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UNIT 7 CHAPTER 19<br />

Why Would an<br />

All-Loving God<br />

Allow Suffering?<br />


Chapter 19 Overview<br />

Imagine a world in which being selfish, arrogant, or hurtful towards others was not a possibility. Everyone was<br />

forced to be perfectly loving all the time. It might seem like this situation would be great, but would it, really?<br />

If someone is not free to make any other choice, have they really chosen love? For love to really be love, it<br />

must be freely chosen. A person who can love must therefore be free to choose against it. Those choices inevitably<br />

result in suffering. Thankfully, we know as Christians that God has an infinite ability to transform bad<br />

into good. We can know that He provides us many paths to transform the suffering we experience into even<br />

greater joys, if we trust in Him and allow Him to guide us. We will explore what that means in this chapter.<br />

In this chapter you will learn that …<br />

■ The reasons why God allows suffering to occur in the world are linked to the free giving and receiving of<br />

love, and, with it, the advancement of our salvation.<br />

■ Since agapē requires a free choice, the possibility of suffering is the price of the possibility of love.<br />

■ God the Father empathizes with our pain, involves Himself in our lives (if we allow Him to), and guides us<br />

to His Kingdom of unconditional love.<br />

■ God allows suffering to occur in the world, but His intention is to transform it into love.<br />

■ Challenges and suffering are a call to develop our natural virtues: they often provide the impetus to grow<br />

in endurance, courage, fortitude, prudence, rationality, and temperance.<br />

■ The poor, sick, and grieving may well have more strain, stress, and pain in this life, but if they are open to<br />

faith and love, they will likely have an easier and more efficacious path to salvation.<br />

■ Beginning with His Eucharistic words and actions and concluding with His self-sacrificial Death on the<br />

Cross, Jesus revealed the highest forms of sacrificial love.<br />

Bible Basics<br />

“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when<br />

they exclude you and revile you, and cast out<br />

your name as evil, on account of the Son of<br />

man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for<br />

behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so<br />

their fathers did to the prophets.”<br />

— Luke 6:22–23<br />

Connections to the Catechism<br />

■ CCC 301<br />

■ CCC 601<br />

■ CCC 1804<br />

■ CCC 2015<br />

I consider that the sufferings of this present<br />

time are not worth comparing with the glory<br />

that is to be revealed to us.<br />

— Romans 8:18<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />


Chapter 19<br />

The Mystery of Suffering<br />

In the last chapter we learned about how all suffering is redeemed in the<br />

Resurrection. As St. Paul says, our faith would be in vain if Christ was not<br />

raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12-17). But if we have hope in<br />

eternal life, suffering in this life becomes not only meaningful but even<br />

helpful, leading to the purification of our love and faith, and ultimately<br />

to our and others’ salvation.<br />

But you might be wondering: If God had wanted to redeem every<br />

aspect of suffering in His unconditional love, why didn’t He just get rid<br />

of suffering altogether? That way we could avoid pain and He wouldn’t<br />

have to redeem it!<br />

There are several reasons why God allows suffering to occur in the<br />

world, and all of them are linked to the free giving and receiving of love<br />

(and with it, the advancement of our salvation).<br />

The martyrs bear witness to<br />

Christ, who suffered, died, and<br />

rose.<br />

St. Sebastian, by Il Sodoma.<br />

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© Magis Center

Let us consider the three major sources of suffering. First there is<br />

suffering caused by our own decisions about happiness, purpose, and<br />

identity. Secondly, there is suffering caused by sin — our own and the<br />

sins of others. Finally, there is suffering caused by natural forces (e.g.,<br />

tsunamis, disease, old age).<br />

We talked in depth about the first kind of suffering in Unit 6. We<br />

looked at the unhappiness and emptiness we feel if we focus only on<br />

sensual pleasures or on winning, or if we reject the contributive or transcendent<br />

purposes of our lives. As we saw, the pain we suffer in these<br />

cases can sometimes be positive, as it may be the only path leading us<br />

to make progress towards our true fulfillment. Since this cause of suffering<br />

has been discussed, we will spend this chapter examining the<br />

other two: suffering caused by other people, and suffering caused by<br />

natural forces.<br />

Aa<br />


Kingdom of God: God’s<br />

reign, or rule, over all things.<br />

During His public ministry,<br />

Jesus proclaimed that the<br />

Kingdom of God was at hand.<br />

The Church is the seed, or<br />

beginning, of the Kingdom<br />

here on earth. The Kingdom<br />

will be fulfilled in Heaven.<br />

God Does Not Look Passively on Our Suffering<br />

As we begin, we must keep in mind the fundamental revelation of<br />

Jesus: that God is with us. He does not passively look upon our suffering.<br />

Like the father of the Prodigal Son, God the Father empathizes<br />

with our pain, involves Himself in our lives (if we allow Him to) and<br />

guides us through that pain to His Kingdom of unconditional love. God<br />

may be compared to unconditionally loving parents who would rather<br />

shield their children from pain and suffering instead of allowing them to<br />

experience it themselves, but who know that wisdom requires them to<br />

step back and allow their children to experience the hard world that will<br />

develop them in virtue, contribution, and love.<br />

God allows suffering to occur in the world, but His intention is to<br />

transform it into love. If He does not do this now, He could do it later in<br />

this world, and if He does not do that, He will do it in the eternal world<br />

to come. The key idea to remember is that God has an eternal perspective<br />

and that He will transform all suffering in this world into love for all<br />

eternity — if we let Him. The only completely tragic kind of suffering is<br />

the one we can inflict on ourselves if we freely choose to reject love and<br />

exclude ourselves from God and the blessed — the pain of Hell.<br />

In the Christian view, suffering is complex. It includes the genuine<br />

experience of deep grief, loss, and pain, as well as the experience — arising<br />

out of faith — of God redeeming that suffering completely and eternally.<br />

Grappling with grief and hope at the same time can be incredibly<br />

difficult, but as St. Paul reminds us in a remarkable passage: “I consider<br />

that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 19: Why Would an All-Loving God Allow Suffering?<br />


Consolation: Help or<br />

comfort given to someone<br />

who is suffering. A spiritual<br />

consolation is a movement in<br />

our soul that allows us to know<br />

God is with us in our daily life,<br />

especially during times of trial.<br />

Sin: A deliberate offense<br />

against God. It is something<br />

we say, think, do, or fail to do<br />

that is against the eternal law<br />

of God. It is a failure to love<br />

God and neighbor.<br />

Moral Evil: An objectively evil<br />

act that a person commits.<br />

The rejection and murder of<br />

God’s only Son is the greatest<br />

moral evil ever committed.<br />

with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). It also includes<br />

an experience of peace and consolation, if we choose it. In suffering,<br />

we are given a myriad of opportunities to grow in faith, love, and<br />

service, as well as the inspiration, protection and guidance of the Holy<br />

Spirit, if we are attentive to Him.<br />

Suffering Caused by Sin<br />

Imagine for a moment what life would be like if we did not have the capacity<br />

to choose unloving behaviors. It might seem at first like the world<br />

would be better because we would not have to worry about hurting<br />

anyone through selfishness, pride, anger, jealousy, or any other unloving<br />

disposition. But the unfortunate part about choice is that we must<br />

have both options — choice is not choice if we have only one option.<br />

Likewise, love (agapé) requires free choice, otherwise it is not love. So,<br />

in this scenario where we would not have the capacity to choose unloving<br />

behaviors, we would also be incapable of love; we would be mere<br />

robots.<br />

Here, then, is the dilemma! God could create a perfectly loving being<br />

incapable of initiating love, or He could create an imperfectly loving<br />

being capable of choosing love, as well as choosing its opposite. Since<br />

the first condition excludes the second condition (and vice versa), God<br />

can only choose one of them — He could not create a being which can<br />

and cannot initiate love in the same respect at the same time. Failure<br />

to love God and/or our neighbor according to the eternal law of God is<br />

called sin. We sin when we freely and deliberately commit unloving actions<br />

against God or others and when we fail to do something we should<br />

have done. Our sinfulness — our own sins and the sins of others, which is<br />

called moral evil — are a significant cause of suffering in the world, suffering<br />

we inflict on one another.<br />

So why would an unconditionally loving God allow human beings to<br />

cause suffering to one another? Because love requires the freedom to<br />

choose. With only one option, there is no true choice. And if there is no<br />

true choice, there is no true love. Forced love is not real love. Choosing<br />

love requires having the choice to be unloving, and unloving actions<br />

frequently cause suffering.<br />

Beautiful and loving as God’s objective is, it presents an incredible<br />

risk, for He has given us immense power in our self-consciousness, intelligence,<br />

free will, and transcendental awareness to do tremendous<br />

evil, if we choose to turn these powers in an egocentric (instead of loving)<br />

direction. Though God intended to redeem the suffering brought<br />

382 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

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Moral evil is a significant cause<br />

of suffering in the world.<br />

Cain murders Abel, York Minster East Window, panel<br />

14a, image courtesy Jules & Jenny.<br />

about by human evil, He could not prevent it without destroying the<br />

freedom necessary for love.<br />

In essence, the possibility of sin and suffering is the price of the<br />

possibility for love. And God paid the price to save us from sin through<br />

the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of His Beloved Son.<br />

Suffering from Natural Forces<br />

It is a little easier to understand why God would allow suffering to occur<br />

through human actions than through nature. Why does He allow<br />

natural disasters? Couldn’t God have created the natural order to be<br />

perfect, thereby eliminating the possibility of hunger, weakness, pain,<br />

and similar suffering?<br />

The brief answer lies in the fact that a perfect natural order would<br />

leave no room for need, weakness, and vulnerability; yet these kinds<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 19: Why Would an All-Loving God Allow Suffering?<br />


of suffering frequently open the way to love, virtue, and community.<br />

They give us the possibility of contributing to the common good, and<br />

the possibility of contributing to the Kingdom of God. It is also important<br />

to remember that sometimes the suffering that is caused by natural<br />

forces is in fact due to human action, at least in part. For example, we<br />

know that earthquakes commonly occur along fault lines (areas of the<br />

earth where ever-shifting tectonic plates pull away from each other or<br />

collide). Scientists also believe that the slow shifting of tectonic plates<br />

over time helps regulate the temperature of the planet and may in fact<br />

be a key ingredient for life on earth. And yet, human beings have for<br />

millennia settled near these fault lines in earthquake prone regions, inevitably<br />

leading to suffering and loss of life when earthquakes do occur.<br />

As we will see, however, God’s plan is for suffering to help everyone.<br />

The Call to Develop our Natural Abilities and Virtues<br />

The imperfect human condition and world tells us that life is not going<br />

to be easy, and that we — and the human spirit — will have to rise to the<br />

occasion and deal with the challenges confronting us with strength,<br />

As a young soldier, St. Ignatius<br />

was badly wounded. His<br />

suffering led to his conversion<br />

experience and to his great<br />

missionary work.<br />

St. Ignatius of Loyola, French School, anonymous.<br />

384 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

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hard work, resilience, courage, and prudence. These are forms of the<br />

Cardinal Virtues, which are natural virtues. Ironically, we need hardship,<br />

suffering, and challenge to actualize the full potential of our human spirit.<br />

A purely hostile world would of course be joyless and overwhelming.<br />

But our world that is benevolent and beautiful, but not perfectly so, is<br />

a setting where the human spirit can come alive, find its inner courage<br />

and resilience in the midst of challenges, and actualize itself in overcoming<br />

them.<br />

Why is it that some people seem to have more than their fair share<br />

of these hardships and challenges, and some less? The answer seems<br />

to lie in natural causes (climate and environment, for example) as well<br />

as human causes (family conditions or poor responses to natural crises,<br />

for example). In God’s eternal plan, such inequities in the imperfect<br />

world are only temporary conditions of darkness within an infinitely extending<br />

perfect light.<br />

In the Christian view, there is an additional purpose for an imperfect<br />

world and its inequities — the call to loving service. When we see<br />

that one person has more than their fair share of burdens, hardships,<br />

and challenges, it is incumbent upon us to help alleviate them to the extent<br />

that we can — by generously giving of our time, advice, resources,<br />

love, and prayers — or to find other avenues of relief where possible. For<br />

Christians, all such inequities of burdens and challenges will be ultimately<br />

and completely redressed in the Kingdom of God in accordance with<br />

Jesus’ proclamation, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall<br />

be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). And we know that these inequitable<br />

sufferings will not ultimately be unfair — for they will be transformed into<br />

unconditional life, love, and joy, if we “seek God with a sincere heart …<br />

and try in [our] actions to do his will as [we] know it through the dictates<br />

of [our] conscience” (Lumen Gentium 16).<br />

Finally, our imperfect world tells us that we are not an island, but<br />

part of a social reality that precedes us, goes beyond us, and succeeds<br />

us. The imperfection and incompleteness of our human condition mean<br />

that we depend on the larger community. Further, we have an obligation<br />

to protect and assist the community that protects and assists us.<br />

If the divine plan of the unconditionally loving God is to bring us to an<br />

eternal life with Him through our free choices, then He will have to create<br />

a world in which these choices can be made. In order to create this<br />

world, He must create us with an imperfect human nature in an imperfect<br />

world. It is not enough to reveal His presence to us, He must also provide<br />

a way for us to choose piety, honor, respect, and justice, or their contraries.<br />

Suffering often moves us to grow in endurance, courage, fortitude,<br />

Cardinal Virtues: Virtues<br />

acquired by human effort.<br />

They are the key moral virtues<br />

which all other moral virtues<br />

are grouped around. They are<br />

the fruit and seed of morally<br />

good acts and help prepare<br />

the powers of human beings<br />

for communion with God’s<br />

love. They are prudence,<br />

justice, fortitude, and<br />

temperance.<br />

Our imperfect<br />

world tells us<br />

that we are not<br />

an island, but<br />

part of a social<br />

reality that<br />

precedes us,<br />

goes beyond us,<br />

and succeeds us.<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 19: Why Would an All-Loving God Allow Suffering?<br />


prudence, rationality, and temperance. If the all-loving God had not subjected<br />

us to imperfections in ourselves and in the world, He would have<br />

deprived us of most of the profound opportunities to choose the character<br />

that would define us throughout eternity.<br />

When the imperfect world incites us to seek God’s help, we naturally<br />

become more interested in Him. At this point, God steps in and inspires<br />

us to know Him with ever greater depth — to move from the domain of<br />

His transcendence, intelligence, and creativity (science and logic) to His<br />

heart (which can only be known through His self-revelation). This may<br />

cause us to find theology and spirituality fascinating and important in<br />

ways we had never previously conceived, and we will discover the center<br />

of Jesus’ revelation: that He and His Father are unconditional love.<br />

Suffering and Faith in Jesus Christ<br />

In following<br />

Jesus, we<br />

become<br />

interested in<br />

serving others<br />

and alleviating<br />

their suffering.<br />

At this juncture, the imperfect world serves an even greater purpose,<br />

for in following Jesus, we become interested in serving others and alleviating<br />

their suffering. It is true that even without faith, suffering can<br />

lead to expressions of love (contributions to family, friends, organizations,<br />

community, and culture), and to greater empathy, humility, compassion,<br />

and self-sacrifice. But its effects are greatly enhanced with<br />

Christian faith. Why? Because the revelation of Jesus teaches us how<br />

to express and purify love (agapē), and a relationship with Him opens<br />

us to the inspiration and grace of the Holy Spirit who moves us deeply<br />

toward the imitation of His heart and loving actions.<br />

The need, weakness, and suffering brought on by our imperfect<br />

human condition and world provide the occasion to make a significant<br />

contribution to others. Imagine a life where there is no contribution to<br />

make, no sacrifice to offer for the good of others or humanity, no way<br />

in which you could positively affect the lives and salvation of others.<br />

This scenario would negate the central purpose of our short mortal life,<br />

which has as its end eternal self-definition through the decisions we<br />

make in the face of need, vulnerability, weakness, and suffering in ourselves<br />

and others.<br />

You may want to ask, “Why would a loving God let some people<br />

suffer so other people could help them?” but the thought behind this<br />

question not quite accurate — the imperfect world will invariably cause<br />

all of us to suffer, and we are all called to help others. When we embrace<br />

God’s purpose for suffering — along with the gifts provided from<br />

Jesus — we can no longer view suffering as ultimately tragic, or even ultimately<br />

negative. This life, with all its sufferings and joys, is a temporary<br />

but hugely important moment in which to make fundamental choices.<br />

386 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

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While the poor may have<br />

more pain in this life, they will<br />

likely have an easier path to<br />

salvation.<br />

The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, by Domenico Fetti.<br />

Without the needs and vulnerabilities which allow us to make a positive<br />

difference to the world, we would not be able to freely choose who we<br />

are and who we will be throughout eternity.<br />

One might still be troubled about why some people must suffer<br />

more than others. But this concern assumes that more suffering is bad<br />

for us, which is not necessarily the case from the perspective of eternity.<br />

The poor, sick, and grieving may well have more strain, stress, and<br />

pain in this life, but if they are open to faith and love, they will likely have<br />

an easier and more efficacious path to salvation. Jesus promised this<br />

very truth in the Beatitudes in Luke 6:20–26:<br />

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:<br />

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of<br />

God.<br />

“Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be<br />

satisfied.<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 19: Why Would an All-Loving God Allow Suffering?<br />


“Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall<br />

laugh.<br />

“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when<br />

they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your<br />

name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice<br />

in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward<br />

is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to<br />

the prophets.<br />

“But woe to you that are rich, for you have received<br />

your consolation.<br />

“Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.<br />

“Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn<br />

and weep.<br />

“Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so<br />

their fathers did to the false prophets.”<br />

When suffering comes, we<br />

must trust in God as Jesus<br />

did when he prayed at<br />

Gesthemane the night before<br />

He died.<br />

Christ in Gethsemane by Heinrich Hofmann<br />

388 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

© Magis Center

In fact, given the warning about the rich having a hard time entering<br />

the Kingdom of Heaven, we might consequently worry whether<br />

those with less suffering — those who have an abundance of goods or<br />

success in this life — have less hope for eternal salvation and happiness.<br />

Ultimately, those with more gifts and less suffering can find salvation by<br />

turning to God and trying to remain faithful — the same way that everyone<br />

can. It will be harder though, because those with more abundance<br />

can more easily become attached to and distracted by what they have<br />

in this world. Of course, suffering can often enter the lives of the rich in<br />

other ways to shock them out of this attachment and help them focus<br />

on God, salvation, contribution, and love. Nonetheless, for Jesus, those<br />

who have proportionately more suffering in this life may well be more<br />

fortunate than those who have proportionately less suffering.<br />

Offering our Suffering to God in Imitation of Jesus<br />

Beginning with His Eucharistic words and actions and concluding with<br />

His self-sacrificial Death on the Cross, Jesus revealed the highest<br />

forms of sacrificial love. Throughout history, this invisible form of love<br />

has been central in the lives of many saints — self-sacrifice in the face of<br />

suffering either from the imperfect world, or from the unjustified acts<br />

of other people. In both types of suffering, we will want to follow the example<br />

of Jesus — offering our suffering to the Father as self-sacrificial<br />

love instead of resenting our misfortune.<br />

Note that this does not mean we have to be passive: if we have a<br />

disease, we should seek medical help; if we are lonely and depressed,<br />

we should seek friends who can help, and so forth. But if the suffering<br />

persists after our efforts, then we must trust God and believe, as Jesus<br />

did when He prayed at Gethsemane on the night before He died, that<br />

there are invisible opportunities of self-sacrificial offering in that suffering.<br />

We will not know the true effects of our loving offering until we understand<br />

it through the eyes and heart of God in His Kingdom. Yet if we<br />

trust in Him, we will be confident that each little bit of suffering will — like<br />

the mustard seed — be turned into an abundance of grace available to<br />

those who need it most — grace that will strengthen the Church — and<br />

through it — the culture.<br />

We will explore more fully what it means to offer our suffering for<br />

others in the next chapter.<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 19: Why Would an All-Loving God Allow Suffering?<br />


Focus and Reflection Questions<br />

1 What do all the reasons God might permit suffering in the world have in common?<br />

2 What are the three sources of suffering in the world?<br />

3 What lesson can we take from the Parable of the Prodigal Son with respect to God’s love for us<br />

when we suffer?<br />

4 What is the only truly tragic suffering we can experience?<br />

5 Why can it be said that suffering is the price of love?<br />

6 How did God pay that price for us?<br />

7 What is one reason God may permit us to suffer as a result of weather disasters, illnesses, and other<br />

natural causes?<br />

8 As Christians, what are we called to do when we see that one person has more than their fair share<br />

of burdens, hardships, and challenges?<br />

9 God’s plan is to bring us to an eternal life with Him through our free choices. What is the irony, then,<br />

in our desire for a life free of suffering?<br />

10 Suffering can lead everyone, even non-believers, to greater love, empathy, humility, and selfsacrifice<br />

for all. Why, then, are its effects greatly enhanced with Christian faith?<br />

11 Why is the thought behind the question “Why would a loving God let some people suffer so other<br />

people could help them?” not quite accurate?<br />

12 Why should we not assume that more suffering is bad for us?<br />

13 What can we do to follow the example of Jesus when we experience suffering?<br />

14 When will we know the full meaning of suffering in our lives and the lives of others?<br />

390 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

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Straight to the Source<br />


Salvifici Doloris 3, an Encyclical Letter of Pope St. John Paul II, February 11, 1984<br />

3. The theme of suffering in a special way demands to be faced in the context of the Holy Year of<br />

the Redemption, and this is so, in the first place, because the Redemption was accomplished through<br />

the Cross of Christ, that is, through his suffering. And at the same time, during the Holy Year of the<br />

Redemption we recall the truth expressed in the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis: in Christ “every man<br />

becomes the way for the Church”. It can be said that man in a special fashion becomes the way for the<br />

Church when suffering enters his life. This happens, as we know, at different moments in life, it takes<br />

place in different ways, it assumes different dimensions; nevertheless, in whatever form, suffering<br />

seems to be, and is, almost inseparable from man’s earthly existence.<br />

Assuming then that throughout his earthly life man walks in one manner or another on the long path of<br />

suffering, it is precisely on this path that the Church at all times — and perhaps especially during the Holy<br />

Year of the Redemption — should meet man. Born of the mystery of Redemption in the Cross of Christ,<br />

the Church has to try to meet man in a special way on the path of his suffering. In this meeting man “becomes<br />

the way for the Church”, and this way is one of the most important ones.<br />

1 What does Pope John St. Paul II say is the relationship between suffering and man’s earthly existence?<br />

How is suffering tied to our redemption in Christ?<br />

2 What does Pope St. John Paul II say about the mission of the Church? How do you think the Church<br />

accomplishes this mission?<br />

Spe Salvi 37–38, an Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, November 30, 2007<br />

37. …Christ descended into “Hell” and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness<br />

into light. Suffering and torment is still terrible and well-nigh unbearable. Yet the star of hope has risen<br />

— the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man,<br />

the light shines victorious: suffering — without ceasing to be suffering — becomes, despite everything, a<br />

hymn of praise.<br />

38. The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer.<br />

This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering<br />

members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion”<br />

is a cruel and inhuman society. Yet society cannot accept its suffering members and support them<br />

in their trials unless individuals are capable of doing so themselves; moreover, the individual cannot accept<br />

another’s suffering unless he personally is able to find meaning in suffering, a path of purification<br />

and growth in maturity, a journey of hope. Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take<br />

up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering,<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 19: Why Would an All-Loving God Allow Suffering?<br />


though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin<br />

word con-solatio, “consolation”, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude,<br />

so that it ceases to be solitude. Furthermore, the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness,<br />

truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately<br />

more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence<br />

and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or<br />

else my life itself becomes a lie. In the end, even the “yes” to love is a source of suffering, because love<br />

always requires expropriations of my “I”, in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply<br />

cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and<br />

thereby ceases to be love.<br />

1 How has suffering become a “hymn of praise”, despite the pain and sorrow it causes?<br />

2 What does Pope Benedict XVI say determines the true measure of humanity? Explain.<br />

3 What is needed for an individual to accept another’s suffering?<br />

4 What is the relationship between love and suffering? Explain.<br />

Salvifici Doloris 25, an Encyclical Letter of Pope St. John Paul II, February 11, 1984<br />

25. … Christ did not conceal from his listeners the need for suffering. He said very clearly: “If any man<br />

would come after me ... let him take up his cross daily ‘’, and before his disciples he placed demands of<br />

a moral nature that can only be fulfilled on condition that they should “deny themselves”. The way that<br />

leads to the Kingdom of heaven is “hard and narrow”, and Christ contrasts it to the “wide and easy” way<br />

that “leads to destruction”. On various occasions Christ also said that his disciples and confessors would<br />

meet with much persecution, something which — as we know — happened not only in the first centuries<br />

of the Church’s life under the Roman Empire, but also came true in various historical periods and in other<br />

parts of the world, and still does even in our own time.<br />

Here are some of Christ’s statements on this subject: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute<br />

you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors<br />

for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds,<br />

not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your<br />

adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers<br />

and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s<br />

sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives”.<br />

The Gospel of suffering speaks first in various places of suffering “for Christ”, “for the sake of Christ”,<br />

and it does so with the words of Jesus himself or the words of his Apostles. The Master does not conceal<br />

the prospect of suffering from his disciples and followers. On the contrary, he reveals it with all frankness,<br />

indicating at the same time the supernatural assistance that will accompany them in the midst of<br />

persecutions and tribulations “for his name’s sake”. These persecutions and tribulations will also be, as it<br />

were, a particular proof of likeness to Christ and union with him. “If the world hates you, know that it has<br />

392 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

© Magis Center

hated me before it hated you ...; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world,<br />

therefore the world hates you ... A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will<br />

persecute you ... But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent<br />

me”. “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of<br />

good cheer, I have overcome the world”.<br />

1 What must we do if we wish to follow Christ? What are some ways we can accomplish this daily?<br />

2 What are some of the things Christ promised would happen to His disciples if they followed Him? What<br />

are some historical examples that verify Christ’s promise?<br />

3 What particular proof would the trials promised by Christ accomplish? How does this relate to our own<br />

suffering?<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 19: Why Would an All-Loving God Allow Suffering?<br />


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