Lenten Reflection on Human Suffering: What It Means To Be a Child of God
through suffering, which is manīs weakness and emptying of self, and he wishes to make his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self."
We will never be able to act justly toward God and give Him the honor and obedience we owe to Him unless we first acknowledge and accept our weakness and admit His absolute power and authority over us (His divine providence). Yet, even if we admit God's power and authority over us, why should we trust, let alone love, a God who permits the innocent to suffer and die? Why should we believe that Pope John Paul II is correct?
We understand that parents must discipline their children when they are disobedient. During our better moments, we can even understand that our disobedience causes much of our own suffering. But this does not adequately explain why a good God permits evil to rain down on all of us, even the innocent. Some primary examples being: the brutal death of babies in their mother's wombs, the cruel acts committed against little children and the weak, the oppression and slaughter by governments of their citizens, or the untold suffering caused by natural disasters.
The most profound explanation for the question of evil is of a spiritual nature. God permits evil because He desires to share His inner life with us. Paragraphs 306-311 in the Catechism state that by creating us in His image and likeness, God gave us the intellect and the freedom to choose our destiny and act upon it. He gave us this power, so we would be able to appreciate and participate in His life. In other words, God permits evil because He respects the freedom and great dignity He gave us. Evil, then, springs from rebellion against God (ours and the fallen angels); and it mysteriously affects all of creation. However, God knows that He can derive good from it.
God permits evil, but He gives our suffering a great and noble purpose. This is what Pope John Paul II is telling us in his letter. On page 27, he informs us that Jesus did not bring redemption to a close, that the redemption, which Jesus accomplished through satisfactory love, remains open to all love expressed in human suffering. Jesus raised human suffering to a higher level by endowing it with the power to redeem. As Saint Paul writes, we complete the suffering of Jesus in our own bodies (Col 1:24). Thus, when we unite our suffering to Jesus as an act of love, we are participating in the redemption of all creation.
Consequently, when we suffer as the sons and daughters of God, we are acting in accordance with the nature and characteristics that belong to our Father. We are loving like God in space and time. We are giving ourselves away in life-giving love. We are living in our Father's house and eating at His table, for we are His children and the heirs to His kingdom.
In a certain sense, we have already received our inheritance, for the seed of supernatural life is already in us. Only now we experience this life sacramentally, especially in the sacrament of Baptism and in the Eucharist. But at the end of time, provided that we remain true to the graces that God has given to us, we will experience the full reality with all our senses. Then God will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more suffering and death (Rev 21:4).
Michael Terheyden is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. He is Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. He is greatly blessed to share his Catholic faith with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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