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What to do with pain and suffering?

Pain, suffering, hardship, torments,
debilitating confusion, devastating depression…

A friend of mine posted a very good comment today on facebook on this very subject and what to do about it. When the devil whispers discontent in your ear and throws obstacles into your day to make you stumble in ingratitude for God's gifts, illuminating everything that is wrong, throw a wrench in the devil's spokes: Thank God for the chance to unite with Christ in suffering. Thank you Lord for crosses.

On one hand, you have the question of suffering and evil and it is such a huge one, a crucial - and unending one - for humanity … and, on the other hand, you have the Good News from Jesus Christ, and when these two meet, everything is changed, everything becomes possible, the unbearable can be endured, for that matter, through sacrifice and forgiveness and love, not only it can be endured but it can be embraced and it will be transformed and transforming, it will be transcended and become a conduit for grace, for our salvation and the salvation of the world. In a nutshell, it seemed to me more and more obvious, as I grew older, and after I came back to the Church, that we should "accept" and expect some suffering and hardship as part of life, as it was understood for many ages, and it is only our recent materialistic modern age which, in our quest for comfort and safety (and also in our addictions to entertainment and constant distraction and stimulation) we end up rejecting any pain or difficulties as "unnatural"... But Christianism has this most amazing underlying worldview about pain and suffering: it offers a complete shift when faced with it. It says that there is subtle but very real underlying link in between "acknowledging" a certain amount of pain in life AND knowing the love of God and the mercy of Christ... This is absolutely the heart of Christianity and the reason for life on this planet of ours!

I kept thinking about this and coming back to it and I ended up putting my thoughts on one page, because it greatly helps "me" to be able to articulate this:

It seems to me there are 3 groups of people:

1) the ones who see and understand this clearly - and for them, they have a huge responsibility, they need to "live" this Good News every day, they need to proclaim it in their actions, which should be all about the love of God and love of neighbor; and they need to deepen their faith every day (since "faith" is not like a property title or a university degree where once you have it you can go into a sort of cruising mode, oh! No, faith is more like a muscle that you need to exercise daily, it is more like love which will bloom into relationships), and finally, it is a gift (and we better be grateful), it is a grace from God and we should never take it for granted…
This group needs to make sure that they are never a stumbling block for groups #2 and #3…

2) at one end of the spectrum, there are the ones who do not see or know God at all, thinking religion especially Judeo-Christian religion is all gibberish, either because they have been born and raised in a virulent atheist environment (communism, paganism, hedonism, materialistic consumerism, etc) or maybe they did know Chris at one time but were hurt by Christians and the results were that they turned away from God and became non-believers. I would say that, first of all, pray for them, again and again, and if you are in contact with them, and if this particular subject of atheism vs faith comes up, first make sure you are relating to them with love and ask God for the grace you need to talk to them, and ask God to bless them. Many atheists I have encountered are very good people, aware of social justice and the importance of relationships and connections. Find a common ground between them and your own life. If they are in the midst of suffering themselves (or know someone they love who is), guide them gently towards asking God for help directly themselves. Offer to do it yourself for them but do stress how they should too, just in a few words, whatever is possible to them. They should pray for an answer (or if they are not able to use the word "pray", then they can use the word "desire"), they should want and wish to find the keys to what they don't know yet, they should not loose hope, but seek more today than yesterday and know that by seeking, they will get an answer to this crucial question of suffering and evil on earth. Simone Weil said that if you seek the truth, if you truly seek it and do not let yourself get distracted and stopped on the way, eventually it will bring you to the foot of the Cross and into the arms of Christ…

3) and then there are the ones in between, the great majority of the people, including myself, the ones who are not sure, sometimes they can see the truth and sometimes they don't… sometimes within the same day! Why not, it is part of our human condition, we are fickle and easily distracted, we are weak! But we are also extremely resilient and persistent, it is also one major trait of humankind. Both recommendations in 1 (do it and do it well) and 2 (keep trying) apply here as well. For this third group, the challenge is to constantly deepen faith and charity, to work on being "better persons". Faith will not rest on "feelings", it is a decision of the will. And when the center of our life is wavering, then it is time to invest outside of us, into loving our neighbor, because moving away from our own needs is the key to replenish ourselves as the prayer of Saint Francis says so well - and its beauty and truth is understood by believers and non-believers alike:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt,faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
(Saint Francis'prayer)

Copyright ©2011 Michèle Szekely

A couple of great links on this subject :

The Problem Of Suffering Reconsidered, by Peter Kreeft: "Our habitual forgetfulness of piety is probably one of the reasons we suffer. It prevents God - who is not only infinitely more good but also infinitely more loving and infinitely more kind and compassionate than we can conceive - from letting us have the settled contentment we crave. We need crises, for we have spiritual sleeping sickness and need frequent alarms. God therefore stoops to conquer - stoops to use crude measures like allowing national crises to remind us of our permanent needs and our constant situation. In fact, suffering and even crisis is our normal situation. The bubble of pain-free…" Read more here. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and author of many books.

Beth Davies-Stofka (Theological ethics and philosophy; theology in pop culture) "Toward the end of the 2nd century, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and a Church Father, formulated an theodicy, an argument intended to show that evil is necessary for human moral and spiritual development and is part of God's purpose. God created humans in a morally and spiritually imperfect state so that they can strive in response to suffering, in order to grow into full fellowship with God"… Read more here on Patheos.


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