Religious Beliefs of Suffering

The major religions have very different answers regarding what can end suffering.
... John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Why do we suffer? It's a core question of many religions, and the answers of the world's religions vary greatly. Eastern religions tend toward ignorance or karma as an answer, while Western religions explain suffering as estrangement between a creator and His creation. There are countless religious opinions on suffering, including indigenous traditions and lesser-known religions, but the world's four largest religions -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam -- have the most widely embraced views of suffering.

1 Suffering in Hinduism

Hinduism explains suffering with the concept of karma, which is a moral law of cause and effect. If someone is suffering, Hinduism says it is due to a person's own actions. The problem can be in the present, but because Hinduism believes in reincarnation, the problem could also be in the past. Karma in Hinduism can be seen both theistically and non-theistically -- some Hindus believe a god is responsible for policing karma and others consider it a natural occurrence. Both views are valid expressions of Hinduism, according to the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

2 Suffering in Buddhism

The Buddha famously said that existence is suffering, and the religion revolves around this premise. Buddhism teaches that the root cause of suffering is that humans lack the knowledge to relieve it, and the primary way to remedy this ignorance is through the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are a diagnosis and remedy for the disease of suffering: Suffering is inevitable in existence, desire causes suffering, desire can be removed and the Buddha has the prescription to remove it. The Eightfold path is Buddha's prescription to end suffering through self-discipline.

3 Suffering in Christianity

Christianity acknowledges the reality of suffering and attributes it to the sinful nature of humanity. Suffering in this world is a stone-cold reality in Christianity -- Jesus Christ Himself, God Incarnate, suffered betrayal, indignity, torture and a grueling death. Mark 10:45 calls this suffering a "ransom for many," and the "many" are those who believe in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. Jesus, in Christian belief, is the path to overcoming the sinful nature that causes human suffering. In Christian belief, suffering is not alleviated by the teachings of Jesus, rather it is Jesus Himself that can ultimately relieve suffering in the afterlife.

4 Suffering in Islam

Like Christianity, Islam points to the afterlife for the ultimate removal of suffering. Suffering for the sake of God will be rewarded in heaven, but at the same time, there are many things a person can do to relieve suffering on Earth. Following the Sharia, or the straight path, is considered the surest way to submit to God in Islam, and the Quran, surah 5 verse 16, promises peace to those who seek to please God. The Sharia has both individual and societal components, which means alleviating suffering is both an individual and a community effort.

Michael Brenner has been a writer for almost 10 years for various outlets including the "Chicago Tribune," "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," other newspapers and various business websites. He holds two master's degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the areas of interfaith relations and world religions.