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How Suffering Is Understood and Practiced Within Christianity

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How Suffering is Understood and Practiced Within Christianity

It is no question that modern concern regarding divine suffering has frequently arisen out of situations in which human suffering was acute (Mellor, 1991). The world today is filled with suffering on a magnitude that boggles the imagination. For many it is difficult to imagine how a God that is all good and all powerful could allow so much suffering in the world In the religion of Christianity, individuals follow a life based on the beliefs and teachings of Jesus Christ. The concept of suffering however, is viewed as a constitutive dimension, which plays a vital role in providing an understanding and explanation for their behaviours (Moltmann, 1974). The nature and meaning of suffering has been questioned by Christians through observation of scriptures and contemporary reflection. Ultimately, Christians conclude that suffering is not in itself evil as God is loving and merciful (Mellor, 1991). The Lord Jesus Christ has suffered more than anyone else who has ever lived, when he was persecuted on the cross to die for our sins. Therefore, the fleshed person of God the Son acts as a shield to absorb human pain and warydness into his own divine life for the purpose of healing (Sarot, 1992). However, when the event of issues  such as moral conduct, spiritual advancement and ultimate destiny arise it develops a myriad of problems, which can ultimately destroy the human spirit (Mellor, 1991).

Throughout the passage of time, numerous frameworks have endeavoured to identify a solution for the nature of suffering (Bowker, 1970). Through repeated exposure to wicked events, which cause both physical and mental pain, Christians draw upon many possibilities in order to receive an explanation for their affliction. Theological ethicist James M. Gustafson examined and acutely questioned the content of human faith in regards to suffering. Within his ‘theocentric ethics’ he asserted that Christian tradition developed a diversely particular solution, which interprets suffering as divinely purposeful. While the idea of individual retribution assumes that suffering is a sign of punishment by God, the Christian approach- often known as the ‘pedagogical model’ adopts an entirely diverse interpretation. The starting-point of the model insists that sometimes suffering occurs as God has to allow tragedy to happen, in order for his children to console in Him for salvation (Niebuhr, 1935). In a way ‘He is the pious one whom God corrects, like a father disciplines his beloved son’ (Todd, 2001). Furthermore, the model highlights how suffering can provide opportunities to manifest the power of God by confirming Him and his message (Niebuhr, 1935). The pedagogical model stems from the teachings in the Bible, which preach that God never intends harm in the trials we face or the suffering that follows, as to do so would be wicked; however, ‘God does not act wickedly’ (Job 34:12). As Christians reflect upon the Bible, they are able to discover narratives in which God grieves over the people’s suffering and ultimately takes compassion upon them (Taylor and Waller, 2011). Ultimately, the cause of human suffering has been questioned repeatedly, however Christians believe that the nature of suffering is not a curse by God but rather an opportunity for spiritual growth.  

The concept of suffering in Christianity stems back to the event of Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross. The Christian religion upholds the belief that their Messiah had to die in order to save their sins. The event of Jesus suffering on the cross has been seen as salvific, as he sacrificed his body for the sake of humanity (Rowe, 2012). The role of symbolism plays a vital role throughout Christianity as symbolism of the crucifix has adopted the notion of suffering and defeat, but also triumph and salvation. The symbol of the cross itself is more than just a reminder of when Jesus died for our sins, but has become its own expression in this world, for the suffering in the eternal heart of God (Rowe, 2012). It is the Bible that the letters of Paul, exhibit how the paradox of the cross and resurrection is used to interpret God’s presence in suffering and to ultimately focus on the accountability of the Christian faith to limit experiences of grief, sorrow and travail. As the Bible states that "I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). "For Paul, belief in Christ's resurrection as 'first-fruits of those who sleep' meant solidarity of the community, paradoxical measures of authority, and a dialectical relationship to conventional structures.” Therefore, the fleshed person of God the Son acts as a shield to absorb human pain and warydness into his own divine life for the purpose of healing (Sarot, 1992).

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