How the World Religions View Suffering
The attitude of Buddha toward suffering. The gentle Buddha...summed it all up in the startling conclusion: "Existence and suffering are one." He went further than saying that there is suffering in existencehe said that suffering and existence are fundamentally and inextricably one. The thing that keeps us going in the round of rebirths is desire, for out of desire, deeds spring, and deeds keep up the necessity of the weary round of birth and rebirth to get the fruit of those deeds. As long there are deeds there will be the result of those deedsthis is the law of Karma. To deal with this whole evil we must go back beyond the deed to the desire. Cut the root of desire, even for existence itself....
There is something lofty and grand about Buddha even when...we must differ with him in this. Jesus said that there is evil in existence, but get the evil out and you will find that existence is fundamentally good. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Buddha would reduce life to that of the vegetable and call it victory. He would counsel us to get rid of the personality in order to get rid of the suffering bound up with personalityin other words, to get rid of our headache by cutting off our head. It is a remedy, but at too big a price.
The Hindu attitude toward suffering. The Hindu holds an attitude akin to that of the Buddhist, for he too views the injustices and inequalities of life and posits a previous birth out of which all these sufferings and inequalities come.... They are from our own choices in a previous birth. All suffering has its antecedent sin, somewhere....
All suffering, therefore, is just.... "Why do we help the sick in the hospitalsby doing so are we not interfering with the law of Karma which is making them suffer as a result of their previous deeds?" asked a Hindu.
Of course many things are softening and modifying this outlook, so that the Hindu is usually better in his attitudes toward suffering than the doctrine would suggest, but that it is there, and, that it is the real root of the tendency for every reform to be halting, is undoubtedly true.
The Jewish attitude. The Jewish mind felt that God would look "with favor upon his people," would "save them out of all their troubles, " would let no plague come nigh the dwelling of the righteous, would give the righteous double for all his losses, and would satisfy him with long life and prosperity.
This Semitic line of thought has passed over into Christendom in spite of the cross. The confusion within Christendom concerning suffering arises from the attempt to reconcile these two conflicting elements. When we as faithful Christians are not spared troubles, our faith is deeply shocked, for we have back in our minds these Jewish promises that we would be spared. These promises do not square with life, so the foundations of our faith give way. We are unmindful of the fact that the New Testament holds out no such promises, but has a different attitude and method for the facing of suffering. We need...to call attention to the altogether different note which sounds in the words of Jesus, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world"(Jn. 16:33).
The Moslem attitude toward suffering is, perhaps, simpler than any other attitude. The Moslem is impressed with the sovereignty of God. All that happens is His will.... The good and the evil that come upon us are, alike, his will. The attitude of the faithful is to submit to that will. Islam literally means submission to the will of God. The Moslem view of suffering, therefore, is to accept it as the will of God and submit to it.
Islam, great and noble in many ways, has nevertheless sterilized the life of vast portions of the East, because its acceptance of inequalities and sufferings as the will of God lays a paralyzing hand on any civilization that adopts it. It is an opiate.
The common Christian attitude [is one] of resignation to suffering as the will of God. This attitude of Christians is scarcely to be distinguished from the attitude of Islam. The results are much the samepatience, resignation, stagnation.
Exerpted from his book, Christ and Human Suffering, New York: Abingdon-Cokebury,1933, pp. 47-67.
The Answer to Life's Injustice
The gospel raises the questions that perplex and tear the heart of man in the only way they could be adequately raised, namely within life itself. Others raised them as philosophies; Jesus raised them as facts. As His twisted body hung on the cross it seemed to turn into a vast question mark against the skyline, and as from His lips comes the cry, "My God, why?" it seems that all the anguish and pain of the ages is gathered up in that bitter cry. There is not a single problem that perplexes and wrings our hearts that is not gathered up in that anguished question....
What is the answer? The answer must be given in the very place where the questions are raised, namely in life itself....The question was a fact; the answer must be a fact. God did answer and answer adequately and in the very place where the questions were raised. The cross raises the questions and the resurrection answers them. It answers the fact of injustice and pain with a bigger fact in the victory! ...
God's last word is not the cross but the resurrection. But that last word is not a spoken word, but a living worda fact....We know now how things are coming out. God shall speak the last word in human affairs, and that last word will be "Victory." Jesus let life speak its cruelest word, so that the gentlest and purest heart that ever beat was stilled in death, and then He quietly rose from the dead, came forth from the tomb with the most tremendous words uttered upon His lips: I am the resurrection and the life." It is this that gives the thing point, for it sets the sorrows of life to music and makes the ultimate note be joy.
From Christ and Human Suffering, pp. 223-224.