Attending the Suffering: A Struggle for Existence in the Context of Burma

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And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Mark 15:34

It requires more courage to suffer than to die. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821).

 

Introduction

Suffering is a natural phenomenon. Logically, Jerome A. Miller examines it as “The Way of Human Suffering”1 whereas Rod Burton calls it “Spiritual Pain.”2 Life simply cannot be without suffering and death since human beings are animate with feeling. . We tend to struggle between suffering and death, between suffering and therapy, honoring the last breath. This paper will pay focal attention to dealing with suffering in order to come up with the right remedy for people who undergo an assortment of sufferings in their lives.. After analysis, the rational agony resulted in the realization through the reasoning of the heart according to Miller, my thesis states that the suffering, which tends to be a communicating agent of solidarity in its coping process on the one hand, or remedy for the sufferers, but also energizes rather all to tackle the subject of suffering closely in order to impart the meaning of the conquering existence of the sufferer yet through suffering. This paper shall focus on the perspective of the suffering victims, who are undergoing the experience of pain, affliction and death, in the context of Burma.

Attending the Suffering: Remapping the Conquering Life

The emotional rationalization of suffering works as a theory to analyze the experience of suffering and spiritual pain for Burton to redefine the meaning of suffering and its life. According to Millers, the suffering, both physical agony and mental disruption due to despair and nothingness summons one to retrospect rather than succumbing to the wave of suffering. This becomes the self-impetus to question whether the existence of universal creator objectively once rationalized totally malfunction of all therapeutic efforts for healing from dead-bed except nothingness within. However, being an unbending law, the unyielding struggle to know the reason for existence through nothingness instead of ending life without an answer displays the key idea to connect to God’s creation out of nihilo.3The self-realization of nothingness on the account of God’s creation is a crossroad to embrace the gift of life coming out of nothing. The suffering hereby depicts not just the package of sufferings, but is the navigator of oneself enabling to perceive the existence of the creator, God, 4realizing one’s belongingness to God amidst suffering. To understand the suffering is a vital power of existence.

Suffering challenges us to be alert and creative in combating any battle. Theo-philosophically, one’s struggle to generate advanced “therapeutic cultures”5 and spiritual remedies are merely ways of adding to the costly counter-action against suffering. Suffering reflects the natural law of the stimuli and response: it is a sustaining and homogenous relationship in terms of solidarity, love, sharing, peace and empowering life where there is none between, the internally suffering-selves and the outside world The woman suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years can unite with Jesus by presenting her body to him (Mark 5:25). Both individual and community roles are involved in responding to her suffering; the crowd sharing about the messiah Jesus seems to drive the woman to meet him and be transformed anew. Likewise, Musa W. Dube Shamanah, discussing the fifty years of bleeding Africa under oppressive agencies, describes “Africa as a bleeding woman who fully participates in the search for healing.”6 Suffering, generating existential power, energizes the suffering individual and community to treat and not to be defeated by it in search for security.

Suffering is endurance against self-rejection. The emotional feeling makes suffering worse because once one rejects suffering, one faces reality. The physical pain and emotional suffering are the cause of the destructive power embodied in the suffering itself. Barbara R. Rossing views the suffering world under the global mechanism of injustice and violence which resulted in the cry of the earth and the people of Exodus.7 Markan Jesus tends to reject himself due to the suffering undergone on the cross lamenting “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). One’s rejection at the verge of suffering seems to cause even more suffering since the self-realization of one’s transcendental being can only be imparted by the conquering power against the suffering one. Burton remarked that spiritual suffering can be attended by “Logotherapy and Christotherapy”8 for spiritual healing. In the light of Revelation, the healing and renewal of suffering is depicted to be carried out within the suffering body. Accepting the suffering-self implies subverting and overthrowing the destructive power of suffering. Likewise, the earliest Christians went for martyrdom without fear for the cause of Being Christians and of the gospel. Once rejected, they would have escaped from such a plot. Self-remission within the suffering denotes rejection of the threat of suffering and the destruction caused by the suffering. Brent D. Shaw in Body/Power/Identity: Passions of the Martyrs describes the body as being the ground of suffering yet says that self-endurance,9 the spiritual norm of love for Paul and “endurance of all things”10 expresses the divine will. The enduring self in suffering is indeed, resisting alien power.

Suffering rebreeds the cooperative struggle for the conquering existence. The suffering self represents not just individuals but collective11 representations according to Terence E. Fretheim in the light of the Exodus. According to Paul’s anatomy, when one part of the body is hurt, the whole body is in pain. 12 The suffering is never alone yet tends to be thought so. Judith Perkins,13 accentuating the representation of the Christian suffering of the first century, demystifies the meaning of the Christian persecution against Roman perpetrators where they submitted their bodies and suffered with enduring spirit till their last breath.14 Therefore, the concept of suffering is a reminder of the spiritual power union with the divine and the comrades of the dead and the living. The spiritual union causes the sufferers to inscribe the power of patience, endurance and fearlessness before death. Attending the suffering and spiritual pain alike integrates the spiritual reunion three dimensionally, with Christ and the dead, the living and the sufferers in order to operate the conquering cooperation in life.

Suffering ignites the sustenance for existence against the alien disruption in the form of pain. Theologically, suffering purports the restoration of life, both in physical body and in soul. Jesus’s suffering on the cross questions the Roman’s pax, but implicates the salvific mission, the remedy of body and spirit (Jn. 5:24; 6:40, 47). The Israelites’ suffering in Exodus stands for not just the liberation from Pharaoh’s oppression, but also for the spiritual liberation to celebrate eternal life, according to John.15 The suffering for the cause of liberating life is solely dependent on self-choice. Christopher A. Frilingos16 states the Roman domination over non-Romans, by the agent of punishment being imposed on the rebellious. Under the Roman imperial systematization over the rest and the spectacular implementation of punishment, Christians should have opted for the path of public martyrdom for the sake of truth and the salvation. In the path, the subversion of suffering is the decision to exercise the saving task against the dominant decision which abandons others.

Ministry of Attending the Political Victims in the Context of Burma

Attending to the suffering is relevant to projecting the existential purport in the context of Burma, where politics is the root cause of all sufferings for its own citizens.17 The ethnic Christians and non-burman-buddhists have been under the political extermination of the Pro-Buddhist-centralized regime for five decades.18 Meanwhile, the regime’s counter reaction against the peoples’ struggle for the restoration of federal union led by Kachin-Ethnic has been turned into a Christian termination of the plot of political euthanasia. This suffering has been for survival as political beings, according to Aristotle. A democratic insistence for the constitutional amendment with the federal democracy, the regime has resumed civil war against Ethnic Armed groups since June 2011 for the legalization of the pro-Buddhist constitution, creating all sorts of human rights’ violations, killings, atrocities and half a million IDPs inside the borderlines today.

The Christian ministry in Burma today is critical. Thus, attending to the suffering audiences means to those political victims such as the IDPs, the survivors of war and all pro-democratic Christians. First, Kachin-Christians have come to revitalize the kachin-spirit/self, which formed Burma as the Federal Union in the past, and of Kachin independent leaders, instead of merely cursing Burmese perpetrators. The experience of death and suffering alternately revitalizes a congruent life of prayer in God’s presence. It is a prayer of decry, lament and the feeling of longing(ness), confession, humility and being wretched about God: how we will transform Burma toward the right path instead of accusing them as our enemy. Third, we have established spiritual collectiveness, inside solidarity and outsider incorporation through humanitarian aids and technical supports internationally. This suffering also has yielded us the pacification of the suffering life of Jesus Christ, for the democracy, political equality, justice and peace for all This is contrary to AungSan Su Kyi calling for democracy disregarding the federal democracy for the political justice between the center/Buddhist proper and ethnic nations. Last, the suffering has rather energized Ethnic/Christians to represent a saving agent entangling with local-imperialism and the homogenized mechanism to the union-democratization in Burma.

Conclusion

The suffering as a truism displays to us how well Christian ministers are able to handle it. Thus, coping with this entire suffering situation entails the mundane systems as well as the passionate and professional counter reaction, enabling the love and solidarity between the sufferers in all circumstances. In the meantime, the result displays as we predominantly design assortments of recovery and re-restoration of the suffering self/ves. However, as advocated, Christian ministries are all about the attending of the matters of suffering human life and soul even after death. The struggle for attending the suffering as a phenomenon has been pivotal for the suffering self and suffering communities to impart the transcendental meaning of life, to overcome the alien suffering through the unification of our suffering/spirit with the divine spirit of God in Christ, for the establishment of the conquering mission on earth. Thus, the suffering represents the mystical agent for self-liberation and the salvific ground between the divine and human being for the continuous operation of the establishment of the liberated society in the world, especially in Burma, conquering all enslavement plots under the suffering mechanisms. Thus, our ministry is identical with the suffering self while attending to the truth and also with the conquering agency while in God’s plan of saving life on earth.

Lahpai Shawng Htoi

As a Baptist pastor of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), Rev. Htoi teaches at the Kachin Theological College, Nawng Nawng, Kachin State, The Union of Myanmar (Burma), in the area of New Testament since 2007.

 


  1. Miller, Jerome A. “The way of suffering: a reasoning of the heart.” Second Opinion 17, no. 4 (April 1, 1992): 21-33, ATLA0000850110 (accessed April 18, 2014). He is Professor of Salisbury State University, Salisbury, Maryland. 
  2. Burton Rod, “Spiritual Pain: A Brief Overview and an Initial Response within the Christian Trading,” The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling 57, 4 (Winter 2003): 437- 446, ATLA 0001469053 (Accessed April 12, 2014). 
  3. Miller, 10. 
  4. Miller, 9 & 10. 
  5. Miller, 5. 
  6. Dube, Musa W. “Fifty Years of Bleeding: A Storytelling Feminist Reading of Mark 5:24-43.” Ecumenical Review 51, no. 1 (January 1, 1999): 11-17 ATLA0000986839 (Accessed April 18, 2014). 
  7. Barbara R. Rossing, “For the Healing of the World: Reading Revelation Ecologically,” From Every People And Nation: The Book of Revelation in Intercultural Perspective, ed. David Rhoads (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2025), 168, 175-176. 
  8. Burton, 443. 
  9. Shaw, Brent D. 1996. “Body/Power/Identity: Passions of the Martyrs,” Journal Of Early Christian Studies 4, no. 3: 269-312, ATLA0001015420ATLA (Accessed April 18, 2014). 
  10. Ign. Smryn. 9.2: If you endure all things for his sake, you will attain to him. 
  11. Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering God: An Old Testament Perspective (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 108. 
  12. As one global community, I have symmetrically emotional and spiritual pain with those mourners who lost their love ones in those incidences: Boston boom blast on April 15, 2013, the vanishing of MH 370 with 239 passengers on board on March 8 2014, the sink of Korean Ferry left 6 dead, 290 missing and so on. 
  13. Judith Perkins, The Suffering Self: Pain and Narrative Representation in the Early Christian Era (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 108-119. 
  14. Furtherance, the suffering self, she says, is inspired by the power during the performance of endurance which is beyond the destructive power, once they realize that their undergoing pain and suffering is not alone, but with Jesus Christ, Christianity as assemblies of Christ and the dead who had previous suffered and gone before. 
  15. “I am the resurrection and the life,” John 11:25-26; 20:31; 3:16; 1 Jn 4.9. 
  16. Christopher A. Frilingos, “Merely Players,” Spectacles of Empire: Monsters, Martyrs, and the Book of Revelation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 14ff. 
  17. Particularly, non-Budhist Christians-ethnic peoples are the most affected under the Buddhist-rule without sharing of political power to the States, with in fact, promise and spirit the Union of Burma was jointly established between the Burmeses and Ethnic Nations, the masters of their own states, from the colonial British. The political castration launched by the pro-buddhist military regime, eventually ignited a civil war for six decades eversince the independence, 1948. 
  18. In Burma, the re-advocating activities for the restoration of Federal-valued democratization in Union of Burma initiated by non-Buddhist Christian-ethnicities and the rest has been considered as the national betrayers, the instruments of the West and foreign products, who have been gone for jail, torture, persecution and killing implacably. 


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