I have a book on suffering I have been nursing for about 8 years now, so I want to use this blog to think through, sharpen, and perhaps write this book.
First, we must clarify our terms. Here are the terms about suffering as I understand them.
- Suffering arises from issues out of our control. It can be things that start within us or outside of us.
- Discipline or punishment comes from issues in our control and roll out from something we should not have done. Here we are talking about our sin.
- Consequences again flow from within us, but we are not talking about sin.
If I could chart it, I think this is how I understand the matrix of issues we face.
|Outside of me||Inside of me|
|Sin||Suffering||Discipline or Punishment|
Outside of Me
An issue starts outside of me; I can’t control it. This is suffering. The natural world can produce our suffering. Suffering can arise from someone’s foolishness; The man who loses focus while driving can foolishly bring about suffering for someone else. Someone’s sin can also cause us to suffer.
Inside of Me
The second column is different. If my “suffering” is due to my sin, then it is not suffering at all. It’s discipline or punishment.
On Discipline and Punishment
Now I use both words because I am trying to distinguish a couple of things.
- God will discipline his children but not punish them. (Hebrews 12)
- God will punish the wicked, but I don’t mean God’s wrath and hell and final destruction.
Consequences. This is not due to my sin, but it is due to some foolish thing I have done that comes back to “haunt” me.
Finally, sickness, disease, malfunctions in my body can all be called suffering as well.
It is true that many circumstances in our lives are a combination of these issues. Sometimes I am suffering and respond wrongly. Then I get a mix of suffering and consequences.
It is also true that it is often hard to talk about suffering without constantly reminding ourselves that our discipline for our sin is not suffering.
So these are the terms. What do you think? Are there other categories I should consider?