Suffering is a very real and ugly reality. Billions are affected or infected by suffering and looking for light in their darkness. The Hindu festival, called the Kumbh Mela is regarded as the biggest peaceful gathering in all of the world. As many as 75 million devotees are expected to gather in Nashik, in the next couple of months to dip themselves in the Godavari River and “liberate” themselves from all the “miseries and sufferings of life”. I believe one of the strongest motivating factors that draws so many people to a cold, dirty river is the hope of deliverance from all the suffering of this world.
A recent advertisement for the Kumbh Mela reads as follows:
“It is the power of faith that can part a river, move mountains, and endure the hardships that come bundled up for being an integral part of Kumbh Mela, a congregation of millions, gathered together to be freed from the vicious earthly cycle of life and death and move towards a heavenly realm, which knows no suffering or pain. An eternal life free of “sins” is the promise that comes attached with the magnificent event of Kumbh Mela. It’s a promise to which millions want to be bound with, and it is this promise that has made Kumbh Mela what it is today.”
An eternal life free of sin and suffering is indeed worth pursuing. But how to do this is the “million dollar question”. Hindus view suffering as punishment for “sins” committed in this lifetime or past lives. Individuals’ suffering is all part of good or bad “Karma” that is part of a cosmic cycle of birth, life, destruction and rebirth. Hindus believe victims will be reincarnated and may be happier in their next life. Karma is understood within Hinduism—and Buddhism and Jainism as well—as the fundamental and universal law of cause and effect. They believe when a person does something, it has an effect: good actions have good effects, bad actions have bad effects.
All these bits of karma—good and bad—are something like spiritual baggage, or deposits in a spiritual bank account. When a person dies, all of his or her karma is, in a sense, added up. They believe a “positive balance” leads to a more positive rebirth; a “negative balance” leads to a more negative rebirth.
Similar to Hinduism, Buddhists believe suffering to be the result of bad karma, not a fallen world. The recognition of suffering in the world is the first noble truth of Buddhism, and has one of the most radical systems of self deliverance from suffering. Suicide is even an acceptable form of “transcending” this suffering.
Jains view the world in which we live to be full of misery and suffering and the souls enslaved to matter. Jains use the presence of evil as a reason for denying the existence of an omnipotent, holy Creator. Jains worship themselves because they believe they have achieved perfection, and have become liberated from the cycle of birth and death. Contrary to the teaching of total depravity, they believe anyone can become a ‘god’ because every being has the potential to become such a perfect soul.
The very word “Islam” means “submission.” Many Muslims understand that to include suffering, is a way of submitting to the will of Allah. Some suffering is Satan’s doing or is the work of his associates in the spirit world (the “jinn”) and is allowed by Allah as a test of humility and faith. Many Muslims believe suffering and adversity strengthen one’s faith, as pain often leads to repentance and prayer and good deeds. Free will and human responsibility which the bible teaches is not embraced.
Just like these other religions, Christianity recognizes suffering in this world. Pain and suffering entered the world when Satan brought sin into the Garden of Eden, not because of bad “karma”. (Genesis 3:17-19). The Bible makes it abundantly clear that all of us are tainted by and infected with sin and its curse of suffering (Rom 3:23; 1 John 1:8). But contrary to what the Buddhist, Jains, Muslims and Hindus believe, the Bible teaches salvation in this corrupt physical and temporary world only comes through having a “saving relationship” with Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins, to restore humanity.
Unlike Buddhism, Hinduisms, Islam, and Jainism which depends on the works of the individual for salvation from this curse, salvation in Christianity is dependent on the work of Christ alone not human charity or effort (Romans 3:23-26). By putting faith in Jesus Christ, our account of sin and suffering is transferred to His work on the cross. By His death, Jesus paid for our sins; he took our suffering upon himself, to purchase our redemption with His blood. Salvation is a gift from God to humanity; a person cannot “attain” their own salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10).
For now, everyone suffers and dies. The Buddha taught his followers to escape suffering while Jesus showed us the way to go through it. Contrary to all other religions, the hope the Bible gives, is not escape or deliverance from suffering, but rather victory over suffering. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). The answer is nobody and nothing. “In all these things [Christians] are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). The cross of Christ calls us to suffer and secures our triumph. The victory won by Jesus through his death and resurrection is given in the Bible as the guarantee of his final triumph, when he will judge the world and usher in “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). In that day “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis for his stand against Hitler, wrote from prison, “In view of our supreme purpose, the present difficulties and disappointments seem trivial.”
The Bible teaches that suffering can only be ended by coming into a right relationship with God, and this can only be done through Jesus Christ. Suffering ends because it is faced with God’s strength and comfort here in this world, and it ends ultimately when one enters Heaven after death. Suffering is certain. Salvation is sure.