A while ago (man, QUITE a while ago now), I was having a conversation with someone about suffering; to wit: why? Human beings have an innate sense of justice, and sometimes it’s hard to understand why we have to endure suffering, especially when it is long, painful, and seemingly un-earned.
Well, I had an epiphany on the way home from Wal-Mart a few minutes ago, and here it is:
I was talking to someone who is kinda resentful about some broken relationships from his past. I told him that I believed that, in general, everybody in the situation made the best decisions that they could with the understanding and resources that they had at the time. But, I thought, that doesn’t mean that you get to be immune from the consequences. Even if your culpability for a particular action is small, you still have to live with the results of it, and sometimes that means that certain people never want to see you again.
So, you ask, what do you do with that suffering? In this case, it seems obvious that your own actions caused this suffering, so you should do what you should do with all temporal consequences: learn from them, and use them to further perfect your soul. You know, get a head start on purgatory.
That makes sense to us, right? When we do something wrong as suffer as a result, we can see both the justice and the practical aid that the suffering brings us: we rightly suffer for our sins, and we can use the suffering to learn our lesson. But what about suffering that we DIDN’T cause?
That’s where the epiphany came in: I suddenly realized that I have done tons of wrong things that HAVEN’T necessarily caused me great suffering. I still need redemption both eternally (the consequences paid by the death of the infinite God), and temporally (the consequences within time that I have to pay in order to perfect my soul). But — and here’s the kicker — the suffering you use to learn your lesson doesn’t have to be directly related to the sins you committed.
Think of it this way: you have run up a huge, huge debt. You were just dumb, made a bunch of stupid financial decisions, and now you’re in over your head. You know you were stupid, you accept responsibility, and now you’re trying to get the debt paid down. So for most of the debt, you are working a second job to EARN the money to pay down the debt. You are suffering in order to reduce the consequences. That makes sense, right?
Then add this: while you’re working and doing the best you can to pay your debt, someone gives you a financial gift. You can use that money to pay down your debt, too. The debt doesn’t care where the money comes from, just so long as you apply it. Same thing with suffering: when you suffer, you are being given currency to pay down the temporal consequences for your sins. Whether the currency was earned yourself (consequences of your own sins), or by someone else (you suffer unjustly due to someone else’s sins), you can use that currency as temporal atonement for your sins.
So when you are suffering because of someone else, not because of anything you have earned, you can rejoice, because you are literally being given the currency to pay down your debt. You didn’t have to go out and earn it yourself; someone just handed it to you for free. That’s why suffering is so valuable: because you can use it to perfect yourself, to learn from your mistakes, and to make up for the harm you have caused to your relationship with God and to your own soul.