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The Purpose of Suffering

It’s not that I haven’t faced my own degree of personal suffering. It isn’t that I am numb to the vast array of suffering that is taking place all over the world at this very moment in time. It is that I remain confident in the grandeur of God’s goodness even as the reality of the suffering in this world is too much for my heart to bear. I believe that no degree of suffering is ignored by the loving God who created a universe in which suffering was never intended to exist.

If I could fully take all the suffering of this world, my heart and soul would never survive. The weight of suffering is too heavy for me. Yet, I know He knows every degree of suffering taking place even in this moment. God alone has the capacity to face the reality of the suffering of His entire creation. Beyond that, I know He is working to end the suffering of this world. So then, you may ask, “Why?”

My only answer is to tell you to look to God. See His response to suffering. He has taken not just the suffering of one age, one person, one country; no, He has taken the suffering of the whole world in all time and laid that upon His own Son. He didn’t create a world with suffering, but He is recreating a world in which suffering will once again be extinct (Revelation 21:4). Human reason can never comprehend how suffering can be tolerated. God asks us to have faith that suffering will end at a point in time. The unthinkable reality of suffering does have a limit—it is limited to this lifetime. God’s reason for kicking us out of the Garden of Eden was to prevent us from suffering for eternity. He took immediate and strong action to insist we were not doomed to a life of suffering without hope.

The recourse God provided for our suffering was to offer the life of His Son—His Christ—to suffer in our stead. Acts 3:18 says,

“But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.”

Human reason ignores His generous gift and presumes that God cannot be a loving God if He allows so much suffering in the world. Does God allow suffering not out of punishment, but with the hope that we will avoid worse suffering? Faith is the capacity to accept reality. It is through faith that we accept the reality that God alone can take in the extreme degree of our collective suffering and God alone can make something beautiful from a universe that experiences suffering with faith.

Catherine of Siena in her work Letters offers this advice:

Substitute patience for your angry fist, and you’ll gain the fruit of your troubles. If enduring so much pain seems hard to you, remember three things, which will help you to endure things more patiently.

  • First, remember how short your life is. You can never be sure of tomorrow. Since time is short, shouldn’t we suffer patiently?
  • Second, remember the fruit that follows your sufferings. Paul say there’s no comparison between our sufferings and the reward of heavenly glory.
  • Third, remember that those who suffer angrily or impatiently lose both here and also eternally.

Faith is the capacity to accept reality, and hope is the capacity to persevere in faith. Love for God deepens as you look to your soul for answers about how God can be loving and permit so much suffering.

 

 

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