Thank you for your suffering: Locace / Lena
Thank you for your suffering: Locace / Lena via Flickr

Life usually involves some degree of suffering but human beings have interpreted the experience in diverse ways.

For instance, Buddhists believe that suffering is meaningless and something to be avoided. An important technique for Buddhists is meditation, which is said to eradicate the worldly desire that leads to suffering.

For many Hindus, suffering is a necessary teacher. As we work through our personal karma, the unpleasant aspects of life can teach us to avoid unethical thoughts and actions that, so Hindus believe, cause suffering in the first place.

Epicureanism attempts to minimize suffering through a life of prudence and temperance.

John Stuart Mill‘s utilitarianism attempts to minimize suffering through a cost-benefit analysis of all actions, a position which Mill felt was ethically equivalent to Kant‘s categorical imperative.

Sigmund Freud saw suffering as an inevitable aspect of the human condition. He wrote that “Psychoanalysis can cure neurotic suffering but not normal human unhappiness.” For Freud individuals are, in effect, the walking wounded.

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)
St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Catholicism recognizes the value of unavoidable suffering permitted by God, but does not condone persecution nor advocate the neurotic role playing of “victim” or “martyr.” For Catholics, suffering may be redemptive and lead to increased purity and wisdom. This notion of redemptive suffering differs from sheer depair or destitution because the grace of God enables one to embrace one’s particular ‘cross of suffering’ with dignity and, with some exceptional persons like St. Francis of Assisi, gladness and joy.

Along these lines, Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, a prayer accepted by Catholics, asks God for a reasonably happy life here and a supremely happy one in the afterlife.

The idea of redemptive suffering has been further institutionalized by an organization called Knights at the Foot of the Cross (KFC). KFC is very much influenced by the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who died by lethal injection of carbolic acid in a Nazi death camp after willingly accepting the torture of a starvation bunker in place of another prisoner. KFC is an offshoot of The Militia of the Immaculata, an international evangelical movement founded by St. Kolbe in 1917 (

Apart from traditional religions, we also have those positively-minded people who simply believe that wisdom can come from suffering.



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