The 9 Maxims of Suffering

While editing a manuscript this week, I came across a basic but important list of maxims about suffering. The content was written by a man named Cornelius J. Rempel, a Mennonite churchman and hospital chaplain. Certainly he saw a lot of suffering through his service, so with some authority on the subject he offers the following for our comfort:

  1. Suffering is not God’s desire for us, but occurs in the process of life.
  2. Suffering is not given in order to teach us something, but through it we learn.
  3. Suffering is not given to us to teach others something, but through it they may learn.
  4. Suffering is not given to punish us, but is sometimes the consequence of sin or poor judgment.
  5. Suffering does not occur because our faith is weak, but through it our faith may be strengthened.
  6. God does not depend on human suffering to achieve God’s purposes, but through it God’s purposes are sometimes achieved.
  7. Suffering is not always to be avoided at all costs, but is sometimes chosen.
  8. Suffering can either destroy us or add meaning to life.
  9. The will of God has more to do with how we respond to life, than with how life deals with us.


Any you would add?

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  • Bruce Nuffer

    Jun 16, 2014 - Reply

    Well far be it for me–who has little trauma in my life–to disagree with someone so experienced in dealing with human suffering. But as I have gotten older and reflected on the specific element of death in suffering, my views on it have become more mature. I used to think that death is part of life, and that the grieving that loved ones suffer is a result of their own sense of loss. As C. S. Lewis said, our sorrow in death is related to the happiness we experienced with the loved ones in life.

    Now I am less sure of that. It seems to me that death is absolutely NOT part of life; it was not part of God’s original plan for us. But like gravity, it is an inescapable fact of our fallen existence regardless of one’s degree of holiness. I wonder if the pain we feel at our own grieving and suffering is the pain of sin ripping from us that which was never meant to be taken. Simply put, I think death is wrong, that we were never intended for it, and the pain of our loss is the pain of our fallenness.

    I know your post wasn’t just about death, but about suffering in general. I think a theology of suffering gets very complicated. It is caused by God? Is it not caused but allowed? Is it sometimes one and sometimes the other? Rempel’s first maxim, that God doesn’t desire suffering, seems to contradict his thought in the second maxim that suffering is “given” to us. If it’s given, by whom is it given if God doesn’t desire it? Is the aspect of learning and growing of faith in suffering simply God’s will in redeeming what would otherwise be a pointless and miserable reality caused by some non-God power? It seems to me that the only maxims that hint at “why” suffering comes are numbers 2-4. All the others are focused on possible outcomes of suffering.

  • Elizabeth Perry

    Jun 16, 2014 - Reply

    Good thoughts, Bruce.

    I think your and Rempel’s ideas aren’t too far off. Seems to me that he is trying to call out some of our bad theology around suffering and to reinforce the idea that while God redeems pain, it wasn’t his first option for us.

    It is precisely because God loves life so much that the sacrifice of Christ–the giving up of life– meant anything, had any weight. Thomas Merton says that one of the chief tasks of the Christian is “to make our life and our body valuable enough to be offered to God in sacrifice.”

    If I haven’t said it before, thanks for your faithful readership! Means a lot!

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