Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Problem of Suffering

1. Christianity alone offers an adequate explanation of the mystery of suffering. Why is there such a thing as suffering? The problem is a profound one, and the explanations suggested by various schools of philosophy fail to satisfy the human heart and leave the mind in doubt. Christian doctrine tells us that God is infinitely good, but also infinitely just. Being infinitely good, He created man without suffering. He also gave man the wonderful gift of liberty, which man abused by committing sin. Once the sin had been committed, God in His infinite justice demanded expiation. Hence suffering and death...and through sin death, and thus death has passed unto all men because all have sinned (Rom. 5:12). Together with death came the never-ending series of misfortunes, of physical and moral sufferings, which beset humanity.

Suffering, then, does not come directly from God. It is a consequence of, and a punishment for, sin. But there is also the aspect of expiation and redemption. God in His infinite justice demands from man a penalty for his sin, but He does not cease to be infinitely good. Hence, to the mystery of suffering there is added the mystery of the Redemption. The Son of God Himself is made man and takes upon Himself all our sins. For the full expiation of our sins He, the "Man of Sorrows", offers to the Eternal Father His own sufferings of infinite value.

It would not be right, however, if we were to remain inactive in this work of redemption. Like Jesus, we must bow our heads before our Cross and embrace it with resignation and love. We must unite our sufferings with those of our Redeemer for the expiation for our sins.

2. There are some, unfortunately, who rebel under the lash of pain. "God is not good," they say. "If He were good, He would not permit suffering. God does not love me. If He loved me, He would not make me suffer."

This false, of course. God did not create suffering. It was man who brought it into being by his sins and excesses. God, Who always draws good from evil, knows how to draw great good even from suffering, in the way of expiation, redemption, and propitiation for our sins. Precisely because He loves us, God permits our sufferings. He knows well that they purify and refine us as fire purifies and refines gold. They raise our thoughts to heaven.

God permits suffering for our spiritual welfare. But because it has this elevating and propitiatory power, we ought to receive it with an act of resignation and love, as Jesus did in Gethsemane. We should unite our sufferings with those of our Redeemer, which have an infinite value before our Heavenly Father.

3. Jesus is the head of the Mystical Body of the Church and we are its members. We ought to suffer with submission and love as He did. Rebellion increases and aggravates the pain. Resignation and love, on the other hand, lighten it, making it meritorious and even welcome. It is a consolation to suffer with Jesus. St. Paul says: I rejoice now in the sufferings I bear for your sake; and what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ I fill up in my flesh for his body, which is the Church (Col. 1:24). In other words, the passion of Christ demands our submissive and joyful co-operation in suffering along with Jesus.

The Acts says of the Apostles: So they departed from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41).

"So great is the reward which awaits me," exclaimed St. Francis, "every suffering is pure joy to me!" He knew well that the sorrows of this world are very tiny compared with the wonderful recompense which awaits us in Heaven. The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18).