As a grief spirituality writer, one of the most common questions asked of me is, Why does a good God allow us to suffer? It’s become somewhat of a cliché, though I fully understand its origins. I think we all ask ourselves some variation of this question at some point throughout our lives, maybe in the form of, Why did this have to happen to me/him/her/us? or Why do I feel like God is punishing me over and over again?
Theologically, God is all good. There is not one blemish of vitriol in Him. Knowing that He is Love Incarnate, it’s difficult for us to reconcile the concept of suffering in humanity with love. And that is exactly what Jesus did, what His primary purpose for being born was – to suffer and die for the sake of love.
WHY DO WE SUFFER?
We are called to be little Christs, which is essentially what it means to be a Christian. A good God does not want suffering to exist, yet He permits us to experience losses and pain sometimes for mysterious reasons. It does feel cruel at times when we carry heavy crosses – in the form of long-term illnesses, such as cancer or when someone we love is afflicted and tormented with excruciating pain – yet there is a way to reconcile the Truth that “God is love” and “God allows suffering to exist.” They are not mutually exclusive.
The rudimentary reason suffering exists at all is because of free will. If we go back to the First Fall of the angels who became demons out of their obstinate pride – “I will not serve” – we see how evil came to be. Subsequently, Original Sin was introduced to humanity when Adam and Eve succumbed to the wiles of Satan. Thus, all of humanity – and all of creation – is permanently afflicted with the mark of suffering and evil.
This is not what God wanted, but because He loves us, He allows us to choose. Free will is one gift God never touches, because to take it away would completely negate what love truly is and means – to will the good of the other.
REDEMPTION AND SUFFERING
My oldest daughter, Felicity, often pouts and complains, “Why did Adam and Eve have to ruin everything for us by committing the first sin!” It’s more of a statement than question, but my response always is, “If they didn’t, we would never have needed Jesus.”
Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Father’s love for us. He is truly Love-made-flesh, a perfect reflection of Who God is in relationship to who He longs for us to become. As the sacrificial victim, Jesus willingly and openly chose to suffer and die out of love for us. We know this viscerally, but when we are grieving a loss, it’s hard for us to understand.
Ultimately, Jesus redeemed suffering when He died on the Cross. It was there, in that moment of His expiration, that suffering had power – it became, for us, a means by which we could be sanctified, if only we join Jesus by suffering all that He permits us to endure.
ACCOMPANYING JESUS TO CALVARY
Each of us is called to carry our crosses in this life. It’s not possible for us to attain resurrection without passion. Our suffering-journey is our own little personal Calvarys, in which we follow Jesus in our walk toward self-denial, mortification, and humility by way of humiliations.
If the entire purpose of loving Jesus is to become like Him, then we must imitate His journey to the Cross. There is no other way to learn how to love fully and faithfully.
On the Cross, Jesus emptied Himself entirely. When His blood and water commingled as one gush after His Sacred Side was pierced, we come to know that there is an emptying required of us, too. In order for love to be real, it must involve a forgetfulness of self. Love is never self-focused, as Jesus taught us on the Cross. Therefore, our suffering can become tokens of love for God when we focus on Him alone, loving Him for the sake of love and no other reason.
WAYS YOU CAN SUFFER WELL
There are small things you can do to grow in suffering without complaint. Here are some ideas:
> If you’ve ever heard the phrase “offer it up", try practicing it. Today, offer up small irritations or inconveniences to Jesus and ask Him to use those graces for those in most need.
> If you prefer specificity, think of one person at the beginning of your day to sacrifice for. Keep in mind their own cross and understand that you are acting as Simon of Cyrene when you suffer silently for their sake.
> Use sacrifice beads to mark every time you offer something up to Jesus. My oldest daughter loves this exercise.
> Pray the Stations of the Cross.
> Meditate on the Seven Sorrows of Mary.
> Offer up a Rosary, focusing on the Sorrowful Mysteries, especially on Fridays.
> Pray a Divine Mercy chaplet for suffering souls, especially those in Purgatory.
> Fast on First Fridays.
> Develop a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Precious Blood of Christ. There are many novenas and even chaplets related to these popular devotions.
> Thank God for His wounds and give Him your heartache in the tears you shed.
> Offer a Holy Hour for someone who is struggling.
What are some things you do to pick up and carry your cross that you'd like to express? Please share your experience with us below.
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