Why is there Suffering?

‘And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questions arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.’
Friends in Christ, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared often to his disciples, and it is interesting, that in the first visits to them, he makes it a point to show them his hands and feet. He is showing them the wounds from his crucifixion. The resurrection of Christ is hope for us, because we are supposed to do what Jesus did: rise up on the last day in our own glorified bodies. But there is something else that we must do even before that great day: we must also endure wounds on our hands and feet – or at least, wounds in our life.
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Suffering is part of this life, no one can deny that. There is much suffering in the world, it can even make people question their faith. Young people sometimes ask: ‘How can God allow suffering?’ ‘If God is all good and all powerful, why does he allow this to happen to me, or my brother, or my mother?’ ‘Why does he allow people to be tortured and persecuted?’ ‘Why is there cancer?’ This is one of the great questions. It is called ‘the problem of evil.’
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Now contained in this question are two different types of evil. Physical evil and moral evil. Physical evil is: why does God allow cancer, or earthquakes; why does God allow a person to be attacked by a shark? These are causes of suffering which are due to nature. The other kind of evil is moral evil. Why does God allow a gang member to kill a child in the city, or a person to be treated cruelly in the work place, or a kid to be beaten up by bullies? These are ‘moral evils,’ they are caused directly by sin.
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Atheists often bring up this question: They say: ‘The evil in the world proves there is no God. If God were all powerful and all good, he would not allow suffering.’ So what can we say about this? Well, first let’s say the small things, and then the big thing.
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First, Free-Will:   If God were going to stop the gang member from shooting, if he miraculously stopped the bullet in mid-air; or if, when the bully is going to throw the punch, his arm miraculously would freeze up and in this way, no one would be capable of ever hurting another, well, then we would really be robots controlled by God, there would no longer be free-will. God has given us a great gift: free-will. He wants us to use it to love, but unfortunately we use it sometimes to hate.
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And every parent often feels this same frustration, seeing children use their free-will, not always for good things. They could lock them in a closet for their life, so that they would never get into any problems or get hurt, but that is not freedom. So much suffering and pain and broken hearts come about because we use our free-will to hurt others or ourselves.
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God also allows the devil to exercise his free-will; the devil was the original source of all the moral evil, and the demons create enormous pain in the world by their temptations. So this is one reason that God allows moral evil: free-will. and we must say that he ALLOWS all this, but he does not desire it. It is his permissive will, not his active will. God suffers over the pain of the world, with us – we see that on the cross.
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Another thing for us to consider, is that God can bring good out of evil; he is working on a much larger scale than we are. He can see the long-term effects of things. God is painting a masterpiece that extends over millions of years. If you put your face up close to a painting, you may say: ‘This black smudge is ugly, what a mistake.’ But backing away a distance, one can see that that black spot is an important part of the entire painting.
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For example, a priest friend of mine was visiting a parish and after Mass, he saw a child in a wheel chair, deformed and serverely handicapped; he had a brief thought: ‘Why Lord?!’ Then he met the family after Mass. Great people. The older son was going to be a priest, a sister was going into social work, very kind and wonderful family. He thought: I think I know why – because of that child. We can sometimes see good that comes out of trouble.
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God allows some people to be cruel, irritating, or unkind; but it is just these persons who allow another to be patient, serene, and long-suffering. How can we pray for our enemies unless we have some? For most of us to become a saint, there must be another person in our life – ‘to make us a saint,’ if you know what I mean!!
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God also wants nature to be free. He allows cancer cells to grow in their own way, he allows sharks to do what sharks do and germs to do what germs do. The wind and seas move as they will; the earth’s crust shifts in a freedom all it’s own. For example, earthquakes – under the sea. In the 2004 Sunami, thousands of people died. This tragic event however produced an enormous amount of compassion and aid and generosity on the part of others. ‘But all those people died,’ you say. yes. But that isn’t the end of the story for them, is it? There is a next life. A man and woman were chatting in a barber shop in New York. The TV was on. They saw the devastation from the Sunami. The man shook his head. ‘Life is terrible.’ The woman said, ‘No, life is beautiful, but it’s full of pain.’
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Mother Cabrini always saw suffering and obstacles as evidence that God was going to bring his blessings; when she and her young nuns were to stay their first night in the United States, in an old boarding house, one of the nuns turned down the blanket and screamed, ‘Look at that, they are crawling!’,she said. The sheets and blankets were alive with bedbugs. Mother Cabrini said: ‘My daughters, things like this will happen, but it is a sign that God is going to bless us.’  
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When she visited one of her missions, the sisters there told her: ‘Everything is wonderful here, no problems.’ She wrote in her notes: ‘I became worried about that mission, I wondered if God really was blessing it.’ Suffering, problems, obstacles – the Lord wishes to sanctify us through challenges.
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So what can we say to the atheist about suffering? Let us ask: ‘If there is no God, then what? Then suffering is totally meaningless, then everything is meaningless; that means we are born, we suffer, and we die. that’s it. But that can’t be, we know there is meaning to life. This is why so many young people are in despair today, they don’t see God’s hand in the world. But he is here. St. Paul says: ‘We are heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him – that we may also be glorified with him.’
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God has not totally explained the Mystery of suffering, but it is true that God himself has come into the world and has joined himself to our suffering. He didn’t take it away, but he has chosen to be IN all of our pain along with us, giving it meaning; our patience in suffering means that we are helping Jesus save the world, participating in his redemptive work.
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When I was a seminarian, we had to attend some talks at a hospital. Other faiths were there too. One lady was giving a talk, and at one point she told us about a woman with cancer, who refused pain medicine, because she ‘wanted to offer her pain up for her family.’ She had a scowl on her face. The protestant seminarians and clergy laughed and said ‘it’s foolish, she must be convinced to take the pain medicine.’ But we Catholics did not laugh; that lady who was offering her suffering was probably a saint, another Christ, bringing down graces for her family. She got it. She understood suffering and it’s redeeming value.
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God has not taken away suffering, but he has joined into it, with us. In heaven, when the meaning of all things is revealed, after the pain of this life – we will finally see the end of the story. In the end of the story, we will be resurrected with the Lord, and the sufferings of our life that we patiently endured will be the great glories of our life. May the blessed Virgin assist us in all the trials of life, that we may see her glorious face with Jesus, in heaven. Amen.

[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Joseph]

 

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