I think the statement “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” has created some real confusion. At first glance it might seem to indicate a state of universal upside-down. It’s almost as if some people have been given an extra burden…or many extra burdens…in life to achieve gold stars on their eternal merit charts at the back of the class. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that some crafty God is making up scenarios where people are exploited, beaten, hurt or impoverished simply so they will be able to be “stronger.”
That phrase I often hear, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” doesn’t really hold up in the real world. Some times it doesn’t make you stranger. The idea that we magically receive some sort of inner strength for our “poverty of spirit” as we face the cruelties, injustices and sadness of the world doesn’t hold up to empirical study. Sometimes, in fact, if it doesn’t kill you, it weakens you significantly. Character is not necessarily built only through suffering. In fact, it may not be built that way at all some times.
What I do believe is that people on the raw edge are somehow closer to the source of things. The thin space is maybe even thinner. Jesus, I think, isn’t saying that pain and suffering are good things, or that they are necessary states (I suppose the Buddha would disagree). I think Jesus is saying that people are blessed IN their suffering, not by the suffering itself. They are close to the universal or divine and held close in the flow of life as they experience their pain and difficulties. Whether they realize it or not.
I believe that the divine is ultimately opposed to suffering – may even be the opposite of suffering, even in the face of the inevitability of that suffering. I don’t believe the divine is the cause of that suffering, or would purposefully cause great suffering. Maybe a thump on the head here and there, but not real suffering. For me, the divine offers universal connectedness, sharing the experience of suffering, along with the hope and the joy, across all creation.