Two of the writers I have come to admire most over the last year have both said that they do not believe all suffering is meaningful, but I struggle to accept that emotionally even though it makes sense intellectually. Lowell Bennion was once asked about suffering and he replied ‘I haven’t suffered that much, but I think there is more human suffering than we need in order to develop human values, to teach us the meaning and value of life, compassion for other people… Some people are exposed to suffering beyond any possible value to them.’  Similarly, Clive James, in speaking of those who would not denounce their (previously) murderous regimes, has offered a possible explanation for why: ‘their reluctance to accept that so much suffering could be wasted’ .
I accept Bennion’s argument and I am also inspired by it. For it makes me sense that their is a responsibility which falls upon me to alleviate all the suffering I can, rather than passively sitting back pontificating upon the meaning of our trials.
Yet, I too feel that I am reluctant to accept that so much suffering could be wasted.
My step-father was recently diagnosed with Motor Neurones Disease and will physically decay while maintaining all his mental faculties until at some point he will suffocate or drown.
If he wants to see meaning in his suffering is that a bad thing, even though it may be false? Is it false? It is possible that in someone trying to find meaning in their suffering they could actually realise that meaning; for instance they may become more patient or considerate. Although I am uncomfortable with the idea that God inflicts people with such experiences for their profit and learning, I can accept that God wants us to find some light in even the darkest abyss.
However, I am aware that there is some suffering, which people inflict upon others that I would find it difficult to discover some meaning. Female Circumcision or Rape or many others.
Contrastingly, I have been inspired by those who recognise that ‘being comfortable with not making sense of suffering, or realising that we don’t have all the answers and that contradiction and unfairness is part of mortality’ . Such a view requires as much faith as trying to find meaning in suffering. Yet I wonder whether such a view leads to a different form of that passivity regarding the suffering around us mentioned earlier.
In addition, I believe that Ostler is right when he acknowledges that God suffers more not less because of his divinity. Ostler also argues that Christ condescends to mortality in order that he might experience the alienation and isolation of this life, something he could not know before, so that he could perfect his empathy, compassion and love.
In this God finds meaning in his own suffering, because it helps Him minster to us, because it helps him understand and love more deeply us. Yet I am not sure our experience and Christs (as Ostler sees it) are compatible because his is still voluntarily chosen and so much of our suffering is inflicted.
Though I do not believe all suffering is meaningful, I would never say that to anyone else who had really suffered. Because I am not convinced there is no meaning in suffering, whereas I am confident that it is not bad to find it there; if we can.
1. Lowell L. Bennion, Lowell L. Bennion: Teacher, Counselor, Humanitarian [Salt Lake City, UT: Dialogue Foundation, 1995] p. 354.
2. Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of my Time [London: Picador, 2007] p. 253.
3. White, Making Sense of Suffering, Dialogue, (vol. 25, no. 2, 1992, p. 115).