I'm a big fan of Dr Jordan Peterson; many of my musings echo his thoughts and I find him to be a wealthy source of knowledge and wisdom. So, it is of him I will be thinking as I ask the question: why live a life of suffering?
A state of the human condition described in Genesis is that of suffering. As Adam and Eve are removed from Eden, God says,
I will terribly sharpen your birth pangs,
In pain shall you bear children.
And for your man shall be your longing,
And he shall rule over you." (Genesis chapter 3 verse 16, Alter's Translation)
"Cursed be the soil for your sake,
With pangs shall you eat from it all the days of your life.
Thorn and thistle shall it sprout for you
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread
till you return to the soil,
For from there were you taken,
For dust you are
And to dust you shall return." (Genesis chapter 3 verses 17-19, Alter's Translation)
God is essentially saying 'Hey guys, life is gonna be hard now'. And even through the lens of the Atonement, where we might say our soul has been redeemed, unfortunately life itself will still be difficult (especially for those who wouldn't say they know Christ).
Problem: Who the heck wants to live a life of suffering?
Answer: No one.
Well, why not just take it easy? Just follow your heart's delights because the world will continue to turn regardless (as the Ecclesiastes author might suggest – it's important to note that most scholars agree that Ecclesiastes' main body is the musings of a thinker while the conclusion was an addition).
Peterson voices it similar to Ecclesiastes in his 12 Rules for Life: "The simplest, most obvious, and direct answer? Pursue pleasure. Follow your impulses. Live for the moment. Do what's expedient. Lie, cheat, steal, deceive, manipulate – but don't get caught. In an ultimately meaningless universe, what possible difference could it make?"
Do you see the problem with this, though? If one were to pursue that which was purely expedient to themselves, they would both increase other's suffering and realise that the sweet honey they've spent their lives pursuing ultimately has no taste.
Can we avoid suffering?
Question: Do we remove all the suffering from our lives?
Answer: IMPOSSIBLE. It CANNOT be done.
Question: What do we do, then?
Answer: Pursue something that makes the suffering worth living through.
Think of a person who is dissatisfied with being overweight and committing to a full year of effective yet challenging workout. When they finish that year, they will see results that are satisfying (assuming they did it right) – greater energy, more confidence, higher capacity to cope, better mental condition – and will feel fulfilled in knowing the suffering they just took on themselves was well worth it.
This is recognised as 'delayed gratification' (and is quite an extreme example), where things are better later because you put it off. As Peterson puts it, the idea that "something better might be attained in the future, by giving up something of value in the present".
How can we live with suffering?
With all this in mind, let's re-jig the question: How the heck can I live a life of suffering?
Answer: pursue something that makes the suffering worth living with; pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.
As Peterson writes: "Meaning is when everything there is comes together in an ecstatic dance of single purpose – the glorification of a reality so that no matter how good it has suddenly become, it can get better and better and better more and more deeply forever into the future."
In the Bible, this is articulated quite clearly as "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven" (Matthew chapter 6, verse 10, NRSV).
We as believers are invited by Christ to reduce suffering - to 'see Heaven on Earth', to transform what's around us into the 'goodest good' there is.
I ask you, then, is there a greater purpose to live for? Is there any greater desire than to see Heaven on Earth?
When you realise that you're at a moment of suffering and feel like you're struggling to cope with it, stop for a moment and think: is what I'm trying to do good enough to make this worth doing? If it's not, then make it.
Courtesy of Press Service International