Suffering: Meaning and Definition


Mary Ann Fatula defines suffering as, “the disruption of inner human harmony caused by physical, mental, spiritual and emotional forces experienced as isolating and threatening our very existence.”[1]

Richard Sparks presents suffering as, “one’s consciousness of life’s dark side, the human experience that all is not peaceful and harmonious in our bodies, in our souls, in our relationships, in the cosmos.”[2]

Dorothy Soelle emphasises that all suffering must have the three dimensions of physical, psychological and social affliction if it is to be suffering at all.[3]

Most commentators express the view that suffering is linked inevitably in the problem of evil (Theodicy). There is no single explanation of the origin and purpose of evil, nor is there any unanimous agreement as to the appropriate response to the suffering it entails. However, as Christians we must assert that suffering and evil are not caused by God, the author of all good, but suffering and evil are inherent in the universe and its natural processes and in the uniqueness of human freedom, in the misuse of free will that is the moral evil of sin. The reasons for and the meaning of suffering apparently inseparable from human life have been the subject of question all through history till this day.

[1] Mary Ann Fatula, “Suffering” in New Theological Dictionary, (Dublin, 1987), 990-992 at 990.

[2] Richard Sparks, “Suffering” in New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, (Collegeville, 1986), 950-953 at 950.

[3] Dorothy Soelle, Suffering, (Philadelphis, 1975), 15.

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