How Much Can a Person Endure?

“Human existence is not for cry-babies, for people who can live only when and where there is no trouble. It takes stamina to be a man, or as Tillich puts it, “courage to be.”

Rabbi Olan’s December 8, 1963 sermon asked the question, “How much can a person endure?” In light of the November 22 assassination of John F. Kennedy, he also could have been asking how much tragedy a city and nation can endure.

Concerning suffering, Olan rejected both the optimist’s naiveté and the pessimist’s callouseness. Suffering is real, and it is part of everyone’s life. So what can help get us through the troughs of life? Not the belief that all of existence is simply a meaningless, amoral randomness (atheism). Even in theist circles, this is not a simple question. “If there is God, morality, and purpose in the universe, then the experience of senseless suffering calls for an explanation.”

To explore Rabbi Olan’s conclusions about surviving unbearable suffering, click on the “Read” button below.

Activate this link to read the sermon text PDF.

(Rabbi Olan quotes Job 2, 4, and 19; Psalms 12, 22, and 42; Katherine Mansfield; Martin Luther; William Shakespeare; William James; Beethoven; Paul Tillich; and Edwin Arlington Robinson.)