Suffering Is Relative?

suffering (Photo credit: muffinbasket)

The title for this article might seem somewhat out of place. I want to start off with the understanding suffering is real. There are many different kinds of suffering and I do not wish to minimize anyone’s suffering. What I would hope to do is to increase our understanding and maybe open our minds to a different viewpoint that should help us to keep suffering in its proper place.

I want to start off with a bold assertion. Setting aside physical pain, the majority of suffering is a comparison between where we are now and where we think we should be.

Imagine if you will an experiment. If you took 10 Young men from an impoverished country where every day is a struggle to survive along with 10 men from an upscale private school and sent them to live in the same building. In each room is a mattress, running water, and all their meals are provided for them, I have no doubt each group of men would see the identical facilities differently. Even though there is nothing different about their physical environments one of those two groups would be “suffering.” in this case it is easy to see the comparison to understand how one group would consider themselves to be suffering.

I want to develop this same idea a bit further. What about the family who loses a young child to an accidental death. Their suffering is real and their grief certainly understandable. Yet, their suffering is a comparison to where they are and where they would want to be, enjoying the life of their departed child.

Consider the below statements from the apostle Paul and notice the items in his list of suffering:

From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

I know we understand how difficult it was for Paul to suffer persecution for preaching the gospel of Christ. Notice however that he lists being beaten with rods right along with sleeplessness. He lists being stoned right next to being shipwrecked. He has perils of robbers with cold and nakedness. If he considered one type of suffering greater than another type of suffering I certainly do not see it. Suffering is suffering. Whether it’s physical pain that the doctors can do nothing about or the emotional pain of the loss of a child or a parent.

Our reaction to suffering, no matter what its source, should be the same.To pray to or God (Jas 5:13). To lean upon our faith. To remember our hope which is in Christ Jesus. To comfort one another that all suffering in this life is temporary.

The apostle Paul did believe in relative suffering. He makes two statements which clearly show he compared his suffering from what he currently was enduring to what he knew he would have to endure in the future.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.2 Cor 4:17,18

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Rom 8:18