One of the hardest things for believers of Christ – or anyone in the world – is to explain or even understand why God allows for pain and suffering. We believe that God is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient) and, most significantly, all loving. So why is there so much hurt in the world – hurt that affects even those who obviously don’t deserve it.
A boy whose parents kicked him out of his home, simply because they didn’t want to care for him. A young man cruelly beaten – so badly that he will be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. A young woman, whose boyfriend beats her in a drunken stupor each night, and is now afraid of any relationship with men. A family that loses everything in a terrific hurricane and is now without any resources.
These are situations that exist in our world – and they are only a few examples of these evils.
When we read the Bible – and look at what the Church teaches – we see that this hasn’t come from God’s laziness. Nor has He simply decided that we are not worthy of His time. The fact of the matter is that God loves us so much that He will never force us to do anything, even if what we do is evil. He respects our freedom so much that He allows us to do whatever we wish. The downside to freedom, however, is that we can hurt others or be hurt – and God won’t stop those hurts, because He wants to fully respect our freedom.
That, however, doesn’t do us much good in explaining things like hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis. That isn’t something that humans can do anything about through their sin – isn’t that controlled by God? How does the sin that I commit – from stealing to murder, even – cause that kind of evil to happen?
We believe, however, that even material evil is a result of sin – although not directly. You see, before the fall of man, we believe that the world was in perfect harmony. But when Adam and Eve chose to sin, they didn’t only break our union with God, the very harmony of the world was broken. The order that God planned wasn’t continued in humanity and that had consequences that we see today in the natural disasters that come at us.
The Lord & suffering
God doesn’t stand outside or above our pain. Read through the Old Testament – He has witnessed the suffering of humanity and at every opportunity, He has offered to help and guide His people. Of course, if you continue reading, you’ll see that each time, humanity took the path of Adam and Eve – doing exactly what God told them not to (complaining about the conditions of the exile, worshipping a golden calf, not trusting in God’s protection at the Promised Land). Its the same old story, told in various ways and different circumstances.
So God did the unthinkable. We obviously weren’t going to drag ourselves out of sin by our bootstraps. Humanity as a whole has been happy to trudge along in sin, settling for lesser, base goods because we’ve lost sight of the ultimate Good. Enter Jesus.
We all know Jesus’ life story, but chew on this for a moment. Before He became human – before He was Jesus,the Word was solely divine. He (although technically the Word had no gender before He became man) was God – a Person in the Holy Trinity. He was/had the greatest Good.
And then He became man – permanently! Jesus Christ didn’t just become a human being for 33 years, die, come back for a while and then go back to heaven to the way things were. He became man, lived life from a helpless infancy to a humiliating death. The Word didn’t give up divinity, but also assumed humanity: Jesus Christ became 100% human while remaining 100% divine. And He did it for all eternity.
Its absurd – completely and totally crazy. Tomorrow morning, Bill Gates will become – of his own free will – an man-ant. Or President Bush will become a man-fish. Pope Benedict will become an man-amoeba. Its like that – only on an infinitely larger scale.
And why did God send His Word to do this? So He could have us – the wayward, spiteful, sinful, stubborn, silly, stupid humanity – back with Him for all eternity. I guess love makes even God do crazy (but lovely) things.
Maybe you didn’t know this, but there is a minor theological controversy over whether or not Jesus ever laughed. The picture in my profile (appropriately known as “Jesus Laughing”) is the focus of quite some talk.
The problem that many theologians have is that Jesus would never have laughed, because His mission was one of the utmost seriousness & importance. Others say that Jesus never laughed because all jokes revolve around the world, which is in a state that is no laughing mattter.
Bah humbug! Jesus laughed. Period. He laughed (laughs?) because He knows human suffering & He knows human joy. Laughter is a human response to something that isn’t right. So yes, in a way, all laughter is making light of the state of the world. When my familie’s sheep bounce their head off of the fence, we laugh (not too hard…). When Willy Coyote falls off a cliff while chasing the Roadrunner we laugh.
Why? Because we recognize that while there is suffering, there is hope – that the suffering that happens in our lives is not the end. If it was the only thing, then laughter would indeed be cruel. If our sheep were going to bounce their (hard) heads off the fence forever, laughing at them would just be mean. But we know that they will learn and become better sheep. We laugh at Willy Coyote because we know that there is something better and that he is chasing after something lesser. We laugh because we know better.
There is something more that is waiting for us – that has been promised to us, that has indeed been already given to us. We laugh because the suffering of this life, though painful, has already been defeated. We must still bear it, but always with the promise of eternal life with God in mind. And we laugh at it because all of our suffering can only make us strong in body & soul for that re-union.
God allows suffering in this life – there is no way to avoid that. But He has not allowed suffering to be the final end, despite our best efforts throughout history & throughout our lives to make this so. His Word made flesh – Jesus Christ our Lord – changed everything. This Easter, and beyond, laugh off the suffering, because we’ve been promised eternity with Love that will do away with all sorrow and suffering.