The Personalist Project

Why does God allow suffering? Why free us from original sin and eternal death--but not their earthly consequences, pain and sorrow and bodily deterioration and corruption? I don't mean to seem ungrateful, but...

A speaker I heard the other day, a Father Javier, said it's partly because suffering reminds us that we're creatures; we're limited; we need God's help and support.

I think there's something to that, but my immediate response was: Well, thanks, I guess, but couldn't You just TELL us that we're limited and needy--and, I suppose, arrange for us to believe it? Being omnipotent, You could manage that, right?

But maybe as full persons--not just free-floating intellects--we need the lived experience to help us fully take in the meaning of our predicament. It's not just bald information that we crave.

Fr. Javier pointed out that for the body, pain plays an important role: it alerts us to danger. When you touch a hot stove, the nerves in your finger send a message of pain to protect you from something worse than a superficial burn. Maybe psychological, mental, emotional pain work the same way, as a warning: Something's not right.

But again, the Cross is not just a channel of information, not just a mechanism to protect us from certain kinds of damage. Christianity is about identification with and imitation of Christ and His sacrifice. It's personal. It's about union, not just about us learning a lesson, nor about Him fabricating a "teachable moment."

One more thing Fr. Javier said: when Christ invites us to carry the Cross, He's treating us as if we're a close friend or relative. Some favors you might ask of an acquaintance; others you might reluctantly request of a neighbor or friend; still others you'd only broach with someone who's truly in your confidence, somebody attached to you by the closest bonds of love and kinship. His asking us to help Him carry the Cross is like the last kind.

Probably behind many questions like "Why is there suffering?" is an assumption that there's some kind of mechanistic, straightforward, cause-and-effect answer to be had. We forget what a personal thing pain is, and that every answer that ignores this is destined to be glib and unsatisfactory.

Believe me, I can see the appeal of a glib and simplistic solution! The depth and mystery of the personal bonds between Creator and creature are a gift it's hard to be grateful for some days. Some days I just want relief. I lose sight of what, exactly, would be so terribly lacking in a divine magic wand that would just make all the bad stuff go away.

But in my better moments I'm glad I'm a person, and I'm glad He is, too.

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Comments (1)

Rhett Segall

#1, May 3, 2017 7:25pm

Suffering does thrust upon us the  unique cognitive experience-"This shouldn't be" if we or someone we love is suffering innocently. Then we inevitably pursue the question of justice and ultimately, if we are of good heart and are people of faith, come to the Job response or, if we are Christians, to the response you beautifully articulate not without a sense of humor (which, of curse is a God given analgesic)

And yet I'm reminded of the fact that no one less than Romano Gurardini said that he would have to ask God in eternity why there is so much senseless innocent suffering.

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