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Poll: Agree or disagree: Is suffering optional?

I was driving into the country yesterday with my boyfriend, and we came upon a royal blue sports car that had emblazoned across its back bumper in yellow letters, “Life is painful. Suffering is optional.” As you can imagine, this began a long and interesting conversation between my boyfriend and me. (We tried to take pictures, but alas our SUV was no match for the sports car.)

We raised a lot of interesting issues – he and I – as a result of these two short sentences, so I wanted to get your thoughts on this as well.

First, tell me whether you agree with this statement, by using a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means “Strongly disagree” and 5 means “Strongly agree.” Then tell me why you gave that rating.

Feel free to reply to others’ comments. As always, please be respectful and kind. (Note: I reserve the right to edit all comments.)

Thanks for participating.

I look forward to reading your replies.


18 Responses to Poll: Agree or disagree: Is suffering optional?

  • Lynn says:

    Hi Daphne – I strongly disagree with this statement: “Life is painful. Suffering is optional” so that would be a “1” on your scale.

    This saying seems a take off on one that goes around a lot: “Pain is inevitable but misery is optional.”

    That could be the pain from physical circumstances, emotional circumstances or both.

    No one is immune from times of these life events and for some they can be chronic conditions.

    I think it comes down to definitions. If we go to Scripture we are told that Jesus suffered unto death and if He suffered, then it would not be “optional”. We are also told to expect trials that come into our lives. They will not be optional.

    I believe what is optional (and that means we have a choice) is how we deal with the suffering. We can accept what we cannot change and try to focus on acceptance and looking for other ways to choose joy and be of service in our lives. A negative or defeated attitude will only make suffering a “friend” that we do not need.

    Good question – thought provoking.

    • Daphne says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Lynn. I agree that definitions play a big part in the discussion. You’re right. Jesus told us to expect trials, which would seem to indicate that they would not be optional. What is optional, as you said, is how we deal with the suffering, especially when it comes to chronic conditions. Hmm… Making suffering a friend. Now there’s a thought that others can comment on. Big Hugs, my friend.

  • torchgirl says:

    We are all going to suffer, no options there. I do, however, agree with Lynn, the choice we have is how we deal with it, and what we do with it once we are through it.

    • Daphne says:

      Thanks for your feedback, torchgirl. I think you and Lynn are on to something: how we deal with our sufferings. But not ony that, as you said, but what we do with it once we are through with them. Do we keep them to ourselves? Do we share them with others? Do we tell others how God can help them through their sufferings, as He helped us through ours? Good thoughts.

  • Daphne, I’m a “3” or “neutral” on the scale. Believing that God loves me, I choose to lean on His Everlasting Arms when I experience pain and/or suffering. Just wanted to share the following entry from my blog today…

    One of my favorite quotes, based on many Scriptures about the sovereignty of God, is:

    “Nothing comes into my life that is not filtered through God’s Hands of Love.”

    I also recently read the following very thought-provoking quote by Dan B. Allender, PhD, from his excellent book and workbook, “To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future”…

    “Jesus always gives you what he knew you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

    God sees the end from the beginning…He knows me intimately, He knit me together in my mother’s womb, one day I will see Him face-to-face and I will know as I am known…until then, I will expect a mystery…it is His plan that’s important, not my desire.

    I didn’t bring myself into this world, and I can’t take myself into heaven. I really don’t know what is best for me or for those I love. I ask God to make me sensitive to the reality that He is in control, and that He is using this–even this–to conform me to the image of His Son. I want that most of all. I train my mind to acknowledge God’s hand in whatever it is I’m living with.

    I practice words like, “I don’t know,” “I will trust,” “I can’t explain,” “I release it all,” because God is sovereign. He is the beginning, He will be the ending, and in between, by His grace, He lets us be part of His perfect plan…for His glory and for our good. In the meantime, I will expect a mystery.

    beth willis miller

    • Daphne says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Beth. God is sovereign, and sometimes I need that reminder. I like your words, “I don’t know,” “I will trust,” “I can’t explain.” I must admit that “I release it all” can be a little bit more difficult for me to say to God, but eventually I get there. The purpose of our sufferings can indeed remain a mystery in this lifetime. But in my opinion, that doesn’t make them any less optional, so I think I’m still leaning toward the “1” on the scale. Thanks for sharing, my friend.

  • GuichT says:

    Good topic ms Daphne. And some good responses so far. Im not quite sure how I would rate that. Im gonna go with a good solid…..2. So many kinds of suffering out there. Some of us physically suffer and we might find that for some, sometimes the chronic pains we have become part of our everyday lives and we choose to ignore them totally. So in that sense, I choose not to suffer.

    Then we can talk about our emotional suffering. I would have to say that if someone is choosing not to suffer when it comes to times of emotional distress, are you really makin that choice or in actuality, covering it up, putting up a front or disguising the hurt. Ive been guilty of that a time or two…. maybe three. Eventually, it surfaces and the suffering might end up being more prolonged than usual.

    Ms Beth made a good point up there and I think I understand what she is trying to say, correct me if Im wrong. If everthing in our lives is coming from the hands of the Lord, then there is no real reason to experience any suffering because its part of His plan after all? Its His will. Well, while God does control it all, He allows things to happen in our lives for His own reasons. When we loose someone close to us, I believe God didnt make it happen, life just took its course. Why would God have made my mother pass away knowing it was going to break my heart. Thats not my God. Suffering is part of our emotional abilities all given to us by God. Just as we laugh, we cry, just as we have awesome joy filled days, we have days less so. But, what do we do to get over the suffering?? Ive known people who choose to suffer all the time, I dont have to explain how unhealthy that is. I hope Im not getting off topic here.

    Now we spoke about physical suffering, and emotional, now what about suffering for our belief in Jesus Christ?? Didnt Jesus himself say and warn us we would have to endure mocking and hatred because we believe in Him?? Didnt the Apostles, Paul in particular, suffer greatly at the hands of non believers?? I would say that they made that choice to believe, therefore they made the choice to suffer. So, all that being said, I might move my rating from 2 to maybe a………….3 1/2. We do have choices.

    But,i know one thing, my heart is not cold, it beats with warm blood and is the color of red, because I CHOOSE to suffer, it is that way AND, it is stronger for it!! How bout this old saying, ” Whatever doesnt kill us makes us stronger….” Suffering has strengthened my resolve, my emotional fortitude, my love for those around me and above all, my FAITH. I choose to take joy in my suffering especially when it comes to my Lord and Savior…………………… GuichT

    • Daphne says:

      Thanks for your feedback, GuichT. Good thought-provoking comments. You’re right. There are so many kinds of suffering in this world. I’m not sure I understand what you wrote in your first paragraph about physical suffering. Would you elaborate?

      As far as emotional suffering, you bring up a good point. If someone covers it up or puts up a front to disguise the hurt, are they suffering? I would say still say yes.

      I do agree with Beth that God is sovereign, but I will have to graciously differ on your interpretation that there is no real reason to experience any suffering. Jesus himself suffered, and God was still sovereign, even when Jesus hung on the cross. And I have to believe that my suffering in this world is not in vain. Jesus tells me it isn’t! It’s so that I can grow in my relationship with Him, so that I can minister to others, and display His glory in my life more and more.

      You, as well as others, bring up that point again: what do we do to get over our sufferings? I myself have known people who choose to suffer all the time. I pray for them, that they will choose to let go of the pain and the hurt.

      Yes, Jesus told us we would suffer if we believed and followed Him. (I don’t believe anyone else has brought that up so far.) So if we choose to believe in Him, the suffering is not optional. It is inextricably linked to believing and following Jesus.

      Some good points for others to comment on. Thanks, GuichT. 🙂

  • Sara says:

    HOW you suffer is the option.

    “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” (Phil. 1:29, NLT)
    Not only is suffering a part of the Christian life, but it is also considered a PRIVILAGE as we identify our suffering with the sufferings of Christ.
    We live in a fallen world. Suffering is the result of sin. There would be no suffering if there were no sin. But God in His love and mercy sent His Son to restore our broken state to righteousness so that we may know Him and enter in to a relationship with Him. It is Christ who makes us righteous – by identifying with Him, by striving to follow His example in our own lives – we are made righteous. Not by anything we do (or don’t do).
    “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Phil 3:7-11, NLT)
    Christ’s suffering was not in vain – it was necessary and for a reason. He did indeed CHOOSE to restore us – His love for us is not based on our own merit; it is perfect, holy and complete – and so without His sacrfice, we wouldn’t be able to experience a personal intimacy with God. So here is the option: You can choose to suffer without Christ in sin, or you can choose to suffer with Him as you dig into His truth and obey His commands, defying all that is natural to this world by choosing to “become one with Christ.” At least with the latter, we have this promise:
    “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)” (Rom. 8:18-25, NLT)

    I love how God makes beauty from our ashes.

    • Daphne says:

      Good points, Sara. I especially like your statement:

      You can choose to suffer without Christ in sin, or you can choose to suffer with Him…

      As you said, if we suffer with Him, we have the promise of greater things to come, not only in this life but also in the life to come.
      Thanks for sharing.

  • greg.spencer4 says:

    The expression really should be “Life is painful and Suffering is inevitable”. That wouldn’t make for very good bumper sticker humor which is where “Pain is optional” comes in. I think I understand the sports car driver’s viewpoint. His life is good. His life is comfortable. He doesn’t have to drive a clunker. With such a narrow view of life, you can see why he might feel as he does. Broaden the perspective and the rosy picture shows storm clouds on the horizon or painful bumps in the road of life that are easily forgotten in the comforts of today.

    And the survey says: 2 – disagree but not strongly.

  • Dr. John Fairless says:

    Good question, and good thoughts from all who have replied. The only thing I would add is that, to me, the original “bumper sticker” may have meant to address our propensity to dwell on suffering and misery. It is very true that suffering will come, especially as defined and lived out by Christ. But God never intends for us to dwell continually in a suffering state…suffering is only for a season, just as “weeping lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

    When suffering comes, I may ask, “Lord, what is the purpose of this in my life?” It could be corrective…I may be bringing the suffering upon myself by a wrong attitude or action. It may be to build my character and/or strength for an even greater trial that God knows will be coming my way…something that I cannot yet see. It may simply be the “suffering for righteousness’ sake” that Jesus spoke of; if I choose to live for Him, there will be times when others will not like that and may try to “make me suffer.”

    Whatever the case may be, God promises to be with me and will, I believe, make known the purpose and cause of the suffering in good time. And, as God did not leave Christ to suffer, so too will God rescue me from the pit of suffering! God really is good, don’t you think?

    • Daphne says:

      Thanks, Dr. John. I have that tendency at times to dwell on my suffering, and although I know suffering is only for a season, sometimes the season seem so long, especially when chronic illnesses are concerned. I cling to the promise that God will, in time, rescue me from the pit of suffering. He IS good. Thanks for sharing.

  • April M. Whitt says:

    Great Question Daphne!
    I believe all above comments are valid and I would have to put myself somewhere in the middle. And as everyone points out–we often carry on with alot of needless suffering, but the fact is–a certain amouht of sufferent is unavoidable.

    But suffering draws us nearer to The Lord and often teaches us patience and many other virutes. Pain draws our attention to matters that we would often overlook in our busy lives. When we need “pruning” suffering makes us stop and take notice of what really matters. It gives us compassion for others who suffer similar trials. It is for sure a part of being human, and a kinship with our Lord and Savior. Thanks for a great Blog!

    • Daphne says:

      Thanks, April. One thing that suffering has taught me is, as you said, compassion for others who suffer similar trials. It really has opened my eyes and I’m sure it will continue to do so. Thanks for sharing.

  • Daphne says:

    I asked a dear friend and one of the pastors at my church, Pastor Jerry Goodell, for his input on this question, and this was his reply.
    Dear Daphne,

    I would be a strong ‘1’.

    II Cor 1:5-7: “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.”

    I Peter 4:1: “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin”

    Hebrews 5:8: “Although He was a Son (Jesus), He learned obedience from the things which he suffered.”

    Hebrews 5:8 (The Message): “Though he was God’s Son, he learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do.”

    This trusting obedience that Jesus learned was not referring to anything that had to do with His ‘salvation’ (He didn’t need to be saved) or being made perfect (He was perfect). It has to do totally with relationship. Through His suffering here on earth Christ learned a new and different depth of relationship with His Father. The Trinity had existed for all of eternity in complete unity, joy, and love. But with the incarnation of Jesus, their relationship is taken to a new depth. Faith and trust was deepened in a way that could not have happened prior to Jesus becoming man and suffering (note: this does not mean their relationship in eternity was flawed; it was perfect, but even a perfect relationship can go to new depths of faith and trust). Thus, suffering plays the same role in our lives. Suffering allows me to grow in my relationship with Christ each time I experience it; allows me to grow in faith and trust; thus, made more perfect (not in the sense of my sins – I was made perfect the day I was saved; but, in the depth of my relationship with Christ). A person cannot read and study the Book of Hebrews without realizing that suffering, faith, trust, and relationship are all tied up together. Please take time to read the Hebrews 11, the ‘faith chapter’. Everyone listed there experienced great suffering. Do I think I am any better?

    Two misconceptions are involved. First, we think as a Christian life should be all roses. I don’t see this taught in Scripture. Matter-of-fact, I think one could easier make the case that to live the Christian life will in fact include suffering as necessary for the believer to grow in his relationship with Christ. I am not sure completely what God’s anointing is, but I do think I recognize a person who is anointed by God. In every case of individuals that I recognize as anointed, I have seen suffering in their lives (Job—the most godly man on earth at that time). Secondly, where some thinking goes astray is that some think that they should suffer for suffering sake—like it would commend them to God. This could not be further from the truth. Also, suffering brought on because of sin in an individual’s life will not necessarily bring about good (though God will work through it to bring us to Him).

    All of this comes back to the question: How does God interact or work in our lives? English theologian, John Oman, said that God does not do His work like an archer firing his arrows straight into a target. Rather He does His work like the rain that falls on the mountains and finds its way down into streams and then on through great rivers to the ocean. In the end the water reaches the ocean, but the trip could have been made by any of one of thousands of routes. In the end God’s purpose will be achieved, but in the meantime He allows human beings to participate in its being achieved. I believe that God voluntarily restrains Himself from doing all that He could do and making every decision Himself, in order to allow men to share in the doing of His work.

    In short, I will not ask God to put suffering in my life, but I will ask Him to bring me in a closer and closer relationship with Him, and He might choose to accomplish that through suffering.

    God bless,

    Pastor Jerry

    • Daphne says:

      Pastor Jerry makes great points. I especially like:

      In short, I will not ask God to put suffering in my life, but I will ask Him to bring me in a closer and closer relationship with Him, and He might choose to accomplish that through suffering.

      Yes, Lord.

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