Pope John Paul II once said that the answer to the
‘Why’ of suffering depends on the ability to comprehend the sublimity of divine
love. Unfortunately for most of us, it is beyond our ability to comprehend the wonder
and perfection of God’s love. Left to my own means, I could not comprehend it;
the ‘Why’ of suffering would remain unanswered.
More than thirty years of chronic and incurable disease
have often raised the question ‘Why?’
my early years with aggressive multiple sclerosis, physical, emotional and
spiritual pain scorched like a fire and occupied most of my attention. Internal
panic and anguish completely distracted me from being internally still and
listening with my heart and not my head, as diseased attacked my body. The
‘Why’ of my suffering was not actually a question – it was part pleading prayer
and part desperate demand that seemed to fall into a deaf universe.
The universe may have seemed deaf but the Creator of
it is not. God is not some distant, disinterested cosmic entity. He is near,
intimate and listening, beckoning humanity to enter His sublime love.
My natural self-absorbed and prideful state prevents
me from receiving God’s perfect love or returning a perfect love to Him. It has
simply not been within me to receive or give either. As long as I remained as I
was, God’s love would have remained incomprehensible to me. As long as I was guilty of self-idolatry there
was no room for His gigantic love or true worship of Him.
While it is true that God accepts us as we are, it
is also true that He does not want us to remain as imperfect and spiritually
wretched that we are in our natural state. In his wonderfully insightful book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis put it
“To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask
that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in
the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present
character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable.”
As years of infirmity have passed; my own anguish
has revealed new dimensions of the reality that God truly and intimately loves
me and wants me to intimately love Him in return. He could not leave me in my
natural state. The purifying fire of affliction was/is needed to shatter my monumental ego
and illusion of self-sufficiency that blinded me from all but the most basic and
superficial spiritual truths. I needed to relinquish ownership of my physical,
emotional and spiritual pain to Christ.
I needed to surrender, surrender and surrender again
my life to God’s will. When I did this (after all other options were exhausted) Christ allowed me to unite my suffering
and defeat with His suffering and victory over sin and death.
As Pope John Paul told us in his Apostolic
Letter Salvifici Doloris,that Christ's suffering
and death and Resurrection can save us from the ultimate suffering
which is the loss of eternal life. At
the cross Christ achieved our redemption through his suffering.
If I accept that God is a good God of love (and I
do) then I must conclude that my pain is necessary. God would not permit it if
it is unnecessary. I think I am finally getting an inkling of why my suffering
is necessary. My ego and self-idolatry had to be broken in order for the
possibility of self-transcendence. The vehicle for that transcendence toward
perfection in Christ is suffering.
A 1996 EWTN commentary about Pope John Paul’s Salvifici Doloris stated, “In the cross
of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also
human suffering itself has been redeemed.” Later the commentary states:
“Every man has
his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that
suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished.” In doing so, each
sufferer is invited to share in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”
The Apostle Paul commented on this in his own life:
“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live no longer I, but Christ lives in
me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who
has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Galatians 2.20) This is done by uniting our suffering with Christ’s
suffering through personal surrender to Him and offering our pain as a
sacrifice to further Christ’s witness, content with whatever that might mean
here on earth.
|St. Paul in Prison (1627)|
by Rembrandt van Rijn
In heaven I shall finally comprehend the sublimity of God’s
divine love. I will know just as I am known.