The question of true suffering.
| There is a funny thing about suffering; many people who believe that they are, aren’t, and the many people who truly have, have taken it in course without complaint. If you were to query the millions who truly suffer in this world as to the definition of their condition, they might indeed give you a somewhat puzzled look. As they see it, their life is their condition, the whole of it. They would not necessarily think in terms of defining their station. They may think as the American saying goes: it is what it is. Their lives are what they are from day to day and require no further defining.
Americans, on the other hand, love to define the condition of their life. They also believe they fully understand what suffering is, but do they? The most simple definition of suffering is to endure pain, disability, or to be subjected to distress, injury or loss. It should be obvious that we are dealing with a very broad condition spectrum. What suffering means to one person may be entirely different to another. Also, it is entirely probable that people will engage in a great deal of self-deception as concerns the level of their personal difficulties.
Let us cut to the chase and determine what we mean when we speak of suffering. Of course, we would all agree that suffering can be the short or long term. A cancer patient may experience suffering for years, while someone undergoing an operation may suffer postoperative pain that eventually subsides through the healing process. But there is another type of suffering which is beyond both the imagination and experience of most human beings. This is a suffering that encompasses both mental and physical distress. It is such that one can hardly conceive of a human being able to survive it.
History is replete with examples of unbelievable suffering. Most suffering of this type takes place within the brutal ravages of war. Some stories you may have heard and others not. Here are some examples:
1. During the American Civil War, many Union prisoners were sent to the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia. More than 45,000 men were held there under deplorable conditions where they suffered from disease, starvation, and exposure.
2. In 1937 the Japanese invaded the city of Nanking, torturing and murder an estimated 300,000 people. People watched in horror as infants were skewered on bayonets and tossed into the air. People would be tied together and buried alive. Rape and murder lasted for weeks.
3. During World War II, both Nazi and Japanese scientist extensively experimented on human subjects. Nazi doctors would attempt to create battlefield wounds by cutting open sections of limbs and inserting dirt and gravel. Studies were conducted to observe the subject's reaction to being immersed in freezing water and left for hours. Dry cold experiments were conducted by leaving prisoners out in sub-zero temperatures without clothing for three or more hours. The infamous, Dr. Josef Mengele had a special passion for twins. By studying them he hoped to be instrumental in creating a master race. Twins as young as five and six years of age were tortured by daily blood test, starvation diets, as well as being exposed to Cholera, tuberculosis, and other deadly diseases. Mengele would see if he could create Siamese twins by sewing children together and observing the results.
Japanese doctors may have been much worse than the Nazis. Their infamous ‘Unit 731’ did horrendous experiments on their human subjects. Here are some of the things they did: Prisoners of war were subjected to vivisection without anesthesia. Vivisections were performed on prisoners after infecting them with various diseases. Scientists performed invasive surgery on prisoners, removing organs to study the effects of disease on the human body. These were conducted while the patients were alive because it was feared that the decomposition process would affect the results. The infected and vivisected prisoners included men, women, children, and infants.
Prisoners had limbs amputated in order to study blood loss. Those limbs that were removed were sometimes re-attached to the opposite sides of the body. Some prisoners’ limbs were frozen and amputated, while others had limbs frozen then thawed to study the effects of the resultant untreated gangrene and rotting.
Some prisoners had their stomachs surgically removed and the esophagus reattached to the intestines. Parts of the brain, lungs, liver, etc. were removed from some prisoners.
Vivisections performed on pregnant women, often women who had been impregnated by the doctors themselves.
Prisoners were injected with inoculations of disease, disguised as vaccinations, to study their effects. To study the effects of untreated venereal diseases, male and female prisoners were deliberately infected, often by rape, with syphilis and gonorrhea, then studied.
Human targets were used to test grenades positioned at various distances and in different positions. Flamethrowers were tested on humans. Humans were tied to stakes and used as targets to test germ-releasing bombs, chemical weapons, and explosive bombs.
In other tests, subjects were deprived of food and water to determine the length of time until death; placed into high-pressure chambers until death; experimented upon to determine the relationship between temperature, burns, and human survival; placed into centrifuges and spun until death; injected with animal blood; exposed to lethal doses of x-rays; subjected to various chemical weapons inside gas chambers; injected with sea water to determine if it could be a substitute for saline; and burned or prematurely buried alive.
Prisoners would be hung upside down to see exactly how long one dies before being choked to death.
Prisoners would be exposed to extremely high and low temperatures in order to develop frostbite. Doctors would study how long a human being could survive before rotting and gangrene set in on human flesh. Extreme high temperatures were used to determine the relationship between temperature and human survival.
So much space has been given to the Japanese doctors because of the unbelievable horrors they inflicted. One can hardly imagine the suffering these Chinese, Russian, and American prisoners suffered.
What you have just read should make you think as to whether you have ever really suffered. If you truly have, then my heartfelt sympathy goes out to you. But if you think for one minute that you are suffering because you maxed out your Visa and Master card, then you haven’t been paying attention. As a former pastor for thirty years, I have worked closely with every sort of person you can imagine. I have seen drunkards and drug addicts, wife beaters, and those they have beaten. Even amid their worse and lasting experiences, the drunkards kept drinking, the drug addicts continued using drugs, the wife beaters kept beating, and the beaten wives kept going back to be beaten again. They all had choices, but they would never make them.
True and genuine suffering does not give one a choice. In some third-world countries, starvation is ongoing. Such suffering is constant. In the pages of history, it is standing on the grounds of Auschwitz in 10 degrees below zero for roll call that might last for two hours. It is the inexplicable pain of starvation and, irregardless, being forced to work 12 hours a day. It is being hung with your arms behind you for hours on end. It is unparalleled continual existence in an excruciating nightmare from which one cannot escape; that is suffering.
I am an amateur historian and researcher. I have done a great deal of research into the histories of people who have suffered greatly. I have reached the conclusion that, although people may wish to lament that they have suffered or are suffering, very few of those actually understand what it really means to suffer.
For most of us, our conscious world is very small. We live, as it were, in a microcosm of a world in which we are the creators. Very little, if any, of that world involves being in a dark abyss of suffering. And when we view the world as the great expanse that it is, we at once realize how small our lives are, and how insignificant are our aches and pains and petty problems. While never wishing to diminish the horror and pain that some have experienced in this life, we should see that most do not suffer starvation or experience the physical and phycological pain of seemingly endless tortures. There is no terminal illness and a hot shower requires the effort it takes to turn on the tap. The time may come when all of that suddenly changes. Until then, let us realize how fortunate we are, and pray for those who are not.