic surrender or self-abandonment. The exclusion of hope in suffering spells a-theistic fatalism, which does not see beyond the world of matter and what it provides. A Christian sufferer lives with hope, the Easter hope.
The victory of life over death, celebrated in the Paschal Mystery, offers a sufficient warrant to appreciate the true meaning of suffering in Christ’s offering. Suffering drives offering and brings hope. In Christ, the sufferer is the offerer and in Christoffering is our hope and salvation.
Fr George Adimike is a Priest of Onitsha Archdiocese