Why do we suffer? Where does suffering come from? Why do bad things happen to good people? These questions are some that every person asks, and which I want to try to answer today.
First of all, we need to remember that originally, suffering was not in the plan of God, but is the result of the Fall, a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. For example, because of the fall one of the consequences is that there is pain in childbirth- sorry Ladies, but thank you, you can blame Adam and Eve for that! But originally, there was not suffering in the world, and all suffering is a result of sin.
Some people, like some Protestant ministers, think that Christ has come to take away that sin, and so for those who really have faith in God, they’ll be blessed and God will protect them from suffering. This is what is known as the ‘Health and Wealth gospel’. And while they are not completely wrong, I think God does protect and bless us much more than we realize, but their way of thinking is incomplete. Because in the end, we are called to become like Christ.
Listen again to how our readings describe who Christ is. In our Gospel, immediately after Simon Peter had the courage to admit that he believes Jesus to be the Christ- which means the Anointed One- or the Messiah, Jesus then declares what being the Messiah will mean. In our Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, the first of three times, that as the Christ, that He, the Son of Man, “must suffer greatly, be rejected, killed, and rise after three days”. Jesus is beginning to help his disciples understand that He will not save His people, the Israelites, and protect them from the defeat from other nations. He will not just be an earthly Messiah that will rule and protect, but that God has a much more important saving that He as Christ will do. Jesus reveals that His suffering, death, and rising from the dead will be to save every person, not from their earthly enemies, but from their sins, and from the consequences of their sins- which is spiritual death. And so, Jesus is trying to help his disciples, especially Peter, to think not as human beings do, not to just think about the physical and earthly world, but to think as God does, that the spiritual world is more important. Therefore, not only does Jesus’ becoming human, suffering greatly, being rejected, dying, and rising from the dead, take upon himself the consequences and effects of our sins, which is death- not only will Jesus save us from death, but He also saves us for eternal life, He saves us for our salvation and the salvation of every person.
Our 1st reading is from the great prophecy of Isaiah called the Suffering Servant, found in chapters 50, 52,53- it is a foretelling of how the coming Christ will be a Suffering Servant- that He will suffer for the good of others. Listen again to Isaiah’s description to how the Christ will be: “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear, and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help; therefore, I am not disgraced. I know that I will not be put to shame, but He will uphold me”. Notice how the Suffering Servant himself has not rebelled. He is innocent, he does not deserve the beating that he will get. He doesn’t turn his back and hides from the suffering but willingly suffers for the good of others. And when He suffers, he won’t blame or complain to God, but He knows that He is helped and upheld by God. My brothers and sisters, Jesus is the Suffering Servant. He willingly became human, and even though He is innocent and without sin and so doesn’t deserve it, He willingly suffered more than any human ever could-, he willingly accepted and endured the Cross and death for our good and our salvation- so that we can be one with Him in eternal life.
Some people think that Jesus did all that, that He suffered and died, so that we won’t have to suffer, but that way of thinking just isn’t Scriptural and is naive. In our Gospel, after Jesus tells his disciples the first time that He will suffer, be rejected, die, and rise from the dead, Jesus then summoned the crowd. Notice that He didn’t just want his 12 apostles to hear it, but this next message was for everyone. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, 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 and that of the gospel, will save it”. Thus, for whoever wants to follow Jesus, whoever wants to be his disciple, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him. He must desire to lose his life for the sake of Christ and the gospel, to save it. What counter-cultural way of thinking that is, isn’t it my brothers and sisters. It is human nature to want to avoid suffering, but God is calling us to become like Him, to think and to live the divine way He is calling us to. And the divine way, necessarily includes suffering. But why? Why does God want us to suffer, what good is there in it?
Remember that all suffering is a result of sin in the world. Therefore, all our suffering is a result of 1 of 3 things: 1. consequence of our own personal sin, or 2, our suffering is because of the sin of another onto us, because of what another has done to us, or 3, our suffering is simply a byproduct of living in a fallen world. But whatever the cause or reason for our suffering, if there even is a reason, the response should be the same, our willingness to accept it for the good of others. Remember that Christ’s willingly acceptance and enduring of the suffering of the Cross brought us salvation. Christ’s suffering transforms suffering and death, and brings about in us a great good, it brings about life eternal. Therefore, our suffering, when united to Christ’s, also brings about good- and leads to salvation of ourselves and of others. It is OK to pray that God will take away or ease our pain and suffering, but ultimately God wants us to offer it up to Him and let Him do with it what He desires. Sometimes He will take it away to show us His power and authority. Sometimes he will ask us to accept the suffering and carry it graciously for the good and salvation of others. And so, my brothers and sisters, the question is- are you willing to suffer, and unite your suffering to Christ’s, to help bring about your salvation and the salvation of others? Will you become like Christ, and willingly suffer for the good of others? Will you gladly accept suffering because it is a reparation for your own sin, or the sin of others, and will help bring about the salvation and conversion of others? Will you not run from your suffering? Not run from your Cancer, not complain about the disease or suffering you have? But will you gladly accept and unite any suffering and inconvenience, no matter how big or small, so that God can bring good out of it? That is why we God calls us to pick up our Crosses, why he calls us to sacrifice, fast, and die to ourselves. That is why he calls us to suffer, because by doing so we share in and participate in our salvation and the salvation of others.
We hear to offer it up. We offer up our suffering by a simple but intentional turning of our heart to Christ’s heart upon the Cross. By thinking about the fact that Christ, though innocent, has willingly suffered more than any else ever could. We offer it up by thanking God that we are able to share in his suffering and participate in the salvation that His Cross brings. By uniting our suffering heart to God, the suffering itself becomes a prayer. In that light, what a blessing it is for those who are called to suffer chronically, they can be consistently praying and united to God, their suffering life becomes a life of prayer. There truly is a great peace, in the midst of suffering, when we unite our will to the will of God and entrust our suffering to Him. Notice also that by uniting our suffering heart to Christ’s heart, we learn to be able to feel as God does, we are able to see from God’s perspective. And so, our united sufferings give us a glimpse to Christ’s saddened heart due to every sin. Uniting the suffering that another causes us, helps us to see and respond to them how God would. And uniting our suffering to the suffering of Christ helps to bring about the resolution that God wills for our lives and of the whole world. I suggest that for every occasion of suffering, pick a specific person or cause to offer it for. This day I offer this pain, this occasion of suffering for the needs of the Church, or for my father, or for the conversion of my aunt, etc, etc. In doing so, we will keep our eyes on Christ and what His will is in this and every pain and suffering. So, can you see the great value in suffering, and why God calls us to pick up our Crosses and follow Him? Because He wants to bring about in us, and through our participation in suffering, the good and salvation of ourselves and of the whole world. Thus, suffering truly is a great gift and a joy.
And so I leave you with a final exhortation from God regarding suffering, from 1st Peter: “Consider it all joy, for although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, do so for the genuineness of your faith may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor of Jesus Christ, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls”.BACK TO LIST