Does Forgiveness Give Meaning to Suffering?
When others are unfair to us, we respond in part with emotional pain. After all, we do not expect others to treat us with disrespect or to withdraw love from us. When this happens, it hurts.
An important question, then, is this: What do we do with all of this pain? If we are not careful, we could too easily toss that pain onto others or conclude that we ourselves are not worth too much if we have this much pain. Good people, we might falsely reason, are pain free and since I am filled with pain, therefore I am not a very good person.
The meaning of suffering in the above two scenarios is quite negative. What does it mean to suffer? It means that I will be mean to others and to myself.
Yet, there is a better way if we shift our focus. With some effort, we may grow into seeing that our suffering is an opportunity. It is that opportunity to not let the pain and suffering defeat us, but instead to become motivated to reach for a higher good. Our pain can be a motivator to give back good where we received unfairness. That good can extend not only to the one who caused our pain but also to anyone else now who needs a little good to come their way. We can learn to be a conduit of good to others as we become more sensitive to their pain precisely because of the pain that we now carry. Because of our pain, and now our motivation to leave good in the world, someone else may be a little less pained, suffer a little less because we now desire for them a better way than we have had.
Suffering, put into service to others, gives meaning to the suffering. It gives meaning to life. As others benefit from this, the paradox is that we ourselves find that our suffering is reduced.
Forgiving others is one such path of taking our pain and putting it into service to others, particularly those who have created the suffering in us.