When we read the Bible we find people who are suffering. For example, Jesus acknowledges the suffering of the people at Smyrna. For most people in the United States, we use the word suffering to mean unpleasantness and pain, or possibly harm or the threat of harm. Suffering is very subjective. What we call suffering may very well be relief or even pleasure for people in other parts of the world. Things others have learned to live with could be unbearable for us.

The question I want to address today is, “what is the source of suffering?” We are quick to look externally at someone or something being the cause of any difficulty we have. Though not all suffering is equal, the way the word is used for the majority of people reading this article, the causes are very similar. It is my observation that our pain and suffering usually fall into one of three categories.

Self Inflicted
This may be the most common cause of all of our pain and struggle. As I have heard said before, if I kicked the person in the rear that caused me the most problems, I would not be able to sit down for a week. Much of the trouble we find in our lives is a direct result of the choices we make. When we choose to get into debt we cannot handle, we can experience some pain. When we make poor health choices and reap the results of those choices, we can suffer from them. We find the same in relationship choices. Many of the life choices we make have the ability to cause us pain. Much of what we call suffering is self-inflicted. Self-discipline can go a long way to eliminating much of this type of suffering.

Inflicted By Others
Even in what we consider to be a First World country there are still opportunities for others to inflict pain on us. This may come in the form of a crime where we have been harmed by someone else. Other times it may not involve something illegal. It could be an employer that is creating havoc in our life. It may be a relationship we are in where the other party is abusive. There might be laws that make our life more difficult than necessary. Human trafficking is a real problem in America which creates pain for others. Again, what we consider oppression from others may not compare to what people in other parts of the world may experience, but we do have pain inflicted by others in our own lives. Knowing the difference between self-inflicted pain and pain brought by others will give us a better solution. Sometimes simply removing ourselves from the situation will change the pain we are experiencing.

No Control
There are some things that are completely out of our control. There is nothing we could have done to prevent them and we may be limited in what we can do to correct them. Many illnesses would fall into this category. Natural disasters would be something else that we have no control over. The death of a person that is extremely important to our development, such as losing a parent at a young age. These things come into our lives and many times bring great pain and suffering, even devastation. We cannot change these things and we usually cannot avoid them. They are out of our control. The only choice we have is how we’ll respond to the situation. This is critical. Most of us have seen people working through the same issues but their response to those situations is completely different. The attitude does not always change the outcome, but it will always change the outlook.

Pain, difficulty, harm, threats, and suffering will come to all of us. One of the best ways to determine how to respond is to know the source of the trouble. Once we know that, making necessary corrections will be easier and more effective.