Suffering and Happiness
Suffering and Happiness
At the end of the Creation Week in the book of Genesis, the text says “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31). In the third chapter sin enters the universe through the rebellion of Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12-14), and thus all the consequences and suffering that comes with it. The suffering in this life can be immense, to such an extent that it can make us crazy as we attempt to ponder it. Solomon, probably the wisest mere man who ever lived noted:
- “What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted…Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain” (Ecclesiastes 1:15,18).
- “Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest” (Ecclesiastes 2:23).
- “There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth the ruler---folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places” (Ecclesiastes 10:5).
Suffering and Meaning
In order to handle the suffering of this life, we must have a reason to endure, a reason to keep on living. The antidote for suffering, what helps us cope with suffering is a reason or a “why”. And it is not just a sense of meaning, rather we need meaning that is real. It is not enough to think we have answers to our questions, rather we need actual answers. The illusion that we have answers does not help; such actually hinders. Real and truthful answers are needed. The Bible would agree:
- “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5:12).
- “For this I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
- “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
- “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even through tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
The great advantage of being a Christian is that we have been given the ultimate right answer when it comes to meaning, purpose, and the reason why we should endure suffering and to have the best possible attitude in the process.
Headed in the Wrong Direction
In the Bible we find people who encounter something that they find discouraging (at times due to their own foolish choices) and instead of turning to God, they turn in the opposite direction. For example, Cain, Job’s wife and Judas would be prime examples. So how do I know that I am handling suffering in a way that will end in growth rather than disaster? The following are red flags I am headed in the wrong direction.
- I hate my existence. I wish I had never been born. Typically, if I hate my existence, I also tend to hate the existence of others as well.
- I desire to gather up all my disappointment and hurt and then take revenge against others and God (Cain) (Proverbs 19:3). I want to make people pay for the injustices I have experienced.
- I develop a “who cares” attitude.
- I have a very low view of the human race and the value of human life (Job’s wife, curse God and die), “just get it over with”.I am thinking that people are the problem and that people need to be eradicated from this planet.
- I mentally live in a dark place. I am spending days, months and years brooding about all the real or perceived injustices, slights and wrongs that have been committed against me (Cain).
- I longer think about is true, right, good, or pure. I tend to resent when someone tries to show me the bright side of a situation.
- I see myself only as a victim, and I am blind to my own darkness and sins. While I focus on how I am suffering I am blind to how I am causing others to suffer.
Suffering and Happiness
There are people who have argued that the suffering in this world far outweighs any benefits or happiness. Yet, how do you measure or weigh suffering or happiness? I have found that people who end up with a pessimistic or negative view of human existence, often artificially increase the suffering side of things, and then discount the good or blessings in this world.
- The Bible makes it very clear, that even after sin entered the world, there is still an incredible amount of good in this world, not to mention the fact that Jesus died for us (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8).
- We are surrounded by many legitimate pleasures and blessings (1 Timothy 4:4; 1 Peter 3:10).
- The privilege of being born equally opens up the possibility for the blessings of love, marriage, family and friendship (Ecclesiastes 9:9; Psalm 127:1ff; Proverbs 18:22).
So What Is Happiness?
How would you define happiness? How do you measure it? I believe that we are only setting ourselves up for problems in our relationships and in life in general if we have bought into the idea that our lives here should be problem free and that the purpose of life is to feel good all the time.
- The happiness feeling is very elusive, short-lived and completely undependable. You can have everything you ever wanted materially and still be miserable. You can have reached all your earthly goals and still feel like a complete failure (Ecclesiastes 2:11; 4:8; 5:10). We often see this in the lives of modern celebrities.
- This life is not primary about a happiness feeling, rather, the real purpose here is to honor God (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; 1 Corinthians 10:31); grow spiritually (Luke 8:15; 2 Peter 1:5-11); help others make it to heaven (Mark 16:15); and become a person who is separating themselves from evil and honoring what is good (1 Peter 1:14ff). Holiness is the real goal and happiness is the byproduct.
- Remember, when you consider the statement, “the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness”; that we need to focus on the right kind of “liberty”. To define liberty as doing whatever you want, whenever you want will not result in life, happiness or liberty. Such is not freedom; rather it is bondage to a selfish taskmaster.
- What will really mold and refine you, is not when everything works or goes smoothly. People are not refined by a feeling of happiness, rather they are improved by challenges and trials. That is when we grow.
- Happiness, the real kind is the result of doing the right thing. There is something far superior to wanting to have a good feeling at this moment, and that is voluntarily assuming responsibility and doing what God expects you to do.
- Carefully observe Jesus’ definition of the happy or blessed individual. Someone who realizes they are spiritually bankrupt before God, they take their sins seriously, they desire to be pure inside and out, they get themselves under control, they extend the mercy God has shown them to others, they clean up their hearts and minds, they seek real peace in their relationships, and they are willing to suffer for doing, believing and speaking what is true (Matthew 5:3-12). That is one way that Jesus defined the “happy or blessed” person.
So, How are We Doing?
- I don’t feel sorry for myself Self-pity
- I am learning I don’t want to learn
- A many sided life One dimensional
- Trusting God I trust myself or nothing
- Listening to God Listening to the voices in my head
- No right to be angry Angry—“my rights”
- Patient Impatient
- Looking to the future Living for the moment
- Counting my blessings Focused on what I don’t have
- “I am blessed” “I am deprived”
- Suffering is only for a moment The suffering never ends
- Moving on from the trial Making the trial the center
- Patient with gradual growth Wanting the instant fix