37. All suffering has as its cause some pleasure which has preceded it. Hence all suffering is a debt which those who share in human nature pay naturally in return for pleasure. For suffering naturally follows unnatural pleasure in all men whose generation has been preceded by submission to the rule of causeless pleasure. I describe the pleasure that derives from the fall as ‘causeless’ because clearly it has not come about as the result of any previous suffering.
Suffering is a debt we owe to unnatural pleasure, that is the pleasure that does not rest in God and which runs contrary to our created nature. For example, as human beings we can not only choose to eat and drink too much, but we can derive great pleasure from the act. That runs contrary to our nature and it’s something that most created animals will not do. But when we do, we will suffer. Eating and drinking can become passions that rule us. (Remember, the passions in this sense are the things we suffer.) We can suffer ill health as a result. Or, if we attempt to break free of the passion, we can experience the suffering of a restricted diet and exercise. We pay a price one way or another for all unnatural pleasure. Moreover, we are fully embodied beings and the things we do in and through our bodies shape the sort of human being we become.
As I read this text, I also reflected on the sufferings of the martyrs. It strikes me that the suffering for Christ is a very different sort of thing. It’s not a debt we owe, but a privilege and honor we are sometimes granted. At least, that seems to be how all the martyrs considered it. Like Paul, they counted it all joy and gave thanks to God for the opportunity to share, even just a little, in the suffering of Christ. I find it hard to understand, myself, but it’s one of the strongest underpinnings of the Christian witness through the ages.