Saturday, February 3, 2018

Why does God allow suffering?


Two men shipwrecked on an island. One of them started screaming, “ There's no food! No water! We're going to die!” But, the second man sat comfortably against a palm tree as calm as could be. He said, “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. I make $100,000 a week.” The first man said, “What difference does that make?!? We're stranded with no food and no water! No one will find us! We’re going to die!” The second man said, “You don’t understand. I make $100,000 a week and I give 10% of that to my church every week. So, don’t worry. My pastor will find me!”

Our Scriptures today invite us to contend with the most difficult question in all of religion: Why do we suffer? It is a question that each one of us has thought about at one point or another on our spiritual journey. Our first reading today is the most iconic story of suffering in Scripture in the story of Job. We heard his desperation, “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Job lost everything; his land, his possessions and even his family; add to that a plague of boils and other horrors. Listen to the anguish in his words, “My days come to an end without hope…I shall not see happiness again.”

Job sees no purpose in his suffering. He can’t make meaning of what he’s enduring and so he complains to God. Job feels helpless and hopeless. I imagine that when we hear these words of Job, we can identify with him in one way or another – either in trying to make sense of our own suffering or in trying to understand why others suffer. We’ve all felt like Job wondering why things have to be the way they are. Why bad things happen; especially to good people.

The story of Job reminds me of my good friend Fr. Mike’s mother Adele who passed away a number of years ago. Adele was a wonderful, joyful, beautiful woman, but she also had many Job-like moments in her life. She lost her father when she was very young, her brother died at 16, she had 7 miscarriages before finally carrying a baby to term in her 40s, she suffered through cancer, heart attacks, lost her kidneys and had to undergo dialysis for years, and she suffered from diabetes that in the end required the partial amputation of a leg. She had sufferings that could give Job a run for his money and she could have very easily said like him, “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” But, Adele never spoke the words of Job. Instead, she said regularly, “Don’t waste your suffering. Offer it up and unite it to the suffering of Christ.” Even when faced with amputation, she didn’t ask how she could avoid the pain and suffering of that procedure; she didn’t ask why this was happening to her. Instead she asked, “What does God want me to do with this suffering?” And before she was taken into surgery, she prayed thanking God for the use of her legs all those years, for carrying her around, and allowing her to be a good mother. She was an incredible witness of faith to the transformative power of suffering.

The famous dramatist Paul Claudel said poignantly, “Jesus did not come to explain away our suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” You see, for we who believe in Christ, suffering is never without meaning. With the eyes of faith, in our suffering we can participate in the great act of our redemption. What our world forgets in our no-pain-day-and-age is that suffering is an opportunity to be united with Christ in the greatest moment of the history of the world – we can be united with Him on that cross and in the salvation of the world. Souls can be redeemed and saved and prayers answered when we direct our suffering, offer it up, to this spiritual end. And, importantly, in our suffering, we are not alone. Jesus is right there by our side carrying the cross with us, filling our suffering with His loving presence.

So, we can continue to ask why there is suffering in the world, but the evidence would suggest that we are not going to get an answer to that question. Suffering and pain seem to be part of the human condition. We do know this – they are not caused by God. We do not have a spiteful God content with afflicting people. When we stop asking why is there suffering, we can move on to the more meaningful question, “What can I do with this? How can I invite God to be with me in this moment?” These are the questions worth asking and the ones that invite us into the amazing opportunity to invite God into our suffering to transform it. Let God fill it with His presence; fill it with His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, healing, and the very salvation of souls. Remember that even Job in the midst of his suffering was able to proclaim, “I know that my redeemer lives.”

My brothers and sisters, let us bring whatever pain and suffering we experience; as well as all of the suffering that we see around us and in our world – let us bring it all to the Lord and ask Him to fill our suffering – as well as every part of our lives – with His presence and then let us bring that presence; and God will transform it into nothing short of glory.

May the Lord fill you with His presence, especially through this Eucharist, and may the Lord give you peace.

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