What is the purpose of suffering?
Length: 1,700 words
Reading Time: 8.5 minutes
In the last couple posts, it’s been said in many words that Suffering is an intrinsic part of glorifying God. So let’s get down to this.
For thousands of years, there’s been a lot of talk and debate on the whys and wherefores of Suffering. This is most notable in Christian traditions, but it extends to the secular philosophers as well.
The most common Gnostic argument is that as long as God allows Suffering, then either He is not loving, or He is not omnipotent. But this is a very solipsistic syllogism that fails to account for the reason why God allows it, and the overall purpose of Suffering. So it comes off as whiny and complainy, especially to God.
Here, I want to make a clean break away from all the philosophizing of the past about Suffering and lay things out clearly in actionable, transferrable knowledge.
Sources of Suffering
Basically, there are five reasons or sources of suffering, summarized as thus.
- Suffering as a consequence* of one’s own foolishness, sin, or poor decisions.
- Suffering as a consequence* of other’s foolishness, sin, or poor decisions.
- Suffering from persecution for being holy and righteous in a sinful world. For example, when one is salt and light, it has the unintended effect of putting others to shame, making them envious, making them feel guilty, pressuring them to do better and to be better, and so on. People detest this, and begin to harass and persecute the righteous in response.
- Suffering from intense unresolved desires or unmet needs.
- Suffering as a result of a spiritual awakening in which one gains an increased knowledge of God, human nature, and/or one’s self. For example, Faith, Hope, Joy, Love, and Temptation can all be both a cause and a consequence of suffering.
* The word “consequence” is left open ended, and may include guilt, loneliness, regret, rejection, shame, and many other forms of suffering.
As you can see, 1, 2, and 3 are a consequence of living in a world broken by sin. Number 4 is a common malady of the human state. Number 5 is a symptom of being spiritually alive.
We can be thankful that God, in His infinite mercy, has limited our human suffering to these five basic sources. (…in this life. In the next life, there are other types of sufferings awaiting those who reject the grace of God, and I would not reject the idea that there may be sufferings of an entirely different sort in heaven.)
I’ll refer to these five contexts in the following sections.
Purposes of Suffering
The purpose of pain is to inform us that something is wrong with the body. Similarly, one purpose of suffering is to inform us that something is wrong with our soul. This is not always the case, but it is rather common.
Suffering also acts as an incentive for us to get our lives together. However, not all suffering is redemptive, depending on how we respond to it. (More on this in the next section.)
Another purpose of suffering is to draw us closer to the Lord. God’s Word and His discipline serves to drive and turn our hearts towards the knowledge of Him. This kind of Suffering is usually characterized by disappointment and grief as we discover that the things of this world cannot satisfy. Whenever we face these trials in life it is best to accept it as the hand of God’s discipline. What is required to draw one nearer to God is dependent on the constitution of the person and the context. IOW, God deals with us individually as unique patients.
A fourth reason is to share in Christ’s sufferings and also become partakers of the glory and joy found in Him (Philippians 2:12-16).
Moreover, the purposes for suffering are as follows (corresponding with the previous list).
- To get us to repent of our own foolishness and sin, and/or to emphasize the importance of being responsible and making good decisions.
- To get us to choose our friends wisely, and to draw boundaries. It is also an occasion to exercise forgiveness and grow in grace.
- To glorify God, to share in the sufferings of Christ, and to inspire others to faith.
- To break our selfish will and sense of self-sufficiency (which erodes humility), teach us to become continually dependent on God, and to bring us to our knees in prayer, asking for those things we want or need. The asking, suffering, and waiting also makes us more humble and more appreciative of the gift, once it is received.
- To lead us to desire being liberated from the fallen flesh and the mortal confines of this evil world, and to be one with God.
For the Christian, and in general, suffering appears as a multi-faceted form of discipline (Hebrews 12), and in this sense, suffering is the kindness of God to bring those He loves closer to Him (Romans 2:1-4). IOW, we move away from 1, 2, and get more of 3 and possibly 4, ultimately arriving at 5. Only 1 and 2 could be interpreted as a punishment, or the righteous judgment of God. 3 is training in righteousness and it builds character (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). 4 is often referred to as being tempted or tested (James 1:12-18). 5 is evidence of regeneration and/or salvation.
Responses to Suffering
Perhaps the trickiest part of suffering is in knowing how one should respond. Is it Endure, Fight, Flight, Fold, or Wait? The proper response all depends on what type of suffering we’re facing and why. If one cannot pinpoint the reason for the suffering, then one may be confused about how to respond appropriately. Our response is important because if we do not respond appropriately, unnecessary suffering may be prolonged and then becomes more destructive than redemptive.
Here, I’ll offer some commentary and describe a few ways in which we may not respond to suffering appropriately, corresponding to the previous list. I’m sure there are others. Readers are encouraged to add to these in the comments.
- The most common wrong way people deal with the suffering that is caused by 1, and also 2 and 4, is through Spiritual Anesthetization which usually appears as a form of Carnal Stimulation (e.g. alcohol, drugs, entertainment, illicit sex, masturbation, p0rn, etc.). Other methods include Avoidance, Denial, Displacement, Lying, and a whole host of psychological defense mechanisms (e.g. blame and shame games, personality disorders, projection, psychopathologies, etc.). It requires a traumatic life experience or an act of God to shake one up and out of this mess, which means more suffering!
- Number 2 happens to be a major ongoing subject of discussion in the Red Pill / Manosphere, and it is the cause of many fractious factions (e.g. The Black Pill, MGTOW, et al.) In addition to the consequences of bad governance, inept rulers, p!ss poor policies, various conspiracy theories, and so on, how do men deal with a whole generation (or more) of women who have made foolish decisions and have defrauded men en masse? The writers at Σ Frame have covered the latter angle exhaustively with posts such as Constructing a Framework of Options (2021/3/15), More on the Framework of Options (2021/3/22), Ethical Issues Surrounding the Christian Conundrum (2021/4/5), The Cross of Our Age (2021/5/3), The Rupture of the Marriage Market Place (2021/7/14), The Young Man’s Problem (2022/2/4), The Unsolvable Problem of The Modern Sexual / Relationship Market (2022/2/7), What is the Black Pill? (2022/9/13), The Black Pill is the Natural Outcome of the Secular Mating Paradigm (2022/9/14), Black Pill Competition (2022/9/15), and Holding Out (2022/12/2). There is no real solution except more suffering. However, I proposed a few proper responses to this suffering in Men’s Role in the Mess (2022/12/21).
- Satan has a very tricky way of sucking the life out of our souls and gradually turning our hearts away from God by convincing us that we’re suffering for the sake of righteousness, when in fact, we’re only suffering for the sake of our self-righteous ego. Or alternatively, we’ve bought into some insidious true lies and therefore don’t have our heads screwed on straight. IOW, were suffering for 1 while thinking we’re suffering for 3, so we never get the memo and recognize the pain as discipline or punishment. One example of this has been described in The Delusion of the Good (2022/8/19) and The Lie of Romantic Love (2023/2/3) in which many Blue Pill fables are mistaken for Christian morality. Another example is how many proponents of the Purity Movement applied themselves to a lifestyle of self-denial and suffering for sexual purity or “God”, resulting in many of them falling away. Waking up from these seemingly true lies is another grand mal ordeal of suffering in itself, as was described in The Ever Looming Black Pill (2022/9/12) and Discerning the Lies (2023/2/6).
- Another context in which we lose out is when we chase after our desires, thinking that we’re going to get something good from God. This kind of situation has been described in many posts, including Are you a man or a mushroom? (2020/8/17), How to Assume the Missionary Position (2023/1/27), Are Men Responsible for Women’s Behavior? (2023/2/1), Lust (2023/2/10), Why are attractive women more dangerous to beta men than their less attractive friends? (2023/2/13), The Disappointments of Transactional Relationships (2023/2/14), and The D@mning Power of Humility (2023/2/15). As I described in Contentment (2023/1/16), God gives us the desires of our hearts after a period of obedience, and as Scott has mentioned in the past, it comes at a moment when we least expect it. So it does us no good to go chasing after it.
- Any movement closer to God, Obedience, Righteousness, and/or Truth involves some kind of suffering, just as Christ illustrated. Not knowing the difference between one source of suffering and another, not knowing how to respond appropriately, or avoiding suffering altogether, are all unproductive and unregenerative.
The links I included above are just a smidgeon of examples out of the 800+ posts on Σ Frame. Come to think of it, this whole blog is about how to deal with suffering.
- Σ Frame: The Young Man’s Problem (2022/2/4)
- Σ Frame: The Unsolvable Problem of The Modern Sexual/Relationship Market (2022/2/7)
- Σ Frame: Analysis Paralysis is the Gateway to the Abyss (2022/9/19)
- Σ Frame: The Path to Contentment (2023/1/18)
- Roosh Valizadeh: Why Does God Allow Us To Suffer? (2023/2/15)
Resentment is a particularly destructive response. It goes to show how actual repentance and salvation is required.
And God, being in control, is able to control our sufferings to refine us in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. Not too hot that we break, nor too weak that we are too soft.
Hopefully @locustplease will have that come true.
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I’m reaching a cross roads soon. My kid is legally old enough to decide where she wants to live and wants to live with us equally. Paying child support just personally kills me. Guys with W2 jobs get it taken out of paychecks and I have to pay it directly and pay the taxes on the money I paid her. I’m doing good now but I can’t get out of the past when I was paying her and wondering what I can afford to eat for the week while she goes on vacation.
If I get joint custody there will b hundreds of thousands of pounds lifted off me. But if I don’t. And I am a known enemy of the court. Means I will pay until I’m 45. I have to b fine with it either way. I don’t really have control of my future. That makes it hard to work on my future with all the steps back I don’t have any control of.
Even when you’ve lost everything…. You haven’t.
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As the crabs in the bucket phenomenon proves. There are people addicted to the drug of misery. And they wish to have others share in that misery.
Similar to how demons seek to drag as many souls to hell as possible. Black holes of damnation. The nature of evil is to feed itself on Good like how Black holes consume stars and gas clouds which are themselves nurseries of stars.
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Weird, isn’t it? Miserable people would rather make others equally miserable than make themselves happy. The difference between miserable people and demons is that there is no hope of redemption for demons. As long as people are alive there is hope for redemption no matter how miserable they are. And yet, so many of them would rather wallow in their misery and pull others down into the same swamp.
It’s so weird.
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In my view, people stay stuck in a paradigm of suffering (of types 1, 2, or 4 in the OP) because they’re trying to resolve their inner issues, looking for answers, healing, a resolution, satisfaction, or closure. To some extent, I think this is a necessary part of the process, but at some point, they have to realize that there is no way to resolve the issue (whatever it may be) and that the only way out is to trust Christ. In order to find redemption, they have to let go of those attachments and jump to a parallel spiritual paradigm made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice. IOW, they need to be born again.
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As someone who’s been there, what they’re seeking is unmet justice. There was a wrong somewhere that needs righting, and the person is (or feels) powerless to fix it. So there are two options: become more powerful or let it go.
Both come with problems. You may not be able to improve in that area, or growth is painfully slow, or you may be preparing yourself for something that will never happen again. Letting go feels like failure, because the justice still goes unmet. Lack of a viable solution keeps you stuck, eventually becomes comfortable or a habit, or worse, part of your core identity.
The answer is simple, but not easy: give your suffering to Christ and let Him mete out the justice. But like self-improvement, God’s justice is often painfully slow and you may never see it. Because of this, people will often try every solution in the book except for turning to God, including and up to becoming “spiritual, but not religious”. They never quite fulfill. I myself became a Stoic for a while, which is half a solution. Stoicism gets the suffering part right, but lacks joy. You need both, and only one solution offers both.
Of course, you could choose to become evil and take justice into your own hands. Think Johnny Ringo from Tombstone. We know how that ends.
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Most of your worth is in your happy wife and happy life. Men without this in your own age bracket are total aliens. You do not understand when your wife leaves you takes the kids and so much of your money, and you are living in a relative’s basement.
It is going to change you. You aren’t going to b able to elevate yourself above those people anymore or really anyone besides the homeless druggies. All the boot strap talk is gonna end. Now u can say, “Those men made bad decisions. I made good decisions.” You will have to keep a straight face at work and tell no one because the shame of paying the majority of your income to your ex wife is too much.
If you think these things would happen to you and it won’t change you at all your wrong. Every guy who went through this that I ever met ended up different.
What bootstrap talk?
Where, or when did I say that negative circumstances don’t change people?
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If you lose everything. Then you have nothing to lose. What then is stopping he who is nothing with nothing from giving everything for the Kingdom of God?
God may rescue us. But even if he does not we will trust in him (Daniel 3:17-18; Job 13:15). This fallen world and this woman took from you. Therefore all the more reason to set your face against the World.
Friendship with this world is enmity with God. You hate this state of affairs. We do too. I hate what has been done to you or Jason. God does too. When God throws this society under the bus for unrepentance. It will be justified.
I think God already has, by the symbolic tearing of the American Flag:
Vox Popoli: God withdraws His hand (2022/10/2)
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Not necessarily. A lot of people are miserable because of their own choices. They’ll blame everyone but themselves, but they really need to start with confession and repentance.
Besides, everyone has been wronged by someone. Obviously, some more than others, but even then God can bring beauty out of the ashes. Think of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, or Corrie Ten Boom, or the Apostles, or Joseph son of Jacob, or the countless saints and martyrs.
What I don’t get is why people choose to stay there. Regardless of how they got there, why choose to stay? I mean, what’s worse, being happy or being miserable? Then they make matters even worse by pulling others into their misery, which is downright evil.
I don’t get it.
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Like I pointed out in my previous reply, these people feel powerless to solve their problem. Real or perceived, that is where they are. I’m going to hazard a guess that you have never had this problem, which is why all your solutions are little more than a “man up” speech. For someone who has the capacity and is merely waffling over it, yes, a kick in the pants is just what they need. But tell that to a helpless man and he will (perhaps only internally) scream at you, HOW!?!? It’s not a question of willpower.
A man like this needs support. Sometimes he needs a sympathetic ear, sometimes he just needs to b!tch until he gets it out of his system. Sometimes he needs to know that failure is OK because nobody ever told him. He needs to know somebody has his back because no one else ever has. And yes, there may come a day when he needs to be told, “Enough is enough!” and to get up off the mat and get to work. But he’s not going to trust that kind of talk from people who weren’t there for him when he needed it.
Don’t think I’m excusing weakness here. I’m not. At some point, you have to move on. Anger is a stage, not a destination. You don’t “man up” your way out of anger, you don’t embarrass or haze someone out of it, and you don’t ostracize them. You don’t understand Jason because his weakness most likely happens to be your strength. Michael Jordan couldn’t understand why his teammates couldn’t perform at his level. It wasn’t a matter of work ethic; they had flaws Jordan didn’t and he treated them like sh!t for it. He thought he was helping, too.
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You’ve guessed hilariously incorrectly.
I’ve literally never told anyone to “man up”.
Everyone is free to whine, wallow in self pity, and be as miserable as they want for as long as they want. It won’t do them any good, but no one will stop them. When they start to pull others down with them, that becomes evil.
For a lot of people it absolutely is a destination.
You don’t coddle them either. That’s just giving a drunk a drink. More importantly, you do everything you can to prevent others from being sucked into their hellhole of misery.
But, okay. You tell me. What do you do with a person who has stated that he’s been seething with hatred for his fellow man for 30+ years?
You ask him why, and let him talk. Don’t interrupt or start right in on how he went wrong. You tell him it’s perfectly normal to feel the way he does at the moment. You let him know he has a friend in you, and mean it. Then you let him be for a bit and see if he comes back. A man like that is wounded, and tough talk isn’t going to help him. Maybe at a later date, but not today. It’s probable that tough talk is how he got there to begin with, so don’t start. Your message to Jason has essentially been, “Quit ‘yer bitchin’ and get on with it! Crying only gets your face wet!”, when that’s exactly what he needs to get out of his system. Is it any wonder he pays you no mind?
I think you think Jason is weak, and you hate him for it. I don’t see weakness in him. I see someone who was burned, hard, by people he trusted, and he’s got some roadblocks (self-made, I’ll admit) that won’t let him get past it, and I think he can, because to be fair, he’s already overcome some pretty wicked stuff. Now, I may be wrong. He may decide to stay in anger forever. But if I treat him like everyone before has, then I’m no better. And as for sucking everyone else into his misery, well, he can’t do that if you don’t allow yourself to be taken in by it. That’s a choice you make.
Adding to that, I have been showing support by defending him, giving him words of encouragement when necessary, and spoon-feeding things that might help him, with no expectation that he will jump up and take them right away. I do know for a fact he has considered them, largely because I don’t force them down his throat or call his eternal state into question if he doesn’t. I don’t consider any of this to be a wasted effort, even if it fails, and I do not get tired of him. Your approach has not worked because it’s not appropriate for his current state of mind. Hopefully someday he will be, and on that day you can have at it. But not yet.
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Done. 10 years ago.
Remember when you guessed hilariously incorrectly before? Your mind reading skills haven’t improved.
I don’t hate Jason in part because I don’t want to end up like him. Jason stated that he’s had a seething hatred of his fellow man since high school. Look at what that’s gotten him — anger, bitterness, and loneliness. Why would I want that?
I’d like to respond to the rest of your post and explain what I’m actually thinking, but just to make sure I’m not wasting my time, are you going to actually read what I write this time (you know, ask me why, let me talk, don’t interrupt or start right in on how I went wrong, as some dude once said), or are you going to keep trying (and failing) to read my mind?
Here’s a hint. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind about anything (see Ezekiel 33).
Please do. It beats just telling me, “you’re wrong” over and over.
Then why bother pointing out when you think he’s wrong?
I’ll have to get to that later today.
If you don’t like being told, “You’re wrong”, why do you keep trying to read my mind? Are you unaware that you can’t read minds? If you want to know what I think, why don’t you ask, instead of trying to read my mind?
Did you read the scripture from Ezekiel that I shared with you?
Off topic: better than marriage counseling.
From what I could find online, they’re still married.
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