by Nathan Fischer
There is nothing more important, more vital, and more necessary to the world than putting an end to suffering. At least, that is what we are supposed to believe. Suffering is the worst kind of evil. It affects everyone everywhere indiscriminately. Children go hungry, the poor freeze in the cold, and the rich contract deadly diseases. There are too many situations in life that are out of our control, ensuring that at some point, in some way, suffering comes for us all.
Therefore, one of the primary missions of the world has become to point an end to suffering. Death is a huge problem for us, so through modern medical science the life expectancy of people has been doubled from that of the past. Of course, now that people live longer, we have to deal with previously rare diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In recent years, cancer has reared its ugly head and now AIDS and other viruses are becoming more of a problem.
That seems to be the way things work in the world. One problem is crushed, affliction is put down, only to have three or four new diseases or terrible incidents take its place. From tornados to violence, diseases to earthquakes, starvation to tsunamis, there is no end to the suffering that plagues this world. Oftentimes our attempts to fix these terrible events even make them worse.
Ending suffering has become such a goal, that even death is seen as better than suffering. Through breakthroughs in medical science, they can now save someone who has been shot in the head. However, when that someone ends up in a vegetative state, suddenly the world does not know how to respond. Would it have been better had they died? Should we pull the feeding tube? The aged and infirm suffer from so many afflictions that perhaps it would just be better to let them die “honorably” through physician assisted suicide. Never mind the fact that it is because of modern science that they are living so long that they need to be put to death in the first place. In a very sad way, it is quite ironic.
All of this begs the question, then, of why it is so important for the world to eliminate suffering. Why pour so much time and effort and resources into ending something that appears to have no end? Quite simply, that is the world’s only hope. For the world, the only heaven that can exist is a “heaven on earth” – a place where all get along peacefully and there is no pain or suffering or death. The world looks fervently for this utopia that they are sure is bound to come. So many believe that it is just around the corner. If only we could stop all of the wars, find a cure for cancer and AIDS, and preserve human life through every technological means at our disposal.
For the Christian, this is a difficult topic. On the one hand, it seems that the world is doing something good and right – putting an end to suffering is a worthy cause, isn’t it? On the other hand, it does seem as though the world takes the matter too far sometimes. How do we deal with suffering? How do we deal with the world’s constant battle to end it? Do we unite with the world, oppose them, or try to find some sort of middle ground?
The fact of the matter is, those are all the wrong questions. For the Christian, there is only one way to view suffering in the world, and that is through the lens of the cross. When the elimination of suffering becomes our ultimate goal, and the cross of Jesus Christ takes a second-place seat in our theology, then what we do is just as evil and wicked as if we lied and cheated and stole from our neighbor.
There is no good deed apart from Christ. There is no end to suffering apart from Christ. That is not to say that we should not strive to help others – not at all. However, the end of suffering cannot be our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal must be Jesus. In the cross of Christ, there is peace, and sometimes it is a peace through suffering, not a peace apart from suffering. There is nothing in Scripture that places an end to suffering above everything else. Heaven is not found on earth alone. Heaven is found in Jesus. Heaven is found in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.
It is through the Suffering Servant that heaven is brought to us; it is through the death of Christ, received through God’s holy gifts, that we inherit eternal life. We then have compassion, because we have Christ.
The goal to end suffering has become an idol to the world, and is an ever-present temptation to Christians. That is why Jesus came. He forgives you for your failures, He bears your suffering in Himself, and He leads you through this life and into the next. He is what the world seeks. He is yours, because you have been baptized into His suffering and death. There is no other answer to the suffering found in this world. There is only Jesus Christ.
Nathan Fischer is a graduate of Concordia University – Wisconsin. Among other interests, he and his wife Katie enjoy watching movies, playing video games, and comparing and contrasting them with our faith. Nathan and Katie are also expecting their first child.
Created: October 1st, 2008