Stepping aside from his gig as a late-night show host, Stephen Colbert sat down with CNN’s Anderson Cooper to talk about grief and suffering and what those experiences mean through the lens of faith.
Colbert, whose father and two brothers died in a tragic plane crash in 1974 when he was just 10 years old, shared with Cooper a surprisingly refreshing understanding of human suffering and its value.
With tears in his eyes, Cooper, whose own mother — Gloria Vanderbilt — died in June, asked the CBS comedian about his learning to “love the thing that I most wish had not happened.” He went on to ask Colbert if he really believes suffering to be a “gift.”
“Yes,” Colbert replied after a brief pause. “It’s a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.”
He continued, “What do you get from loss? You get awareness of other people’s loss, which allows you to connect with that other person, which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it’s like to be a human being if it’s true that all humans suffer.”
Just like Colbert, Cooper was also 10 years old when his own father died of a heart attack. The “most helpful thing” the CNN host said he’s found is those who reach out to him and empathize with him by sharing their own sufferings and heartaches.
“And I kind of, oddly, don’t want that to stop,” he said, “because in regular times, people don’t do that.”
Colbert, who is Catholic, explained what sets Christianity apart from other religions. Jesus shared in suffering when he, because of his perfection, went to the cross to bear the punishment for the sins of humanity.
“In my tradition, that’s the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ,” Colbert said. “Is that God does it, too. That you’re really not alone. God does it, too.”
In Romans 5, the apostle Paul explained Christians can rejoice in problems and trials, “for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”
And in 2 Timothy 3, Paul recalled his own suffering and said, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
We live in a broken and imperfect world. As a result of our sin, suffering entered the world. But God uses it to teach us and to spark our spiritual maturation. As the late C.S. Lewis once put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains.”
Acutely aware of our suffering, the apostle John wrote in Revelation 21 there will come a day when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes” and there “will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the order of things ha passed away.”