Wednesday, March 6, 2024

A World of Suffering: “Dear God, Why is Life So HARD?”

We know that God loves us, and that our very existence in this moment is His gift. We trust that He is faithful, and yet life is so full of suffering—sometimes seemingly unbearable and incomprehensible suffering. 

It is true that much of our suffering is a consequence of our sins. So many people think they can live without God, or—worse—they simply ignore God. They refuse to pray: to worship Him, trust Him, offer gratitude and love to the God who holds us in being. No amount of self-indulgence and distraction, however, can fill the awful emptiness of life without God. So people turn against one another. They afflict one another with terrible cruelty. They bring about an increase in suffering and sorrow.

I ponder all the immense suffering in the world, the agony, the ongoing pain, the vast trauma that rattles the minds of countless human persons: victims of the terrors of war; uprooted refugees who will never return to their homes; persons who are trafficked as slaves and subjected to unspeakable sexual abuse; “political prisoners” (of course, I must mention them in these days) whose human dignity is relentlessly assaulted by their captors; and also victims of religious persecution, prevalent today in parts of Africa and Asia and throughout the world. 

Then there are millions of people who suffer from hunger, disease, and indescribable poverty. What little they have is always in danger of being plundered by gangs, warlords, or corrupt state bureaucrats. Unemployment devastates multitudes of people who long to support themselves and their families by profitable work, and—through their work—to give themselves to others by engaging their talents and following their particular human vocations. They have no resources, no opportunities, no secure places where they can build stable homes and neighborhoods for their families. Wherever they go, the world is on fire. The scourge of war falls everywhere upon them.

I ponder also the sufferings that prevail in the milieu in which I live, a society that prides itself on its peace, abundance, and widespread prosperity. Yet we too have terrible suffering here. We are responsible for much of it. As we grasp for more and more material things to “consume,” we find (if we are honest with ourselves) that they fail to satisfy, and we live in disappointment and desperation. As we search for ways to escape, forget, divert ourselves from what turns out to be the boredom of abundance, or else to numb the pains inside that we don’t understand, many of us turn to alcohol and drugs. The sad tragedy of addiction steals away so many of our loved ones, ruptures families, and leads addicts into lives of crime and degradation.

There is also the suffering of those who are the margins of this prosperous society, those who endure real poverty and those who feel that their human dignity is not seen, that they are treated as second class citizens because of racial discrimination. Many suffer from an array of problems in our society that are difficult to resolve or even to identify properly. Healthcare has advanced tremendously in scientific and technological terms, but people still endure many terrible illnesses. Mental illness is a pervasive, devastating epidemic that is still poorly understood, widely stigmatized, and inadequately treated. People with mental illness are especially vulnerable to the great variety of “stress factors” in modern technological society. These people need the special attention of our love, and our presence through active works of mercy. 

But where is our love? 

There is the agony of young mothers who have been abandoned by those who ought to help them. How often, instead, do such people put pressure on these mothers to undergo abortion, to allow hired medical technocrats to kill the innocent human beings in their wombs? Is this all we have to offer in this society to the women we are supposed to be “celebrating” tomorrow, on International Women’s Day? Are our societies so lacking in compassion, solidarity, hospitality, and friendship that we cannot accompany pregnant mothers and their unborn children in the challenge of a new and precious relationship with a new human person during pregnancy and continuing after the birth of the child? Where are our communities? How did we come to live in such profound alienation from one another that we have no energy even to recognize the needs and suffering of people in our midst? 

Loneliness is a great poverty in our world. We have gadgets and social media and big t.v. screens and we build palatial homes that become prisons surrounding our isolation, anxiety, fear, and our mourning of losses of loved ones or of broken relationships with family and friends. There is so much hidden suffering here. And then there is incapacitation and sickness, and the loss of physical strength and the increasing vulnerability of old age (so often lived alone). Increasingly, our society has nothing to offer but—once again—death for the elderly who struggle alone with their infirmities—death administered and “supervised” by medically trained technocrats. Euthanasia. Another crime against human dignity.

The world is full of so much suffering, and we all share some responsibility for it. We also must endure it in various ways. Then, there is some suffering that is enigmatic and inscrutable: the suffering of little children and 'innocent people' who are burdened far more than they seem to deserve or are able to carry. Why?? Why does God permit us to build such a world of pain? Why does He give us so much freedom? We might be tempted here to discouragement or even resentment against our afflictions, our enemies, even God. God is Infinite Mystery, and His ways are beyond our comprehension. But He is the Mystery who loves us, the Father who loves us even with all our brokenness. He loves us first. These questions come forth from the original wound that we all share (i.e. original sin and its effects). We are wounded by sin, and we are “wounded” by the greater call of Divine Love that invites us to let the wounds of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ overcome our sins, sorrows, and sufferings, so that God’s love might be glorified as His inexhaustible mercy.

Where is “our love”? It is given through the gift of God’s mercy, the healing and transforming love of Jesus Christ—God the Word-made-flesh who dwells among us. He loves us first. We need Him. Our poor suffering world needs Him.

We are led through our wounds to an awareness of our real “helplessness” and total dependence on God, and are "turned toward Him" with a dramatic and desperate openness that cries out to Him, that might include the temptation to discouragement or resentment, but that instead must be "offered" as prayer. 

We may feel overwhelmed with sorrow, but we believe in the God of all consolation, the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It can be hard to pray, but if we give that sorrow to the Lord, He hears within it the "sighs too deep for words" of the Spirit, who helps us because we don't know how to pray as we ought. The Lord draws our relationship with Him more and more into that "hope" for things we do not yet see, the inward groaning which is not doubt or discouragement, but the deepening of hope which feels like it's breaking us with a longing for the fulfillment of God's plan. 

We trust Jesus, and in the dark places in life we have this hope, and the help of the Spirit who enables us to endure, to "wait with patience." In our sorrows and sufferings we grow in the experience of what Saint Paul is teaching in Romans 8:18-27. 

We who are the pilgrim Church on earth are called to witness to God's saving love in words and actions, in speaking the truth and in works of mercy. But we also journey together in hope, in the "co-suffering" by which we bear one another in difficulties and sorrows, and endure together whatever comes in this life. We wait together in patience. We wait together in hope for God's renewing all things in Jesus Christ.