Suffering and the Will of God

Suffering and the Will of God

By John Mallon
© 2005 by John Mallon
Catholic Online

Most of us in the West have been raised on sort of a reward/punishment system. In a nominally functional home if we were "good" we were rewarded and felt good, if we misbehaved we were punished and felt bad.

Consequently, as adults we tend to carry those paradigms around with us. This can be a problem in the spiritual life if we project these patterns on God's care for us. When things go wrong, or painful things happen in the normal course of life, for example, the death of a loved one, a brutal financial crisis out of which it takes us years climb, a bitter divorce, etc. We think if bad things happen to us we must have done something wrong. We may tend to cry, "What have I done to deserve this?"

We are not perfect, but very likely, we've done nothing to deserve it. These things happen in a fallen world. This is especially poignant when an innocent person is the victim of violence. People sin. And sin results, ultimately, in death. When someone sins innocent people suffer. The sinner suffers too, but that is the subject for another article.

A terrorist blows up a building killing hundreds or even thousands of innocent people including children, plunging the survivors and their families into a lifetime of trauma and grief. They did nothing to deserve this. One person or a group of people made a decision to commit the sin of murder and the result is dead and suffering survivors and families. Victims.

Sometimes we have a tendency to think that if we make the decision to follow Christ and grow in the spiritual life our lives will smooth out. And this will happen to a degree if we abandon a life of chaotic sin. As we grow in repentance and transformation there will be healing from the damage we've done to ourselves. But sometimes others damage us. We are sinned against. Being a Christian does not provide immunity from suffering. Following Christ necessarily leads to the Cross.

While we may be tempted to ask what we did to deserve suffering, the fact is we may well be suffering as the result of doing the right thing, as opposed to doing something wrong. Christ never sinned, yet the Prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would be a Man of Sorrows. St. Paul said as part of His Body we share in His sufferings.

Life doesn't always go our way, even when to the best of our knowledge, ability and understanding we are trying to walk in God's way and God's will. A good, dutiful, faithful Catholic wife or husband wakes up to find their marriage has collapsed, and feels rage, hurt and anguish as though all their sacrifices were in vain, and that they've been had. Like Jeremiah the prophet they rage at God, "You duped me, Lord, and I let myself be duped!"

A gifted lay person places his or her life and talents at the disposal of the Lord only to find themselves on a dung heap like Job, feeling as if they were the one disposed of, unwanted and unable to make a living. Bewildered, they wonder, like Job, as to how they landed there, thinking, "I was faithful! How did this happen?" It may be that is precisely because they were faithful that they landed there--rejected, betrayed and abandoned. Until they realize, "This is what they did to Jesus."

What a shock to find that all your efforts at being Christlike have been fulfilled! And your feet are fully in the footsteps of Christ and the Saints and Martyrs! Yes, you!

What then?

For the true disciple there is no choice but to just keep following Jesus through the darkness, though you can't see Him or where He is going. It may be best that you don't know. Just follow. Whether you follow well or badly, just follow. We may have to descend into Hell with Him, again, and again, but if we remain with Him, Easter is assured.

There may be a temptation to throw in the towel, and give up, but then what? If like St. Peter you can genuinely ask, "Where else are we to go Lord? You have the words of Eternal Life," then you know the Darkest Night of Suffering with Jesus is much better than a good day without Him. "Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere." (Ps. 84:10)

Persevere! Endure! Better to suffer with Christ than rejoice without Him, for without Him all is folly--there is nothing to rejoice over. There is nowhere else to go but horror; suicide is out of the question for any Christian. It doesn't work. With Him is always life and hope and the Great Adventure of Redemption, Salvation and rescue. We must cling to Him and refuse to let go.

Being without Christ is the worst thing that can happen to us.

The will of God is that you be with Him forever in Paradise. So we stick with Him now through the worst of trials, by His grace.


John Mallon is Associate Editor for Inside the Vatican magazine.