Why Do We Suffer?

A PERSONAL THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING

I have taught religion for over twenty years, and it has been
important to me to make sense of it all. I have done my best to undeify
the priesthood and de-mythologize Catholic teaching: priests
are not Christ; God is not Catholic, nor is God the Creator a man;
Catholicism has made mistakes. I hope that along the way I have
helped some students find a way of relating to God and to the Church
that makes sense to them.

Suffering has always been the most difficult topic to teach, but
my life experience is where I have found most of my answers. It is
not my abuse as a child but my parenting as an adult that provided
most of my answers. In my childhood I learned about the evil that
men were capable of; in loving my children I learned about the love
of God.

God as parent

As a parent of two sons I have gained much insight into God as
Abba, or Dad. I believe that:

1 As a parent God does not want children to suffer but knows
that children must grow and learn, and that freedom entitles even
children to make mistakes. God also knows that children may be
hurt through the exercise of other people’s freedom.

2 As a parent God knows that children cannot always be
protected, that the evil actions of others happen beyond the control
of the parent, and that disease and sickness and disaster also strike
in a way that is beyond the control of the parent.

3 As a parent God wants to help us through our pain and
suffering, to help us bear it and to help us deal most positively with
it, to cry with us, console us, give us strength and guidance, support
us, hold us in His/Her arms and keep us safe.

4 As a parent it breaks God’s heart when His/Her children are
hurt.

Different types of suffering

There are different types of suffering. There is suffering that is
the pain, discomfort, or unhappiness created by not having things
our way. Such “suffering” can indeed be good for the soul as it teaches
us how to deal with the lack of instant gratification; it teaches us the
values of justice, of working for things we want, of compassion for
those without.

There is the suffering of distress over personal, minor, emotional
wounds or the wounds of others. Such suffering is a valuable tool in
learning to cope with one’s emotions and place them in perspective,
and in learning empathy with other people’s pain. Obviously, then,
some suffering is a necessary part of learning about oneself, about
others, and about values.

Another form of suffering is the physical pain that is necessary in
order for our bodies to teach us about danger and harm. If fire did
not cause pain, we would not know to pull our hand out of the flames.
Sometimes physical pain is a necessary evil—the pain of injections,
of surgery to heal and cure.

Then there are other forms of suffering which seem to serve no
apparent function in terms of personal growth, physical safety, or
physical healing. For example, there is the pain of physical illness,
disease, or hardship caused by natural disasters—things over which
we have no control. And there is the suffering resulting from an evil
act perpetrated on us by another person.

While it is true that such experiences can provide a person with a
motivation for the development of a closer relationship with God, I don’t
believe that it is the purpose of God to cause these forms of suffering.
It is not God who determines the path of the hurricane, or the location
of the tumor, the recipient of AIDS, or the victim of abuse.

These types of suffering are not God’s will. They are not tests of faith.
They are not part of God’s plan.

Jesus healed people who were sick, he didn’t tell them to suck it
up because it is part of God’s plan. Jesus showed us the compassion
of God. Jesus got angry over religious hypocrisy and cried over the
death of a friend. Jesus taught us about a God who wants us to learn
to love ourselves and others, and in so doing love God and make
God/The Good more present. This is a God who wishes us to grow
and mature not to become victims overwhelmed with despair.

Although God is always present to us, we may not recognize that
presence, perhaps because of our preoccupation with other matters
or our unwillingness to turn to God until we have a serious need. Yet
I cannot believe that God sends us suffering simply to get our
attention. Rather, I believe that God desires passionately to be a part
of everyone’s life, and sometimes, ironically, it is in the experience
of suffering that people discover God for the first time in a personal
way.

God’s place in suffering—cause or consolation

Each moment of suffering is the result of multiple causes both
environmental and human, both random and willed. I believe that
God is present in each moment of suffering not as the cause but as a
source of strength/will to Good in the very next moment in which
we are able to exercise some choice. Even when we have no control
over the causes of our suffering, we can exercise control over our
responses—not our feelings but our decisions. Some people use
suffering as an excuse for self-pity, others as an excuse for denying
responsibility for their behavior. But there are positive alternatives.

When life sends you manure—grow roses

God is the gardener who shows us how best to transform the
manure life sends us into beautiful roses, our suffering into something
positive. We can choose to use what we learn from suffering as a
way to better ourselves, as a teaching tool for others, or as the
motivation to help ease the suffering of others. God helps us tend
our garden; God gives us the sustenance of caring friends and the
healing and cleansing of tears.

So I don’t believe that my abuse was God’s will, or that God had
a reason, or that God gives me no more than I can bear. Yes, God has
helped me survive, but God did not want me to be molested, to be
terrorized, to be humiliated, to be unable to love myself or my
children, to be tested to the edge of my survival and very nearly
beyond. If that were true, then God would somehow be a child abuser
and a malevolent force. No. While I believe that God will help the
abusers to heal if they look to God for help, God did not give them
permission to do what they did; it is always an act of human will not
divine intention for children to be abused.

If God IS love and wills love and wills the Good, it does not
make sense to say that God also creates unnecessary suffering. God
is not in the evil of abuse, God is in the grace of survival.

Jesus and suffering

Jesus believed in the words he spoke; his faith was stronger than
suffering and death. Jesus revealed the radical nature of God’s love
in his forgiveness of the very people who tortured and executed him.
Christians must face that challenge too: forgiveness.

I have faced many obstacles to my faith in a good and loving God
and to my faith in my own loveableness before God. As a Christian
I am told that faith can survive suffering, and I am challenged by the
very words of Jesus to forgive my abusers. However, it is very difficult
not to view forgiveness as somehow minimizing or condoning the
abuse I experienced. Doris Donnelly’s book, Learning to Forgive
has helped me view forgiveness in a new light. Forgiveness is
something that will help me move beyond my anger and help me let
go of my pain. Forgiveness is useful for me, even if I never have the
opportunity to communicate it to my abusers. Forgiveness helps me
heal.

Meditation

A message from God to an abused child.

You are a precious child.
You deserve to be here and you deserve to be happy.
It was my will for you that you be happy.
It was not my plan that people hurt you.
People choose to hurt you of their own free will.
It was not what I wanted. I wanted to protect you.
I want you to know that I have always been beside you.
I have given you friends to help you.
I have willed you my strength through them, and I have loved you
through them.
You must learn to reach out to your friends,
to trust that they care.
I am always with you, even in your darkest moments.
I will always be with you.
I want you to trust me. I am stronger than you.
I can carry you when you need to be carried.
I believe in you, even if you don’t believe in me.
I want you to know that people care about you.
I care about you.
You deserve to be happy.
You deserve to be loved.
You ARE LOVED.

( An excerpt from, From Hurt To Healing, Publish America Press, 2004)

6 responses to “Why Do We Suffer?

  1. I believe that the dvil attacks those who are chosen and others also when theres sinething great in you the enemy aims to destroy it god doesnt make us sick we do things sometimes we shouldnt do our own mistakes sometimes makes us suffer but if we have faith and trust god will bring us threw our suffering all we have to do is repent and mean it

  2. I really like that alot God is love and that will never change

  3. You are never alone. Jesus loves you! : ) God loves you and He sent Jesus to take the weight off your shoulder. Do not feel unloved. The Lord cares for you even when you feel others do not. Do not let your emotions carry away the best of you, lots of people go through the same brokenness. I was broken, went through things that were terrible and Jesus helped me to see Hope, Light, Love, and Faith in Him are all I need. My brokenness became healed, because I realized Jesus suffered and conquered the grave because He is God, and He was willing to suffer for us so that we can be saved. Forgive so you can be forgiven. One day, all this will come to pass. Suffering will be no more; no more tears; no more illness; no more darkness because Jesus will come again and those who believe in Him will live forever like Him. THAT IS LOVE. SO, remember, Jesus loves you and He is the Light in the dark.

  4. ^agree so perfectly

  5. i haven’t been here in awhile. i haven’t even used my own blog. i’ve been thinking a lot about suicide lately. i have so much to live for, but every day hurts more and more. sometimes at night i come to your blog and read because it reminds me of what i would do to my family if i took my own life. how broken and lost my mom would be without me. i’m really scared and i feel so alone. i don’t understand why god has left me so alone.

    • God hasnt left you my sister he would never leave u or forsaken you god is still in control just pray harder i kno hes there he didnt bring u this far to leave u the enemy is a liar if u need sine body to tlk to cll me 850 354 0273 the best is yet to come dont give up theres no forgiveness for self murder god bless u and keep your head up and pray heaven is for you hell is not a option think pisitive we suffer to be like christ not for any other reason trouble dont last always ways ma god got u dont be duscouraged

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