Column: Suffering

columnIt’s difficult to keep three concurrent literature classes from blending together in one’s mind. But this blending has brought a common theme to my attention (besides hundreds of pages of reading). Scattered throughout the pages of fiction is man’s search for meaning in suffering.

The ancient Greeks found an existential answer for life’s questions, believing the search for meaning to be the meaning. The Greek dramas of Sophocles display the belief that our power to suffer is an end in itself. Our own strength shows greatness, and greatness is to be satisfying.

This mindset was an easy way for the Greeks to resign themselves to never understanding the why behind the what. They taught themselves to value the experience for its own sake. The stories of Oedipus, Titus Andronicus and other great tragedies were inspired by this perspective on life. No answers are offered. The audience or reader is simply intended to walk away with gnosis — a mystical sort of self-knowledge.

Modern man isn’t much different from the Greek. Our gnosis is displayed not only in our literature and our paintings and our sculptures but also in our song lyrics and our films. People even get tattoos to display to others the stories of their lives and what has most deeply impacted them.

The times my heart is heaviest are the times I find myself producing pages of writing or sitting at the piano with a stack of plaintive arrangements, finding inspiration in the midst of the confusion or disappointments in life.

We find comfort simply in the expression of our soul. This expression can’t possibly be wrong, but it begins to feel so when the search becomes the answer. Looking for a way to interpret our struggles, we produce some of the most beautiful art in the history of mankind but, also, some of the ugliest.

But perhaps the most helpful illustration of meaning in the midst of suffering has been the revelations of the Creator in the book of Job. These revelations don’t answer all of our questions either. But they do show glimpses. The beauty in creation and the power behind it proves that there is someone who knows more than we do.

A personal God knows and is wonderfully present. And the knowledge that there is someone who knows more than me makes all the difference.

So unlike the ancient Greeks, I don’t have to rely on my own ability to “suck it up.” I have real hope. I can still write and play, and artists can still create and express. We can still mourn and question, but by accepting God’s comfort and bowing to God’s sovereignty, man has a greater chance of displaying his struggles not only honestly but beautifully.