The REAL problem of suffering

Has nothing to do with why God allows it. A mythical being, if He’s to prevent suffering, would have to prevent living. Living involves suffering and try as we might,, we can’t avoid it. And that’s the real problem that we humans just can’t get our heads around.

I used to think all that was rubbish. Suffering obviously happens, to other animals, in other places. I’d never really experienced it, aside from the odd infected toenail and some snide remarks at school. I’m one of those people who approaches pain much as a goldfish is reputed to do – oh, pain! Wait a minute, what pain?

My son was consumed with the problem of suffering. Not so much with his own suffering – although, living in constant anticipation of illness and death, he undoubtedly did suffer – as with the idea that terrible suffering is all around us and we barely notice. We traipse through the natural world, gawping at koalas and wondering at the beauty that surrounds us, without realising that inevitably just around the corner is some poor old creature dying of starvation or mange or being eaten alive by termites, and she’s not alone. There is awful, unimaginable pain everywhere. Elephants with toothache. Mexican torture czars. Third world organ ‘donations’. Inevitably it begs the question, how do you live with that knowledge?

When Felix died, I learned suddenly about suffering. That it’s ruinous. That it’s inescapable. That time doesn’t make it better. That the more completely you love, the more completely you suffer. When it happens to you, it’s not an option to look away.

So what the fuck do you do about it? Drugs make it worse. Wealth can’t protect you. Sex, pleasure can only distract for a while. Religion may be a comfort but not even the pious are happy when their kids ascend to Heaven. Philosophies advise us – tough it out, pretend it isn’t real, pretend you don’t care. Art beautifies it. Novels can’t exist without it.

Felix used to say, what if you could take a pill and feel as if you’d achieved something tremendous, even if you hadn’t? Wouldn’t you take it, rather than go to all the bother of actually doing the thing? What if – he used to say – we abolished nature and put all the animals in delightful zoos, where nobody would ever get eaten alive by termites? Since our entire life is bent towards having more happiness and less pain, wouldn’t that make sense?

What if God finally listened to the unrighteous and abolished suffering?

But that’s not the deal. If you’re capable of feeling, then you’re capable of feeling shitty. Right? Or…maybe…wrong?

What’s your preferred solution to suffering? Does it need one?

21 Comments

    1. Yes, I was going to say that too. No wonder some of us look forward to death. Although the one thing that does seem to alleviate personal suffering, for me, is to feel I’m lifting some of the burden from others. Not necessarily human others.

      1. I don’t look forward to death, at least not yet. I’m still able to extract pleasure from my life despite chronic pain issues. Someday tho…

  1. Why is there an implicit, or in some sentences even an explicit, goal to ‘be happy’? Why is not the goal envisioned as something more like perceiving reality, gathring and digesting experience, transforming it into wisdom, and responding inwardly to the intuition to love? Without the imposed life mission to ‘be happy’, the concept of suffering takes on an entirely different complexion.

    It truly would be a zoo, the earth, if God de-architected ‘suffering’ from reality in one fell swoop, in the name of some vague human ideal of happiness.

    Suffering confers wisdom… almost exclusively so, I would say.

    1. Well yes, and I’ve always thought of life as a learning experience. One learns how incredibly foolish one is. But I’ve also often wondered, what’s the point of all this learning if it just ends in death? Oops, just lost another filing cabinet in the great database of life.

      1. Sorry — hadn’t seen this till now. The point, you ask… Well, it is a rather utilitarian framing of the question, is it not? I mean, do you consistently only take actions out of utility? I somehow doubt that, as I also doubt its daily practicality as a motivational decider. Especially regarding learning. Does not learning have an edification all its own; is it not largely self-justifying? When you travelled around recently, did the experience have no ‘value’ because you are mortal?

        The other enormous issue one could have with your question is the presumption that all of “learning’s” (you could substitute ‘experience’) accrued benefit and value ends upon death. Why would we assume that?

      2. I don’t know if learning justifies itself. I think you could make a good case for just cruising along… but it’s my nature to collect information, useful or not. I’d like to think the experiment doesn’t end at death. Guess I’ll find out.

  2. As others have already said, suffering is a part of living. So … I accept it, I experience it, I taste it, I write about it, I don’t turn away from it, but at some point, it becomes more manageable while continuing to lurk in the shadows only to pop up every now and then to remind me that this too is a part of life.

  3. As a parent, to lose a child, that’s probably the worst suffering I can imagine, and I feel for you deeply. Clearly there is immense suffering in the world, so much so you wonder how we manage to get anything done at all, but we do, slowly. From the personal point of view of suffering, I’ve often felt it presents us with a choice as to how we deal with it, and in a way reinforces the fact that while we do suffer, we still have free will – to be crushed by it, or to shoulder the burden and somehow get on in spite of it.

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