Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, is about life as story—how to live and tell a good one. Necessarily, some chapters deal with suffering. He paraphrases Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, who believed that,
Suffering, as absurd as it seemed, pointed to a greater story in which, if one would only construe himself as a character within, he could find fulfillment in his tragic role, knowing the plot was heading toward redemption. Such an understanding would take immense humility and immeasurable faith, a perspective perhaps achieved only in the context of near hopelessness.
In Frankl’s thinking, pain indicated that life had meaning. “If one could have faith in something greater than himself, pain might be a path to experiencing a meaning beyond the false gratification of personal comfort.”
In my thinking, pain is just pain sometimes. We suffer because we don’t have a choice. The doctors don’t know what’s wrong. The medicines don’t work. The circumstances can’t be changed. Our bodies won’t stop aging. The list goes on.
There are lessons to learn from some pain, but not all. A burn teaches you not to put your hand in the fire, but what does an earthquake teach? Suffering isn’t always a consequence; rather it’s a condition of being human. It’s universal, it’s unrelenting and it stinks!
To keep from becoming a fatalist or nihilist, one has to assume—along with Frankl and Miller—that life is “heading toward redemption.” When we can’t find meaning in the suffering, we try to look beyond it to a higher purpose.
But as noted, this takes “immense humility and immeasurable faith.” And who has the energy for that when one is in pain? Nobler souls than me. All I can manage is to take one day at a time, to stay engaged with others, and to hope that this life will all make sense in the next.