United Church of Christ

Suffering is Optional

It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. - 1 Peter 2:19-20 (NRSV)

I like the main idea in this verse as much as I like the idea of, say, chewing a handful of thumbtacks and smiling about it. Any theology that glorifies human suffering, or makes exploitation sacred, has a lot to account for in my book.

On the other hand, I’m struck by the distinction between pain and suffering in this passage. It reminds me of the saying, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

We can’t get through life without pain. From temporary toothaches to enduring heartbreaks, pain is part of the human condition. Suffering, on the other hand, is born from the stories we concoct about our pain.

For example, if you promise to meet me for lunch and don’t show up or text, I might feel dash of pain. If I then spin narratives about your flagrant impudence or about my utter unworthiness, that would be suffering.

By this way of thinking, pain is an unavoidable fact, but suffering is an unjustified fiction. We should do everything we can to avoid inflicting pain on others and refrain from heaping needless suffering on ourselves. 1 Peter might not agree, however I believe God approves of that more than so-called righteous suffering.

Prayer
God, when I experience pain today, give me the strength to not add insults to the injury.

ddauthormattlaney2014.pngAbout the Author
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.

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