By Scott Rieker

Director, Emerson Choir

As I write this column, I am sitting at the other church I work at, as my choir prepares to celebrate the Christian feast of Good Friday. This event tends to focus the mind on the reality of suffering. It is blatantly obviously that the world is beset by suffering and injustice, but does this evil have meaning and purpose? I would propose a twofold answer.


First, it is easy to ascribe meaninglessness to suffering. Entropy is a fundamental component of our material universe, but disorder is also the root of injustice and suffering. Therefore, injustice and suffering must be meaningless, as they’re the result of a law of nature. Wouldn’t we do just as well to try to ascribe meaning to falling as a natural consequence of gravity?


There is another perspective than arises out of constructivist educational philosophy (among other “meaning-making” schools of thought), which states that—when we interact with the world—we create our own narrative, our own meaning for the events we experience. We are creatures with intellect and will. When we experience suffering or are the victim of injustice, we can understand what is happening and choose how we respond. We can choose to be helpless, choose to lash out, or choose to respond in a measured, appropriate way that respects and enhances our human dignity. Nietzsche’s famous, “that which doesn’t kill me…” leaps to mind. The same is true when we see another suffer or be treated unjustly.

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of suffering and injustice—the amount of entropy—that surrounds us. A solution is to address the evils one-at-a-time and change one’s immediate sphere of influence from a place of strength born of our own experiences. After all, the Talmud states that saving one person is saving the world. I posit that finding meaning in suffering, therefore, depends. At the risk of ending with an epigram, perhaps our own suffering gives us strength and the suffering of others gives us purpose. In the current climate, we will undoubtedly experience both suffering and injustice in abundance. Let us choose to find strength and purpose in our travails; to save our world one person at a time.