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Mike Shreve was a teacher of yoga at four universities. (The portrait above was drawn by one of his students in 1970.) Then a spiritual rebirth brought him into a real relationship with God and drastically changed his heart, his life and his belief system.  Read his story here.

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Mike Shreve.
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What is the correct view of “desire” and “suffering”?

As just reviewed in the previous section, the main objective of Buddha’s teaching was escape from suffering. The Four Noble Truths succinctly state that life is inevitably going to include suffering, the origin of suffering is ignorance and the cause of suffering is desire. Cessation of desire ends suffering and that happens through implementation of the Eightfold Path. Is this true? Is this a correct appraisal of the solution to man’s dilemma? The fact of human suffering is not an issue, but the origin, cause and solution of human suffering are issues that demand our attention.

Suffering is not always caused by desire. What about victims of disease, crime, natural disasters, betrayal, abuse, religious persecution, accidents or demonic influence? Of course, those who embrace the Buddhist point of view might submit that the suffering resulting from such situations proceeds from the ‘desire’ to have a life free from complications, problems, disasters and rejection from others. Those who unfortunately face such situations should react with passive detachment, thus rising above the suffering.

There is a certain element of truth in this portion of Buddhist doctrine, because far too often those caught in negative circumstances allow themselves to feel overwhelmed. Far too often they are crushed and even paralyzed emotionally by their sorrow. Sometimes, non-attachment does allow a person to objectively and calmly view his situation, so that a rational answer can be reached. However, non-attachment can also produce non-involvement in situations that plead for action. So achieving a place of non-suffering may not necessarily be the complete answer. A concise, biblical response to these two issues is as follows:

The correct view of "desire"—First, let it be said that legitimate desires are not wrong and should not be purged from our thinking. There is a difference between selfish desire, which ends in death, and godly desire, which ends in life. (See James 1:13–15.) The Bible states that God ‘desires’ his people to show mercy. During a time of intercession, the Lord Jesus prayed over his people saying, "Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am." If it is not wrong for the Lord himself to have righteous desires, it is certainly not wrong for us to have righteous desires. The Scripture does reveal that God "casts away the desire of the wicked," but it promises "the desire of the righteous will be granted." (Proverbs 10:3, 24) The Most High even assures his covenant people, "Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4) Such righteous desires would logically include the meeting of natural and material needs as well as spiritual. However, if and when these things do not happen the way we desire, the Scripture cautions us "to be content." (Philippians 4:11) Our highest desire is God himself and when other desires are not realized, we maintain rest in our relationship with him. Inordinate desire is synonymous with lust, a very destructive agent in the human makeup. But holy desire is a motivation that we all definitely need.

The correct view of "suffering"—The goal for a Christian is not to fully escape ALL suffering, just certain kinds. There are numerous categories of suffering that we are encouraged to avoid, conquer or rise above. These types of suffering are primarily the result of internal causes. These usually involve wrong thinking patterns that produce wrong behavior—sensuality, sinful cravings, negative emotions, inward temptations, guilt, resisting God’s will, and a number of other negatives. We avoid, conquer or rise above these sources of suffering two ways. First, we maintain a commitment to do all things right. (Actually, Buddha’s Eightfold Path itemizes each area we need to deal with quite well.) Second and most importantly, we draw from the grace, mercy, forgiveness and strength promised by the personal and loving God we serve (something Buddha did not teach). Our God cleanses us. He forgives us. He empowers us. He fills us with his presence and goodness. As David said, our "help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:2) This divine aid insures our winning all the more.

There are some causes of suffering that are primarily external and inevitably to be faced in life. These include trials, tribulations, outward sources of temptation, demonic influences and mistreatment by others. Even Jesus, the perfect Son of God, "suffered being tempted." (Hebrews 2:18) So if we also "suffer being tempted" it is certainly not a sign of spiritual immaturity. However, in all these situations we are en-couraged to react with positive attitudes like: a willingness to endure, a heart that rejoices and a spirit of trust in God. We overcome the negative with the positive. At times, the negative may still be there, but we rise above it.

Finally, there is a category of suffering that God actually urges his people to embrace. Jesus declared that a true disciple must take up his cross daily and follow him. A cross is a complete death to self for the sake of helping others. This involves, not passive detachment from a hurting world, but active involvement in sharing its burden and meeting its needs. Such sacrificial service is certainly not an easy road to travel. Sometimes compassion’s grip can be quite painful, but it is necessary. Paul zealously laid hold to this challenge, explaining that one of his deepest desires was to know Christ "in the fellowship of his sufferings." He also kindly forewarned true disciples that it is given to us "in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake." (Philippians 1:29; 3:10) We can be certain, though, that release from all suffering will take place as soon as we are set free from these physical bodies. We will then consciously experience "unspeakable joy" in heavenly places. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5) Yes, this will be especially true when our souls are finally released into the eternal state.

The sufferings of JesusSome claim it is spiritually erroneous to emphasize this aspect of the existence of Jesus. Was it really necessary for Jesus to suffer? Was it really the core purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God? Maharishi Mahesh Yogi commented, "It’s a pity that Christ is talked of in terms of suffering…those who count upon the suffering, it is a wrong interpretation of the life of Christ and the message of Christ…How could suffering be associated with the One who has been all joy, all bliss, who claims all that? It’s only the misunderstanding of the life of Christ."1

In a similar vein of thought, Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh respectfully offers, "The figure of the crucified Christ is a very painful image to me. It does not contain joy or peace, and this does not do justice to Jesus."2 Yet the apostle Peter explained, "those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:18–19)

I believe that both Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Thich Nhat Hanh were completely sincere in their assessment of the nature of Jesus’ death. I believe their words were motivated by kindness and sensitivity to the pain of another. However, my response to their view is this: that the final focus of a Christian’s heart is not on the cross, but on the empty tomb. If it were not for the great victory of the latter, the great misery of the former would agreeably be too "painful" to gaze upon. Nevertheless, Jesus "endured the cross," "for the joy that was set before him." (Hebrews 12:2) Thankfully, his followers are blessed to also share in this joy even during this earthly sojourn.

Some interpret the sufferings of Jesus to be the result of unwise behavior on his part. Marcus Borg, editor of the intriguing book, "Jesus and Buddha, The Parallel Sayings," offers the unique comment: "Jesus’ activity as a social prophet—as a voice of religious social protest—is the most likely reason that his public activity was so brief compared to the Buddha’s." (Jesus’ public ministry probably lasted about three years, while Buddha’s lasted fifty years.) Borg continues, "Jesus’ early death was probably because of his social-political passion; if he had been simply a wisdom teacher and healer, I doubt that he would have been executed."3

Jesus’ own testimony counters this argument. The Son of God often prophesied the certainty of, and reason for, his soon-to-come death on a cross. He assured, "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day." Notice the word must. This was an unavoidable event. It had to happen. Jesus continued exhorting his disciples, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:22–23) So Jesus knew in advance exactly what kind of death he would die. His early demise was not a terrible mistake, or backlash from an unwise method of presenting his message. It was simply his destiny, the cup the Father gave him to drink. (See Matthew 26:39.) Jesus even claimed that no man took his life from him; he gave it up willingly. (See John 10:18.) Irrefutably, it was according to "the definite plan and foreknowledge of God"—the plan for man’s redemption. (Acts 2:23, See Luke 24:13–32) No wonder the Bible refers to Jesus as the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (Revelation 13:8)


1 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Meditations of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, pp. 123-124; quoted in Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983) p. 84.

2 Kenneth L. Woodard, "The Other Jesus," Newsweek Magazine (March 27, 2000) p. 60.

3 Marcus Borg, ed., Jesus and Buddha, The Parallel Sayings (Berkeley, California: Seastone, 1997) Editor’s Preface, pp. xi-xii.


"In Search of the True Light" ©2002 copyright by Mike Shreve.
All articles unless otherwise noted are copyright by Mike Shreve.
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