The Good News About Suffering by Gerard-Marie Anthony
Many wonder why God allows suffering in the world. It seems to be a punishment from a cruel God; Him playing with us. It does not seem fair that the more you try to be a good person, the more trials and persecution you face. It does not seem fair that good people seem to get cancer or kids die “before their time.” The fact of the matter is that suffering does not reveal a God who is cruel and unfair, but loving and sympathizes with us.
The Psalmist says, “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments! His descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in house; and his righteousness endures forever” (Ps. 112:1-3). We see that material wealth can be a sign of God’s favor.
So does that mean that those who do not have wealth are not in God’s favor? It may seem like that to many people because “the good people suffer, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” If this is the case, many of us think, “Why should I be good? It seems like the unjust are the only ones who are rewarded. God is not with the poor!”
Scripture tells us differently, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you may become rich” (2Cor. 8:9-10). Mary exalts God, “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:53). Jesus amplifies this identification with the poor in his Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven.’ “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are those
who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you
and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely
on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great
in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets before you”
(Matt. 5:3, 6, 10-12).
Through Scripture and especially Jesus Christ, we see that God is with the poor, the crippled, and the persecuted. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, identifies Christ with He who is rich, so material wealth can be a visible sign of God’s glory and the glory that all of us will share in at the end of time. Jesus also notes that he became poor, a visible sign of the suffering that we must all go through to achieve that glory. This suffering comes in the form of trials, disease, poverty, and even persecution. Our Lord tells us, “that our reward will be great in heaven” for these trials and persecutions if we suffer them on his account and in his name. In this, like Paul, we “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col. 1:24). What is this reward? The book of Revelation tells us, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10-11). The reward is the greatest treasure there ever is, the crown of eternal life.
The irony is God gave this to man in the very beginning, but he rejected it. Therefore, God allowed suffering so that we could see that this great gift has been in front of us the entire time. This is why it was fitting that Jesus died on the cross by the hands of men. He could show through his body and sufferings that God identifies with us. At the crucifixion, he was stripped of everything and so died in utter poverty. Nevertheless, in doing so, his death became the pathway to our eternal life; his poverty resulted in mankind’s richness. If we are to be “imitators of Christ” (1Cor. 11:1), we must empty ourselves to be filled with God; we must become poor, so that we may become rich. The letter to the Romans sums this up beautifully, “I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
Thus, through all of this we see two things. First, Christ does not identify himself with money; he identifies himself with us, rich or poor. We should do the same. We should not base our relationship with God on our social status. Secondly, we see in Christ, God identifies with both the materially rich and the poor because both are signs of what we must go through in our spiritual journey. Namely, we must be “poor in spirit” to obtain our “great reward” in heaven. Therefore, through our bodies, Christ once again restores the original unity of body and soul.
The body helps explain why we must suffer in a moral sense, but in our humanity we wonder about physical sufferings as well. Why do good people die of cancer? Why do people who are still in the prime of their life get into car accidents and have to live as invalids? Why should we keep people in a vegetative state and in a chronic state of suffering and pain? Are not all of these cruel and unusual punishments from a seemingly unjust God? Once again, we must look deeper to find the answers. The book of Job tells us, “We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil” (Jb. 2:10-NAB). God may allow us to have cancer, be down on our luck, even hit rock bottom, but not because he wants to destroy us or because he hates us. It is precisely because he wants to build us up and show us what true love is. God may allow everything we hold dear to be taken from us so that we can visibly see He loves us not because of what we have, but for who we are, His children. He shows us visibly that our dignity does not depend on what we have or what we can do for we “have put on a new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 1:10-11).
God allows suffering to show us that he loves us unconditionally. Even if we have absolutely nothing, we are still his everything. He “has kept [us] as the apple of his eye” (Deut. 32: 10). God shows us through our sufferings, our cancers, extreme poverty, etc. what true love is. Through these trials, once again he asks of us to do the same. He asks us, “Do you love me only because of the gifts I give you? Would you love me even if I did not give you riches, or popularity, or success, or even perfect health?” If we can say “Yes,” we will have followed God’s commandment, “To love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12) and then there will be a perfect exchange of love.
Thus, in a certain sense a dialogue between us and God would state, “Will you take me to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse [after the trial or suffering], for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Where do we hear these words? In marriage vows. God allows suffering so that we can participate in the marriage of the bride and the lamb. The marriage that all are called to in the end of time, but also in our everyday lives. Suffering is a renewal of our wedding vows with God. It is a visible sign that we belong to Him and He to us, faithfully through out our lives. Thus, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15).” Suffering, does not reveal God’s wrath and cruelty, but shows us emphatically that he is madly in love with us and wants to be with us no matter what the circumstance. This is good news that all need to hear!