“Fundamentally, therefore, any man can even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him–mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.'”
The common charge against the goodness of God, is that of human suffering. Could only a world without pain provide evidence that God is good and loving? The underlying assumption is that all suffering and sorrow is evil.
A distinction must be made — evil inflicts suffering. Not all suffering is destructive–or evil.
“You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes us to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child…”
— CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain
It’s human nature to desire comfort and happiness. Most of us spend our days seeking the sort of happiness in this world as Lewis calls “comfortable guests” who live “happy in our own way.” And yet often we can have that along with many physical comforts, and still hold misery deep inside that can’t be explained or fixed by anything external.
Then, you have people that find profound joy and meaning in life in spite of tragedy. Take for example our dear friend, Bob. Before his untimely death a couple years ago, Bob was a shining example of turning tragedy into inner triumph.
By all counts, Bob was a good man. He was well respected, with deep family roots in our community. His great-grandfather migrated from Germany in 1865 with little more than a few primitive tools. He carved a farm out of the land, that Bob worked until the day he fell through a roof and became a paraplegic.
Suspecting what the answer might be, I asked him, “If you could trade the man you are today, for the restoration of your legs, and your former life–would you do it?”
Without hesitation the answer was a resounding “NO.”
He would tell you that his accident, while tragic, gave him a deeper relationship with his family and his Savior– which he cherished more than his ability to walk. His life in a wheelchair was richer because of the mental and spiritual strengthening that was borne through his suffering and personal tragedy.
In Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, the author explains the common denominator between Bob’s transformation and that of the inmates. In his time in the concentration camp, he witnessed heroic feats of preserving spiritual freedom and independence of mind, under the most horrific of circumstances.
Frankl says there is something we must do.
We must make a choice. Frankl contends that everyday, even every hour, we have choices to make even when everything earthly has been taken from us.
While life in a concentration camp is far from my comprehension, suffering and profound grief is not. The older I get, the more I understand Bob’s choices, and realize that suffering is not a strike against God.
God is good; sometimes we only find that goodness, our true humanity and life’s purpose, in the midst of indescribable suffering. That’s not to say He inflicts us. That is to say, we can overcome our suffering–by exercising our freedom of personal spiritual choices. No one, no circumstance can take that freedom away–not even the horror of Auschwitz.
Frankl puts it this way:
“A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to [the concentration camp prisoner]. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”
Most of us will not get through this life without suffering some kind of tragedy. When going through the fire, and we are brought to that place just beyond our endurance–it will change us.
The only real question is will it draw out and refine the moral character God buried deep within us all? Or will it warp us into something unrecognizable.
Have you, or anyone you know found deeper meaning in their suffering then they did in their happiness? Or, as Dostoevski put it, was worthy of their suffering?