Dealing with suffering

How we understand and deal with suffering plays a large role in how we see many issues in bioethics, particularly those involving the end of life. In his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering Timothy Keller has some interesting thoughts on how different cultures have dealt with suffering. He suggests that that it is important for us as human beings “to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity.” This fits with Atul Gawande’s observation that those who have a purpose have a better experience of the end of life. Keller also says that one of the ways that a culture serves it members is to help them make sense of suffering.

To explore that idea he looks at how some different cultures have done that. Those with a moralistic view such as karma say that all suffering is deserved and right living can lead to less suffering although that may be in a future life, others such as Buddhism see suffering as the result of our desires and seek to extinguish desire, Those who emphasize fate and destiny focus on having courage on the face of what we cannot control. Modern secular culture provides the least help since pain and suffering have no meaning if the material world is all that there is. The only response is to avoid suffering at all cost.

The Christian view sees suffering as the result of the fall, but is frequently not the result of the sufferers own sin. Suffering is a result of evil, but we serve a God who can take evil and transform it in to something that results in good.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.