The God Squad: The difference between pain and suffering

Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: I think I learn about life and spiritual well-being as I enjoy reading your articles in our local newspaper. I just read your "Honoring the Dead" piece and once again, I was struck by the human suffering and challenges that life presents.

The offering you included in the piece was from H. H mentioned that his father was a prolific reader (his first name was Read) and that his father had lost his eyesight. And, just yesterday I made a call to the wife of a well-known, well-liked local man who was dying from a very recent cancer diagnosis and had chosen to live his final days at home with the support of a professional end-of-life care group. She mentioned to me how hard it was for her to watch her husband suffering.

These were two examples of such great "psychological, physical, material" suffering and challenges presented to people that I became aware of the same day. Wow.

In some of your past articles that I read, I know you have spoken to this. Something like the Material as opposed to the Spiritual being. Very different "aspects", if you will, of human life. And if I recall, separating the two can help in dealing with life's struggles. Can I ask you to consider offering another God Squad piece on helping us deal with life's serious struggles? Trying to get through the suffering. Thank you. – (From S in Kenosha, Wisconsin)

A: The main thing I know is that pain and suffering are not the same. Pain is not a choice. Suffering is a choice. If you drop a heavy object on your foot you will — you must — feel pain. It is a natural reaction to an assault on your well-being. Suffering, on the other hand, is a choice we make to let our pain break us. We need not make the choice to suffer. We can choose instead to accept the pain and overcome the pain and manage the pain. The great gift of faith is that it teaches us how to choose not to suffer.

What are the paths of faith that help us to overcome suffering?


One path is acceptance. My favorite spiritual teaching of acceptance is found in a letter from an anonymous Confederate soldier:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;

I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things;


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