Floods, and the Meaning of Suffering

A question among questions, after the floods, is how we respond to suffering at the personal level after we have debated how it was caused. Let there be no doubt that suffering is somehow caused, or invited, by people, and God lets sins punish us (rather than punish us Himself as a revengeful being), especially when these are sins against fellow-beings or the environment (huqooq-ul-ibaad or muamlaat) . What we need now is motivation to rehabilitate, to fight depression, to stop regretting what couldn’t be avoided. Let us note that suffering can help nations be reborn. It can act as a providential mechanism for infusing a new spirit in us. In fact, there are signs that we are getting spiritually primed. The disaster brought our compassion to the fore; friendship and relationships have not died; we are a community, not merely a society; our religious and social organizations and activism are our great asset; and so many other qualities. We have seen how the hearts of Kashmiris anywhere beat for fellow Kashmiris at home. What is it that helped collect so much aid, be it across the country, or in universities?

At the more personal level, we can also see how suffering can help us rebuild our relationship with God and with fellow humans. Let me quote some important sources on the alchemy of suffering:

This is my last message to you; in sorrow seek happiness  -Zossima in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov


It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to his heart.

Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of countenance the heart is made better  -Ecclesiastes

Every soul is wretched that is bound to affections of mortal things; it is tormented to lose them, and in their loss becomes aware of the wretchedness which in reality it had even before it lost them  -St. Augustine

        Finally, two passages from Frithjof Schuon, the Messenger of the Perennial Philosophy, and arguably the greatest metaphysician and sage of the twentieth century who systematically wrote on the meaning of suffering and justifying God’s ways to men. It touches almost every important question that flood victims have asked, that preachers have been emphasizing, that we have found hard to understand: 

-There is in every man a tendency to attach himself too much to this or that element of passing life or to worry about it too much, and the adversary takes advantage of this in order to cause troubles for us. There is also the desire to be happier than one is, or the desire not to suffer any injustices, even harmless ones, or the desire always to understand everything, or the desire never to be disappointed; all of this is of the domain of subtle worldliness, which must be countered by serene detachment, by the principal and initial certainty of That which alone matters, then by patience and confidence. When no help comes from Heaven, this is because it is a question of a difficulty which we can and must resolve with the means which Heaven has placed at our disposal. In an absolute way, it is necessary to find our happiness in Prayer; that is to say that it is necessary to find therein sufficient happiness so as not to allow ourselves to be excessively troubled by the things of the world, seeing that dissonances cannot but exist, the world being what it is.

-There is the desire not to suffer any injustices, or even simply not to be placed at a disadvantage. Now one of two things: either the injustices are the result of our past faults, and in this case our trials exhaust this causal mass; or the injustices result from our character, and in this case our trials bear witness to it; in both cases, we must thank God and pray to Him with all the more fervor, without preoccupying ourselves with worldly chaff. One must also say to oneself that the grace of the Remembrance of God compensates infinitely for every dissonance from which we can suffer, and that in relation to this grace, the inequality of terrestrial favors is a pure nothingness. Let us never forget that an infinite grace compels us to an infinite gratitude, and that the first stage of gratitude is the sense of proportion.