The modern attitude to suffering is that it is a great evil which should be eradicated as far as that is possible. Our whole moral system today is more or less based on the premise that what leads to personal happiness is good, as long as it doesn't harm anyone else, and what causes suffering is always wrong. But what if suffering is actually the whole reason for life in this world? What if the fact of suffering does not disprove the idea of God but actually proves it?
To make sense of this, on the face of it, absurd idea we have to understand what we are and why we are here. And what we are it's not what we appear to be. The self as we know it is a false thing. It is not our true being or, if it is, then it is rotten, gone bad. Now if this is the case then what that self views as good or bad is not necessarily so. That is not to say that suffering is good and happiness is spiritually corrosive. But sometimes they might very well be so.
For the worldly self that we all identify with and look to fulfil is a false self. It is something we have identified with but it is not us. Our true self is the soul which is a spiritual being, and the reality is that suffering is often necessary to make us aware of this. It is what is required to detach us from our false identification with the ego-self and realign us with the truth of our being. No suffering means spiritual stagnation though that is not to say that suffering should be sought. That would be the ego trying to manipulate its own overthrow for its own ends. But if suffering comes, and cannot be avoided, then it should be accepted and the lessons it brings learned. And there always are lessons to be learned even if it is the ability to endure without complaint and so grow in patience and humility. There is always the possibility of removing our concern from our worldly self and its fears and desires, and fixing our thoughts on something greater which is the true source of our being.
Naturally this only relates to personal suffering. The suffering of others is never something we should observe without compassion or idly stand by and watch, though even then we have to understand that it may be necessary. We have to develop the spiritual discernment that will enable us to appreciate what is suffering sent to teach the soul or, better put, to teach us that we are the soul, and what is suffering caused by the wrong conditions that human beings have created on this planet ever since they lost their connection to the spiritual world.
So the soul, a spiritual being, is what we are and our duty here is to remember our origins. The soul on its own level cannot suffer, certainly not as it can do here where the conditions, specifically the sense of separation, exist to make that possible. This is the world of duality in which we are alone, cut off from the rest of life, and it is that which both helps us to grow and causes suffering. The two go together.
So, strange as it may seem, suffering is actually something for which we should be grateful to God. It takes a certain spiritual maturity to see this and, like all such doctrines, it can be misunderstood. Suffering is not good. It is an evil. We moderns are right about that. But it is an evil out of which good may come. Very possibly in a world that hadn't fallen it would not have been necessary but this one did fall and so it is required even if, as I have been assured, all hardships now will be amply compensated for. This is not easy to understand. Can it be true? Can the pain of this world really be seen in a light that explains it, still more justifies it? I think it can. Is it really so hard to accept that suffering has a purpose and that one day it will be seen as no more than a bad dream when the day dawns. Of course, in order to accept that idea we have to come to terms with the fact that we are only half made in our current state. We are still being formed, and it may be that when the new man is finally formed his past travails will seem to him well worth it in the light of his present glory.
So the conclusion I draw is that the fact of suffering can be taken as proof of God's existence and of his purpose for us. When we identify ourselves exclusively with our material being then suffering makes no sense. But when we start to see ourselves as visitors to this world, come to experience the lessons it has to offer then we can see it in its true light. And this was surely what Jesus demonstrated by his life and death. He showed us that accepted suffering can be the way to redemption and self-transformation.
Note: After I had written this piece I was asked a question about the suffering of animals. How could a good God allow animals to suffer? Humans may do so because the abuse of free will has made a fallen world but why animals? Why (ran the question) are they involved in the predator/prey cycle? But the point is that it's not just humanity that has fallen. The whole of nature has been affected whether as a consequence of the human deviation or because of the original fall of the angels from heaven which we can understand to mean that celestial beings were banished from higher worlds and forced to live in lower realms which they have corrupted by their presence. Nature itself has been corrupted. But there is also the important point that all life is evolving. Animals too are here to learn and they will do that far more quickly when faced with challenge which the predator/prey cycle brings to both its participants far more than a lion lying down with the lamb scenario would. If any vegetarian is shocked by this statement I should point out that I make it as someone who has not eaten meat since 1978.