A Case for Suffering

by | Jul 12, 2023 | Her Story | 3 comments

John and I recently binged a show on Apple TV called The Foundation.

It’s loosely based on the Foundation series of short stories by Isaac Asimov. I won’t go into great detail about the series, except to say that it’s as sci-fi as a show can get.  Basically, “the empire” consists of three clones of the same person; the young child/teen version, the “prime of the life” version, and the elderly version.

To maintain the well-being of these clones they have nanites implanted in themselves which heal broken bones, cure cancer, and basically stop anything bad from happening to the physical body of the empire clones.

While watching this, John and I discussed whether we’d want nanites if given the option.  John emphatically said he would get them, but I wasn’t sure I’d want them.

Thus began a healthy philosophical debate on the value of suffering.

Goodreads has over 3,671 quotes on suffering, ranging from those posited by the greatest philosophers in history as well as those from the Bible.  Both John and I are Christians; a Catholic denomination, to be exact.  Naturally, that’s where the debate on suffering began. I can always rely on my previously protestant husband to know his bible; he didn’t disappoint this time.  He reminded me, that in the beginning, God created the world to be free of suffering and created us to be eternal, body and soul. Unfortunately, through sin, death and suffering thus entered the world, altering the course for all humankind.  While our souls are still eternal, we no longer live without suffering.  For Christians, God sent his only son, Jesus to the world to atone for past, present, and future sins by His death on the cross.  He suffered greatly for us.

In 1 Peter 4:1  “ Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.”

Again, in 1 Peter 5:10 “and the God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory in Christ after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

And finally Romans 5:3-5 “Not only so, but also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

While not directly a quote about suffering, Stephen Hawking once said

“it is a waste of time to be angry about my disability.  One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining”

– I could not find any other quotes from other atheists on suffering.

My favorite quote on suffering comes from Kahil Gibran

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

Regardless of your opinion or belief on how and why suffering entered the world, the fact remains that suffering is something all of us experience.

Here’s the thing about suffering;  It’s the great equalizer.

Everyone suffers from something. Rich or poor.  Suffering is subjective as well.  While many of us can’t fathom why a famous actor or musician or any famous person for that matter who’s popular and financially well off and on the outside, appears to have everything, would take their own life,  I can only assume there’s suffering going on so deep in their core they deemed their life unlivable

If the pandemic proved anything it’s that inequity disproportionately affects the poor.  The general lack of healthcare and access to medications and vaccines proved disastrous for those not only in the US but around the world.

Imagine now, the exponential magnitude of that inequity if nanites were an option.

We’d be like the world portrayed in the 2013 movie, Elysium.  A world where only the wealthy, who live in a pristine space station above a ravaged earth, have access to health care and medical attention.

The world has never been, nor will it ever be fair. So there’s no use in raging against that.  The best we can do as co-inhabitants of this world is to help ease each other’s sufferings.  Often, to do that, we ourselves must suffer so as to gain empathy for what our fellow brothers and sisters are going through.

Suffering also provides a construct to the meaning of being alive.

Suffering can, when allowed, give us purpose.  As Christians, we are taught to bind our sufferings with Jesus’ sufferings.  Or, as Catholics, to “offer it up” to those who need extra prayers.  Because we all suffer from something at some point in our lives, suffering unites us with everyone else in this world.

Most of us can appreciate the suffering of others, especially when they experience a death in the family.  It’s the common ache in the gut and heart that we all inevitably feel.  To me, this makes suffering anything negative, worthwhile.

Personally, I believe the longer one lives without any suffering, the easier it becomes to grow complacent and numb to the health and well-being of others. Eventually becoming oblivious to the suffering of others. I don’t ever want to go too long without at least a little bit of suffering.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m NO masochist and I don’t look for ways to suffer. I have found value in what I’ve already suffered through.

Suffering has made me more compassionate, understanding, empathetic, patient, and grateful and has brought me infinitely closer to God.  In fact, I only learned to “Live in the moment” once the number of moments I had left, were brought into question.

All this to say that I would say “NO” to the nanites.

My trials and tribulations have made me stronger, wiser, and more caring and have allowed me to relate to people who have to suffer similar trials and tribulations. I’ve found value in suffering and I hope that others are able to as well.

I’ll finish with another favorite quote on suffering by Charles Dickens from Great Expectations;

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

About Me

In February 2022, I was diagnosed with brain cancer and it changed my whole life perspective. This blog is dedicated to my Journey through cancer diagnosis, recovery, and finding the humor in life.


  1. Richard Littel

    Another great read.

    • Julie Kurtz

      Thanks Rich!

  2. Mary O’Callaghan

    As our deceased and well loved pastor used to frequently enough during his sermons, “Life isn’t fair, never was, never will be”, but suffering, whether it be physical or mental, builds character , patience and understanding.


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