A Christian View of Suffering

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The concept of suffering plays an important role in Christianity, regarding such matters as moral conduct, spiritual advancement and ultimate destiny. Indeed an emphasis on suffering pervades the Gospel of Mark where, it can be argued, we are shown how to "journey through suffering" (Ditzel 2001) in the image of the "Suffering Son of Man" (Mark 8:32), Jesus Christ. Although theologians have suggested that Mark was written to strengthen the resolve of the early Christian community (Halpern 2002, Mayerfeld 2005), the underlying moral is not lost on a modern reader grappling with multifarious challenges regarding faith in the face of suffering. In his article "A Christian Response to Suffering", William Marravee (1987) describes suffering as an "experience over which we men and women continue to stumble and fall". The way we view God is crucial to the way we view suffering according to Marravee, who delineates the disparity between a view of God as an ‘outsider’ and the biblical image of God – where God is an ‘insider’ who suffers with us in our struggle. This essay seeks to explain the Christian view of suffering and the purpose suffering can have in our lives.

Suffering is an individual's basic affective experience of pain or distress, often as a result of one’s physical, emotional or spiritual circumstance (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy 2006). Suffering can be classified as physical; for example pain caused by a dislocated knee, emotional; for example one’s grief over the death of a loved one, or spiritual; which is described as the state of being separated from the blissful nature of your divine self (soul). To suffer physically or emotionally is often unavoidable; however it can be argued that spiritual liberation...

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...s distributed in Theology 101 at the University of Notre Dame, Fremantle on 22 April 2008.

Marravee. W, 1987, “A Christian Response to Suffering”, Review for Religious, no. 46, pp. 256-260.

Mayerfeld. J, 2005, Suffering and Moral Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pope John Paul II (1984), Apostolic Letter: SALVIFICI DOLORIS, [Online], Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Available at:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jpapl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html [27 April 2008].

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (2006), Suffering [Online], Metaphysics Research Lab, Available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pleasure/ [3 May 2008].

Trip, D. (1999), “The Christian view of suffering” [Online], Exploring Christianity. Available from: http://www.christianity.co.nz/suffer4.htm [Accessed 18 April 2008].

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