Even in the midst of life’s challenges, I find consolation in Jesus’ assurance that he came so that we might have “life to the full” (Jn 10:10), and that he will remain with us always, “even to the end of time” (Mt 28:20).
From time to time, life’s experiences can truly test our faith in these two things.
My youth had been framed by the acknowledgement that “life wasn’t meant to be easy,” a mantra that could be used by politicians of all persuasions in response to any problem at any time.
The words did not shock me when I first heard them as I was already well aware of the realities of life.
I only wish, that when Malcolm Fraser had used the words for political purposes, that he had borrowed fully from the writings of George Bernard Shaw: “Life is not meant to be easy my child, but take courage for it can be delightful.”
And delightful it is. Sadly, not all people experience life in this way. Their lives are devoid of delight, purpose and meaning.
For some, there is a sense of emptiness that cannot be satisfied. In many instances there is no obvious cause or reason for this, and yet, there is something missing. What is missing is sometimes difficult to describe, but through a sense of self-knowing there is an awareness that life could be both different and more rewarding.
Others struggle with life because of the sadness and hardship they experience.
Despite the fundamental goodness of creation, evil exists and suffering exists in the world around us. Every day we see a myriad of images depicting the consequences of natural disasters or the seemingly endless examples of injustice, violence and human conflict. In the midst of this, many ask, “Where is God in all of this?”
The experience of suffering can sometimes give rise to feelings of despair, as we feel that the circumstances lay beyond our control. In our powerlessness, there is a great temptation to be angry with those we associate with our difficulties. More often than not, this anger is directed at God.
Suffering prompts many of our existential questions because it is at odds with our image of a good and loving God. It is seemingly at odds with Jesus’ promise of “life to the full.”
Suffering can be overwhelming, and it can distort our view of life. We can begin to wonder whether there is anything good about our lives or whether our difficulties will ever end. Our sense of abandonment and aloneness can also make us blind and indifferent to the suffering of others.
There are times however when meaning can be drawn from the experience and it can prompt a meaningful response.
Many people endure suffering with great courage and serenity. They relate their circumstances to the suffering of Jesus.
Rather than feeling abandoned by God, or angry with God, they turn to God in their hour of need. Their faith may not alleviate their physical pain, emotional distress, or provide a solution to their problems, but it remains a source of spiritual comfort.
Their faith gives them hope. We do not wish to see other people suffer. We feel compassion for them, and it is as if their pain is our pain.
Most of us are moved by images of people experiencing hardship and loss. Suffering can bring out the best in us, as we show a genuine concern for and solidarity with others.
I am not sure that anyone lives a life that is “problem free.” We all experience challenges and moments of loss and suffering. These experiences shouldn’t diminish our view or our value of life. Rather, we should recognise that they form part of the great gift life is.
But life is much more, and our search for and experience of purpose, meaning and delight reveals this.