We Christians, like all other children of planet earth, are born into a reality that will necessarily incorporate grief and lamentation. We accept this actuality and reject any explanation that says our sorrowing is a waste or based on illusion. To unlock the meaning of our ordeals, we climb a hill where God-become-human dies in agony. After that culminating event, everything else in the world's history has a new illumination--a light born out of the darkness of Calvary. We see the awesome spectacle of a God in utmost need, struggling in our pain. St. Therese [of Lisieux] describes the face of Jesus as "luminous...in the midst of wounds and tears" (Letters, Lt 95, p.580).
The primal sin was accepting the serpent's promise, "You will be like gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). And from that human decision came suffering and death. Who would have conceived of a divine response to this original betrayal whereby God would embrace the very penalty imposed upon sin: suffering and death? The Psalms of the Hebrew Bible sing over and over of God's abundant kindness, of God's steadfast love. Yet we Christians sing of a mercy that not only pours out compassion but enters into the experience of our desolation. We have an infinite God who has willed to feel our limitations, even our small ones.
Jesus does not explain human existence from afar. He allowed Himself to be restrained by the boundaries of the humanity He shares with us. But in so doing, He transforms those very limitations and endows them with power.
He looks at us in whatever lameness is holding us back from moving forward with Him. His words sound in our ears. "Get up and walk" (Mt 9:5). With His power energizing us, we know the path before us this very day-yes, with all its difficulties--leads to eternal life.
---Sister Margaret Dorgan DCM, "The Message of Jesus About Human Pain"
If a non-believer prefers a more secular perspective, perhaps the following passage by Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport, from the preface to Viktor Frankl's book, "Man's Search for Meaning," will help him or her.
[T]o live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in the suffering and the dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes. If he succeeds he will continue to grow in spite of all indignities.
Cold comfort to many of us. To the rest, a warm hearth on a bitterly cold night.