When we experience pain or suffering, we tend to explain and rationalize it, to help us cope. There’re only a handful of categories available for this. Our suffering can be considered either:
- consequence of sin
- growing pains
- motivation for repentance
- call to action, as in: it pains me to see an injustice,
and this motivates me to take action.
“Just fate” or “illness” are no explanations.
The way we think about our pain will greatly influence our endurance and our attitude. If it is punishment or consequence of our sin or of the sin of others against us, we can, in the best case, merely hope to suffer through it quietly and wait for it to end, for the balance of cause and effect to be restored. The cause lies in the past and is set, and we are merely reaping the inevitable.
If however, we take it as a call to action, whether that action be prayer, repair work / reconciliation or fighting injustice, that same pain empowers us and receives a purpose. The original cause – ignorance, laziness, selfishness, criminal behavior, may still be the same and still lie in the past, but nevertheless the call to action is current, and the action itself shapes our future.
There is always the opportunity for repentance. No matter what I or those around me have done. Outside our linear perception of time, HaShem sees all the wars and genocide of our past, present and future – all wrongdoing, all ruthlessness – and yet He decided that it is still better to make the universe, than not to make it. That we can take for granted. We should not lose heart and get depressed. Righteousness will prevail in the end, and we can be part of it. The fact that you breathe is proof. Because were it not so, then the world would not exist.
«Hashem works out all things for Himself, indeed,
even the rasha (wicked) for the Yom Ra’ah (day of evil).»
Prov 16:4, Orthodox Jewish Bible.
Evil also serves a purpose, but it will end in its own demise. Righteousness will stand and remain. This is not to be used as an excuse for bringing about more evil so that more good may come about (Rom 6:1-2), it is merely an acknowledgement that past sin can be redeemed and should not distract us from striving for doing good and serving HaShem.
Too often, evil thoughts, word and deeds result from desperation about a situation we cannot change, from a wrath (rational or irrational) that gets channeled toward destruction. It is HaShem’s task to deal with all evil though, once it has served its purpose. We are here to purify our souls toward holiness. And with every breath, our souls have new opportunity to grow in righteousness and Shalom (“peace/wholeness/integrity”).
When we meditate on these simple truths, our attitude can change. It may be the same amount of pain “objectively” before and after our prayer, and yet it makes all the difference what we make of it.
Direct your gaze ahead, wean yourself off experiencing pain backward, related to past events and mistakes, and live your pain forward. The past we cannot change, only the future.
This is how Reb Noson can pray in Fiftieth Gate: Likutey Tefilot “turn all my failures into successes” – the damage has been done and the sin occurred; yet it only worsens the bondage if we dwell on it and feel shame over it. We need to repent and grab this pain by the heel or by its horns and use it to thrust us upwards.