What is suffering?
Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.
Why does suffering exist?
This world we live in is a world of ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’: A world of duality. Human beings often feel suffering because of the knowledge and perception and understanding of the opposites. Our senses of vision, hearing, smell, touch, taste and our ability to experience emotion and use intellect, gives us the ability to experience and reflect on the opposites in order to be able to relate to, reflect on and understand the point of our existence. Suffering can enable us however to use our minds, hearts and souls to seek Wisdom, Truth, Knowledge and Love to better understand the purpose of our existence through being human- to the point where we ‘let go’ of assuming that we know best, and ‘surrender’ completely to the Universal Divine Will- By doing this, we can be released from our ‘suffering’ when we choose willingly to let go of our desire for knowledge of good and evil: for without knowledge of good and evil- what would be ‘suffering?’ By letting go, it doesn’t mean we don’t experience pain anymore, it just means we don’t ‘suffer’- instead we become ‘part of a Divine Purpose.’
Some see hardship and struggle and suffering a result of our own imperfections. Much of the world's suffering is a result of the actions of mankind- greed, oppression, control, power, selfishness etc..
Some may interpret their suffering as a 'punishment' for our sins. Others may interpret it as a 'test of faith.' Those who believe and have a connection to their Creator will often find it helpful to reflect on their hardships and struggles and suffering to try to find meaning and understanding and strength from it. But we know from scripture that we are advised to maintain faith through hardship and struggles, and that one should keep faith in God no matter what happens, and that any punishment inflicted upon us comes out of love, like a parent might want to discipline their child, to teach us something, and to help us to be more mindful of our speech and behaviour. He shows us His Signs in different ways, and we see His attributes and learn about Him through different experiences. He tells us to be more grateful;- not because He needs gratitude- but because through gratitude we can find more inner peace and suffer less. Scripture teaches us that everything is a test and a challenge according to our abilities and blessings that He has given us and encourages us to help relieve the suffering of others.
Scripture teaches us of the stories of the prophets and messengers of God, who faced trials and persecutions and struggles along their paths. Naming just a few: Noah, Job, Moses, David, Jesus and Mohammed. It can help to give us strength and wisdom and inspiration, and help us better endure and deal with our own struggles. The prophets and messengers were human, not angels- so are great examples for many of those who follow them in helping us to find our way through facing hardship. Reading about them, their lives, about the challenges they faced and how they dealt with them can be hugely inspirational as they are like 'role models' for the future generations.
Let us ask ourselves:
What would be ‘suffering’ without understanding of good and evil?
How would we know to be ‘grateful’ without the existence of the opposites and without anything to compare our blessings to?
What is ‘humility’ without ‘the existence of ‘pride?’
What is ‘up’ without a ‘down?’
What is ‘happiness’ without ‘sorrow?’
What is ‘life’ without ‘death?’
What is ‘truth’ without ‘falsehood?’
How do we appreciate ‘honesty’ and ‘truthfulness’ in a world without ‘deceit’?
How do we know what ‘mercy’ is without understanding ‘punishment’?
What is ‘forgiveness’ without ‘resentment’ and ‘anger’?
How would we know how to be ‘kind’ and appreciate kindness if we didn’t know or understand ‘selfishness’ and ‘greed’?
How would we know how to ‘love’ and appreciate being loved without knowing what it is like to ‘hate’ and be hated?
How would we understand the blessing of light without darkness?
What is ‘gratitude’ if there is nothing to compare to?
How can suffering help us?
Through experiencing Life and the opposites of human existence and emotion, we have been given an opportunity to really wonder and ponder and understand and connect to the Beautiful Attributes and Names of God- Our Creator. The more we can appreciate the importance and kingship qualities of being ‘Loving’ ‘Merciful’ ‘Kind’ ‘Compassionate’ ‘Knowing’ ‘Wise’ ‘True’ ‘Humble’ ‘Aware’ ‘Just’ ‘Loyal’ etc- the more we can connect to our Creator- to Whom the Most Beautiful attributes belong- and appreciate Life that He has given us and our souls, and our reason and purpose for existence. The more we connect to our true purpose, the less we ‘suffer.’
How can our suffering help others?
Others can learn through our suffering and through our mistakes- if we ourselves can learn from it, through reflection and using our negative experiences to turn them into something positive by helping others. For example, if one of us had a traumatic car accident led to a disability which has affected our ability to engage in our hobbies such as skiing or winsurfing or walking- that person may have felt as though they were 'suffering' as a result of this accident and may feel as though they have completely lost control of their ability to function how they otherwise were before. The affect of the accident on their physical and mental well-being may have led to destruction in relationships and emotional and spiritual well-being.- Perhaps the person lost faith, and felt 'angry' with a HIgher existence that they may or may not have believed in. However one thing that they may have learnt through this experience is that 'anyday- anythingcould happen'- often life throws things at us when we least expect it to' and perhaps it made the person realise how lucky they were before the accident to have legs and arms and the ability to move around the land freely- and that perhaps they took it for granted until it was taken away from them unexpectedly. This person may then feel an urge to share their experience with others- others who have faced similar experiences, or who may in the future- in order to empathize with them, help them to realise that they are not the only ones who face 'loss' of some sort, and to help remind others to be more grateful for our blessings because things could alweays be worse. This 'sharing' with others of the wisdom that we have gained through our personal struggles and hardship can be life-changing for others. Often this also gives the person who faced the suffering and hardship a sens of 'purpose' and gives their suffering a 'meaning' and 'reason' and may help them to feel more connected with their Creator once again instead of feeling 'angry' or resentmful. This act of sharing can help us to take more responsibility in our lives, instead of 'playing the victim' and therefore make a difference to the world we live in- however great or small- according to the best of our abilities. Through our suffering we can therefore learn to accept and 'let go' of the need to control what happens to us and others- because we know that as long as we try our best- that's all that really matters.
Our hardship can sometimes be as a result of self-sacrifice. For example the struggles and hardship that parents may face in order to see that their children have a good upbringing- to know that they have done all they can to keep them safe and well and teach them what they need to know in life. Parents often have to sacrifice a lot from themselves, and do so out of love and compassion for their children. When we give from what we would love for ourselves- to help others, we put their needs before our own and can lead to struggle and hardship for the better good of mankind. However it is important to ask the question- is this suffering? or is it merely hardship and struggle for the cause of God, for the cause of humanity and the better good of others? Often those who are driven to self-inflicted hardship for a cause they believe in and to help others, find strength in faith that what they are doing is according to their soul purpose, and however altruistic it may seem, they get a sense of peace and strength and sensation of being 'alive' through helping others because their deeds 'lift up' their intentions and prayers and desire to see that others are also in a better place because of their efforts. It is often driven by love, and compassion and mercy for humanity- and takes strength of Faith in a Higher existence in order to persevere in such a great cause. Sometimes we don't understand where this strength comes from- but many would say it is from 'God.'
How can we 'Suffer' less?
If suffering is merely an understanding and interpretation of our perception of what is happening in the world around us which we are part of, we can reduce or eliminate it through changing our perception. Without the eyes with which to see, the ears to which to hear, receptors by which we feel physical pain, and hearts with which to understand- we would simply be more 'ignorant' of the fact that suffering exists and without death itself how can this be physically eliminated in the world of duality within which we live? Therefore it is label itself that we can adapt on- and our spiritual self and awareness of the world around us and the way in which we look at and interpret the physical perceptions of what occurs. It is not possible in this world to get rid of all struggle and hardship. But if we define it as suffering, then it becomes impossible for us not to perceive ourselves to be suffering. If we label 'having to get up from the sofa to have to go shopping for food' as 'suffering' instead of 'a challenge' then it becomes a more negative way of looking at our lives and becomes more likely that we will not take responsibility but play 'the victim' in our lives, and therefore live in more anxiety about our past experiences and in worrying about what the future will bring. This can be applied to all challenges we face in life. For example if we change the way we percieve the loss of a loved one from our lives and instead of stating that we are 'suffering' but instead see it as a 'test' or a 'challenge' or an 'opportunity' to learn from it in order to help both ourselves and others in the present and future, we become more positive in the way we look at things. This way we are more able to get through the challenges of each day and complete the tasks that we face with more strength and reflection. By Spending less time worrying about our past which we cannot change, or the future which we do not know, we can invest more times into the here and now, be more mindful of the present and each moment and gain more wisdom and insight through reflection.
By working on our levels of gratitude, we tend to find that the more grateful we are, the less we perceive ourselves to be 'suffering.' In order to be grateful, this life of duality and opposites helps to remind us that things can always be better. It is more helpful to our existence and our success in life to see it this way- By seeing life as a test and suffering of others as a test for us, and our suffering as a test for others- it can help us to 'let go' of the need to try to control what happens around us, needing to know reasons for why things happen that are beyond our knowledge and understanding, and release us from our anxieties, our feelings of hurt and resentment and anger.
By helping others through their suffering, we help ourselves. Through acts of loving kindness, listening to others, empathising, charity, we in fact help to purify our souls from the burden of suffering and can be a healing against depression and anxiety and emotional turmoil and loss. Through experiencing the hardships and struggles that we all face as humans, we learn to empathise with others and this gives us the ability to help them in a more powerful way when it is they who need our help.
( The above writing is based upon the reflections of Dr Lale Tuncer)
What does Scripture say about Suffering?
'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.' Mathew 5:4
'My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.' Psalm 119:50
'Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.' John 16:20
'I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.' John 16:33
'I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.' Psalm 27:13-14
'The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.' Job 5:11
'May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.' Psalm 119:76
'The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.' Isaiah 61: 1-2
'As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.' Isaiah 66:13
'I will never leave you or forsake you.' Hebrews 13:5
'O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan. And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.' Psalm 42:6-8
'I will say to God my rock, "Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.' Psalm 42:9-11
'Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! For You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places. then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God.' Psalm 43:1-5
'God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity...' Quran 2:286
'Did we not expand for you your breast? And we removed from you your burden, which had weighed upon your back. And raised high for you your repute. For indeed, with hardship comes ease. Indeed, with hardship comes ease.' Quran 94:1-6
'Verily, We created man from a drop of mingled sperm so that We may test him; and therefore We made him hearing and seeing. We have indeed showed him the way, now he be grateful or ungrateful.' Quran 76:3
'Verily, We shall put you to test with some fear, and hunger, and with some loss of wealth, lives, and offspring. And convey good tidings to those who are patient, who say, when inflicted by hardship, "Verily we are of God and verily to Him shall we return;" upon them is the blessings of God and His mercy.' Quran 2:155
'Or did you think that you would enter Paradise without having come to you the same as what came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by misery and hardship and were so shaken up that the messenger and those who believed with him said, "When is God's victory?" Indeed, God's victory is imminent.' Quran 2:214
'Did the people think that they would be left to say, "We believe", without them being tested?' Quran 29:2
'We have tested those before them, and indeed, God knows the truthful ones and He knows the liars.' Quran 29:3
.'..But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.' Quran 2:216
'Who is the One who responds to the distressed when he calls upon Him, removes the adversity and makes you successors on earth? Is there a god with God? Rarely do you remember.' Quran 27:62
'God does not burden a soul beyond capacity. Each will enjoy what (good) he earns, as indeed each will suffer from (the wrong) he does. Punish us not, O Lord, if we fail to remember or lapse into error. Burden us not, O Lord, with a burden as You did those before us. Impose not upon us a burden, O Lord, we cannot carry. Overlook our trespasses and forgive us, and have mercy upon us; You are our Lord and Master, help us against the clan of unbelievers.' Quran 2:286
'In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful. Did We not soothe your heart? And lift from you your burden. Which weighed down your back?And raised for you your reputation? With hardship comes ease. With hardship comes ease. When your work is done, turn to devotion. And to your Lord turn for everything.' Quran 94:1-8
'Whatever disaster strikes you is but a consequence of what your own hands have earned, but He pardons much.' Quran 42:30
'Take a 'sadaqa' (charity) from their money to cleanse and purify them with it and support them. Your support provides them with tranquillity. God is Hearer, Knowledgeable.' Quran 9:103
'If you were to count God's blessings, you could not encompass them all. The human being is indeed transgressing, unappreciative.' Quran 14:34
'If We grant the human being a blessing he turns away and distances himself, yet when adversity touches him he implores profusely.' Quran 41:51
'The worldly life is no more than the enjoyment of delusion.' Quran 3:185
'O people, you are the ones who are in dire need of God, whereas God is the Rich and Praiseworthy One.' Quran 35:15
'And do not walk arrogantly in the earth, for you cannot bore through the earth, nor can you be as tall as the mountains.' Quran 17:37
'If any harm touches the human being, he implores Us on his side, sitting down or standing up. Then, when We relieve the harm from him, he carries on as if he had never implored Us about a hardship which had touched him! What the excessive ones used to do was thus adorned for them.' Quran 10:12
'We decreed this to be a deterrent punishment for their time and for what is to follow, and an advice for the reverent.' Quran 2:66
'We shall let them taste the lesser punishment before the greater punishment so that hopefully they will revert.' Quran 32:21
'..so those who are harmed for striving in My cause, and have fought and got killed, I will surely wipe out their bad deeds and admit them into Gardens beneath which rivers flow; a reward from God. God has the best reward.' 3:195
'And these towns—We destroyed them when they committed injustices, and We set for their destruction an appointed time. Recall when Moses said to his servant, “I will not give up until I reach the junction of the two rivers, even if it takes me years.”Then, when they reached the junction between them, they forgot about their fish. It found its way into the river, slipping away. When they went further, he said to his servant, “Bring us our lunch; we were exposed in our travel to much fatigue.” He said, “Do you remember when we rested by the rock? I forgot about the fish. It was only the devil who made me forget it. And so it found its way to the river, amazingly.” He said, “This is what we were seeking.” And so they turned back retracing their steps. Then they came upon a servant of Ours, whom We had blessed with mercy from Us, and had taught him knowledge from Our Own. Moses said to him, “May I follow you, so that you may teach me some of the guidance you were taught?”
He said, “You will not be able to endure with me. And how will you endure what you have no knowledge of?” He said, “You will find me, God willing, patient; and I will not disobey you in any order of yours.” He said, “If you follow me, do not ask me about anything, until I myself make mention of it to you.” So they set out. Until, when they had boarded the boat, he holed it. He said, “Did you hole it, to drown its passengers? You have done something awful.” He said, “Did I not tell you that you will not be able to endure with me?” He said, “Do not rebuke me for forgetting, and do not make my course difficult for me.” Then they set out. Until, when they encountered a boy, he killed him. He said, “Did you kill a pure soul, who killed no one? You have done something terrible.” He said, “Did I not tell you that you will not be able to endure with me?” He said, “If I ask you about anything after this, then do not keep company with me. You have received excuses from me.” So they set out. Until, when they reached the people of a town, they asked them for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. There they found a wall about to collapse, and he repaired it. He said, “If you wanted, you could have obtained a payment for it.” He said, “This is the parting between you and me. I will tell you the interpretation of what you were unable to endure. As for the boat, it belonged to paupers working at sea. I wanted to damage it because there was a king coming after them seizing every boat by force.
As for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared he would overwhelm them with oppression and disbelief. So we wanted their Lord to replace him with someone better in purity, and closer to mercy. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphaned boys in the city. Beneath it was a treasure that belonged to them. Their father was a righteous man. Your Lord wanted them to reach their maturity, and then extract their treasure—as a mercy from your Lord. I did not do it of my own accord. This is the interpretation of what you were unable to endure.” Quran 18:59-63
'Many godly people fought to help the Prophets in the cause of God. They did not lose courage, show weakness, or give in when facing hardships in their fight for the cause of God. God loves those who have patience.' Quran 3:146