It surprised me.
Dr. William Hurlbut, a renowned medical doctor, lecturer, researcher, bioethicist, and committed Christian at Stanford University said it … and I had to think about it.
“Not all suffering should be alleviated.”
Surely I had misheard. Isn’t it the duty of the doctor to alleviate suffering? Isn’t it the goal of the Christian faith to minimize suffering? Who would allow it? Who would embrace it? Who would consider it necessary?
Of course, suffering is all somewhat subjective. Right now I’m suffering with a turned ankle. Someone else—perhaps having lost a leg—might mock the very suggestion that I’m suffering. A widow suffers the loss of her husband who passed gently in his sleep in old age. But it seems little in contrast to the terrible violence inflicted on families, women, and children in war-torn parts of the world. When we compare circumstances, we may always be better than some and worse than others. But comparisons do not ease the pain—physical or emotional.
Back to Bill Hurlbut for a moment.
“Not all suffering should be alleviated. It helps us learn about love and life.”
Yes. We can learn some truth only through hardship. Suffering teaches us much about what matters most. Suffering reminds us of our mortality. Suffering produces compassion and empathy in ways that nothing else can. Suffering beckons us to lift our eyes beyond the temporal and the physical to even greater realities of the spirit and soul (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
I will resume running as soon as my ankle mends. And I will again see a dear small woman in the early hours of some mornings. She will be bundled up to stay warm, holding the leash to her two dogs. And with her free hand she will press the lever that propels her electric wheelchair through the darkness. Bravery beyond bounds. Courage beyond imagination. Strength that surpasses anything I have.
Do I wish wholeness for her? Would I grant her physical healing if I could? Absolutely. But her suffering has exposed her heroism. With nothing more than a “Good morning” she inspires me.
And even moreso does Jesus…”who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). And so I fix my eyes on Him, too, grateful that His suffering was not alleviated. For, through Him, I truly learn about love and life.
Necessary suffering. Who’d have thought?