Why would an all loving God allow suffering to exist?

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Philippians 2:6-11

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Time passes unnoticeably until I realized that this is my third reflection in a row about the Passion of Christ on Palm Sunday. The last two reflections had, respectively, dealt with the crowds that Jesus met on His way to Calvary and His “paschal story” being desensitized over time. This year, I would like to reflect on the mystery of suffering which inevitably comes to light when we think of Jesus’ Passion. Suffering is a mystery because as Christians, we cannot fathom why an all loving God would allow suffering to exist. But conversely, a benevolent God would not have permitted suffering if it has no value or meaning. Therefore, it behooves us to find out what is God’s purpose to let us suffer.

To say that suffering has a purpose means that as an averse but inescapable human experience, suffering does provide us with benefits, some temporal, some spiritual. One of the temporal benefits is learning to be humble and compassionate. When we suffer, our vision of life takes on a different level. We come to realize our limitation that we are not the masters of our lives. Suffering teaches us to loosen our grasp on things that are no longer important. The reality of suffering can make us pass from mere sympathy to empathy for those who suffer because we are/have been “walking in their shoes” too (rf 2 Cor 1:3-7). Suffering also helps us to build character and engender virtues. We become more mature, more courageous and more patient (rf Romans 5:3-5, 2 Cor 4:8-10).

Inasmuch as we profit from suffering temporally, as Christians, the spiritual benefits of suffering are even more beneficial. Suffering reminds us of our dependence on God and restore our relationship with Him through faith, prayers, repentance, endurance and resignation (2 Cor 7:8-11, Jas 1:2-4). Suffering assists us in seeing the consequence of sins (either our own or others’). Sin incurs punishment and for forgiven sin, reparation has to be made to God who is offended. Suffering offers a means for expiation. (CCC 1472, 1473). Suffering is also meritorious if we offer it to God through our willingness to suffer (rf 1 Pt 2:19-21). Suffering is a gift of inestimable value for it can purify (1 Pt 1:6-7), strengthen (1 Pt 5:9-10, 2 Cor 12:9-10) and sanctify us (rf 2 Thes 1:5-11).

That suffering is able to sanctify has something to do with love (saints often say that their greatest desire is to love and to suffer*). The essential element is for an innocent person who voluntarily accepts the suffering, not in a morbid way, but out of love for God. And that brings us to the highest suffering—-Christ’s Passion. Jesus who is sinless, chooses to suffer for other people’s sins so much so that He takes on the pain of every member of the human race as His own pain (so that when we alleviate the pain of others, He considers it being done to Him) (rf Heb 9:13-14). It is not the gruesomeness or the tolerance of His suffering that sanctifies, it is the ungrudging offering of His suffering to God out of love for Him and for sinners that sanctifies (rf Heb 10:5-10, CCC 606). By such, Jesus elevates suffering to a sacrifice, He transforms it into a redemptive tool and He gives it power to merit participation in God’s plan of salvation. Christ’s redemption has won for us partakers in His divine nature through grace, and “co-redeemers” in His human nature through suffering.( rf CCC 601-603, Salvifici Doloris 1984 No.19)

Redemption does not exempt us from suffering but by the remembrance of Christ’s co-suffering with us, we hope that our own suffering may groom our souls for eternity.

*The greatness of our love of God must be tested by the desire we have of suffering for His love (St. Philip Neri)

If you really want to love Jesus, first learn to suffer, because suffering teaches you to love (St. Gemma Galgani)

He who wishes to love God does not truly love Him if he has not an ardent and constant desire to suffer for His sake (St. Aloysius Gonzaga)

Suffering is nothing by itself. But suffering shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift, the most beautiful, a token of love (St. Teresa of Calcutta)

Posted: April 9, 2017

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

Other Sunday Reflections

This is Justice, This is Mercy
Mr. Perry, our school principal, once shared a story about when he was young, he and his family took the ferry to Salt Spring Island. He had a friend who… Continue Reading >
“You do not know what you are asking” (Mk 10:38)
By this time in his ministry, Jesus has foretold three times his own Death and Resurrection to the apostles. The last prediction is the most detailed, specifying that his death… Continue Reading >
Too hard a demand from Jesus?
This Sunday's Gospel reading is one of the many hard sayings of Jesus. It is about renunciation - first, of material possessions and second, of relations (rf Mk 10:23, 29).… Continue Reading >