Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing - that we must go down before we even know what up is. In terms of the ego, most religions teach in some way that all must "die before they die." Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as "whenever I am not in control."
If religion cannot find a meaning for human suffering, humanity is in major trouble. All healthy religion shows us what to do with our pain. Great religion shows us what to do with our pain. Great religion shows us what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust.
If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.
If there isn't some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somewhere in it, and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down. The natural movement of the ego is to protect itself so as not to be hurt again.
Richard Rohr, from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 25
I'm not sure that I would go along with Rohr all the way when he defines suffering as simply "whenever I am not in control," but I'm not sure I can come up with a better one-liner.
This is an important passage nonetheless. In many ways it answers the unanswered questions in my previous posts on suffering. More of this tomorrow, I hope. I just couldn't resist posting this now!
Do good to your servant
according to your word, O LORD.
Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I believe in your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.
Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
I keep your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law.
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.