It seems to me that there is a degree of suffering in taking a long hike. It hurts to carry a heavy pack on your shoulders; steep hills that tax your lungs and make your heart beat faster can be distressing; feet will start to hurt just from walking on them all day; sweat gets in your eyes making them sting; etc. Yet, for me at least, going on a long hike is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding thing I do. At the end I am exhausted and it will leave me feeling sleepy but in a fulfilled, relaxed, happy way. It is strange but all that suffering has led to happiness.
Of course, I have also learned that with careful planning and thoughtful walking it is possible to greatly reduce the suffering. Getting the right equipment reduces the pain; walking in such a way as to reduce the steep climbs or difficult terrain; being properly trained in navigation and using the best navigation aids reduces getting lost or taking unnecessary deviations; even wearing a hat to reduce the amount of sweat that makes it to my eyes. Reducing the suffering as much as possible during a walk is an essential task and yet you can’t have a good walk without the suffering. The best walks – certainly the most remembered and talked about – are usually the ones that cause the most suffering. It is a strange thing.
Is this also telling me something about life?
Is suffering actually an important part of enjoying a good and fulfilling life? Maybe we can’t really enjoy the good bits without having some of the bad bits. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all – or perhaps we can’t truly understand how wonderful love is without having the times of loss? I remember as a youngster having to save my pennies so I could buy something I really wanted and then asking for money for Christmas so I could make it – what I remember most about that experience is the satisfaction of getting there and buying what I wanted. It was never the best or even something that was essential but having to suffer the wait was an important part of the pleasure. Perhaps then struggle in life is important. Is this why Jesus said it was so difficult for a rich person to get in to heaven? I note that most of us are now richer than those rich people Jesus was talking about. Riches remove the struggle and this actually ends up reducing the pleasure and fulfilments of a good life.
What a strange paradox. Of course, a wise person will do all they can to remove the suffering – both for themselves and for others. The more suffering and pain we can remove the better, especially when pain and suffering can be so acute. Yet, maybe some pain and suffering (or perhaps struggle would be a better word here) is an important part of life.
Some people sometimes challenge those of us with faith to explain why there is suffering if God is good. I won’t deny the power of the challenge because sometimes the suffering is so acute that it seems like God doesn’t care (‘seems like’ only though). Perhaps, though, it would have been impossible for God to create a world – a place where life is worth living and is fulfilling and enjoyable – without there being suffering. Perhaps suffering is necessary if we are to have free will and the ability to love. I also note that God did make it that one of the most fulfilling things anyone can do is to relieve the suffering of someone else. A responsibility that God has put on all our shoulders. Yet isn’t it a loving act to realise the importance of suffering and then to create a world where we all must to our best to reduce it? It seems so to me.
Then after putting us in this world where we have to endure suffering God enters it personally and fully. As Jesus God then experiences the suffering right alongside us. He even takes on our suffering by going to the cross – in many peoples minds the worst kind of execution ever produced by mankind. Is there anything more God could do other than suffering alongside us, when it turns out that suffering is an important part of life?