My mother is at the end of her life. She smoked menthols for fifty-two years and that has decimated her lungs. She has emphysema and chronic obstructed pulmonary disease (COPD). Her lungs are only functioning at around 10%. She is slowly suffocating to death. Death by suffocation is what effectively happens to a person when they are crucified. It is a slow, painful, and an extremely scary way to die.
This is wrapping up a life of suffering for my mother. Included on her resume is being impaled on a picket fence, being thrown from a car at seventy miles an hour, surviving both uterine cancer and leukemia, losing two fingers in a punch press, suffering a major head injury in a fall that required brain surgery that had her in a coma for twenty-eight days, and a variety of other things. My mother is a survivor, but a survivor who is running out of time.
Why was my mother made to suffer? If God is all powerful and all loving why would he permit those he claims to love suffer? Why doesn’t he just put an end to it? This is one of the most asked questions by Christians and one of the numerous excuses an atheist uses to support his disbelief.
One of the most common answers to this question is that God allows suffering to bring about the greater good, whether or not we can see or even understand what that good may be. That answer is of little comfort to those who are suffering or to those who have lost someone close to them.
Suffering was not God’s plan for mankind. God made man perfect, in a perfect home, without pain, hunger, or suffering. When man voluntarily turned from God and sinned suffering and death were the consequences. It wasn’t God’s doing but our own. Still, if God is all powerful he could end suffering anytime he chooses. Why doesn’t he do so? The answer is love.
If you want to know what real, true love - Agápe, looks like just look at a crucifix.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
Jesus suffered immensely and died an agonizing death on the cross for the love of us. If God suffered so greatly for us how can we complain when we are made to suffer for him? Why is there suffering in this world? It is so that love can exist. Things given for free have little value to the recipient. For love to freely exist and have meaning there has to be other choices.
Think of the nineteen year old starlet who marries the ninety year old billionaire. She tells the world that she married him because of she loves him and would have done so even if he were the poorest man in the world. In reality the starlet couldn’t have possibly loved the man because he gave her everything her heart desired at no cost to herself. God allows suffering so that we can love him. If he gave us everything with no cost we couldn’t possibly love him. We demonstrate our love for him when we accept our suffering and do not turn away from him. When someone who is suffering turns their back on the Lord they don’t love him.
God - If there was nothing in it for you would you still love me?
Man – Nothing?
God – Nothing.
Man – Not even eternal life?
God – Nothing. Not eternal life. Not pleasure. Nothing.
Man – Yes, you are my God. I love you.
At least that is what God desperately wants to hear from us. But like so many who gathered for a free meal during Jesus ministry when he offers himself as true food and true drink we leave disappointed. Many abandon God at the first twinges of suffering. If there really was a God he wouldn’t let me suffer like this.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” – Matthew 16, 24 & 25
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” – St. Paul, Colossians 1:24
What could possibly be lacking in the suffering of Christ? Quite simply – our participation.
The Catholic Church believes in redemptive suffering. The suffering of Jesus redeems not only us but suffering itself and opens up the possibility that we can share in his redemptive work when we bear our suffering with the dignity he bore his for us. When we offer up our suffering to him, no matter how insignificant our suffering may be, we share in his redemption of all mankind. The root of suffering is divine love and love is never wasted with God.
My father bore suffering better than anyone I have ever met. By the time he was forty-two he was completely disabled with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and crippling heart disease. As the arthritis ate away at his joints day to day tasks went from difficult, to painful, to impossible to perform. Eventually things progressed to a point that he could do little more than sit in his favorite chair and watch his beloved Cubbies play baseball.
And yet, through it all, it was hard to tell how much this man suffered. He always seemed in a good mood, ready to put a smile on someone’s face, give them a good laugh, and he made sure they knew just how special they were, especially to him. He talked to everyone, children and old folks alike, always with genuine love in his voice. He was missed by every doctor, nurse or care taker who got the privilege to care for him.
He bore his suffering with love and love is never wasted with God. This is how we are called to bear our suffering - with dignity. We are not called to do this alone. Even Christ could not bear his cross alone. Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross when he was too weak to do so himself. Jesus now stands by our side to help us when we are too weak to bear our crosses. All we have to do is be humble enough to ask for help.
Jesus come to my assistance. Lord make haste to help me. In you I put my trust, my life, and my love.
Please pray for peace and comfort for my mother and our family as we face the difficult time ahead.