It’s a topic we don’t like to deal with. Our perspective is typically one that rejects suffering as having any relation with spiritual healing, let alone viewing suffering as a blessing.
suf-er-ing: n; bearing pain, distress, or injury.
Each of us must endure suffering at some time during our lives. Suffering can be focused on self (where the hurt is directly inflicted upon us), or it can be associated with others (loved ones afflicted, and we share in their suffering). Regardless, it happens. We live in a fallen world, and until Christ returns and perfection reigns again, suffering will remain.
There’s a wonderful little book entitled “The Meaning of Suffering and Strife and Reconciliation” written by Archimandrite Seraphim Alexiev. He begins the book with Scripture:
My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction; for whom the Lord loves, He chastens; and scourges every son whom He receives. (Prov 3:11-12 and Heb 12:6)
From this beginning Fr. Seraphim teaches God’s intention for His creation—mankind. He asks, “Where do we see man for the first time? In Paradise!... Man was intended for Paradise, and not for hell.”
Indeed, the Lord permits suffering to come upon us to help us find our way towards Him, seeking His help in enduring and/or overcoming the adversity brought about by suffering.
In our readings for Adult Study this past week, St. John Chrysostom teaches that adversity and suffering help us to focus our spiritual efforts on seeking the good. He says in part this:
An eye was given in order that you may behold the creation and glorify the Master. If you do not use the eye well, it becomes to you the minister of adultery. A tongue was given that you might speak well and praise the Creator. If you are heedless, it becomes a cause of blasphemy. Hands were given to stretch forth in prayer, but if you are not wary, to stretch them out to covetousness…. Do you see that all things hurt the weak man?
Adversity, suffering do not need to sap our spiritual strength. As St. John points out, they WILL do so if our focus is to blame, to make excuse, to ask God “Why me?” instead of laboring to overcome by seeking His divine help to strengthen us, to bless us to overcome our weaknesses.
In today’s Gospel reading, poor Legion is a man who suffers greatly. Is he weak in suffering? Those around him tried to hold him fast with chains and fetters, but he broke free of them. His suffering was not manifested in physical weakness. He suffered from spiritual warfare, demons too many in number for his human spirit to overcome them without the help of God! Only when Jesus comes does his life change. St. Luke records that Legion fell down before (Jesus). The Gospel of St. Mark is more detailed than this, saying When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped Him. The man’s spirit was not dead—it was constrained by the demons. But Legion did not allow his suffering to overcome his desire for deliverance, and for ultimate salvation.
We should recall the words of St. Paul as he wrote, We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us. (Rom 5:3-5)
Lord, allow the sufferings we are called to endure to produce within us such character and hope that through all of them, we give glory to You Who loves us!