Most people are naturally self-centered. We want to be self-sufficient and in control of our lives. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do. However, in times of difficulty and hardship we may turn to God and seek His help. For many people, God is just some kind of vague emergency service to be called upon when the going gets tough or when we have some kind of need. If our lives were always wonderful, do you think we would need God or seek Him? Probably not.
However, our Creator knows that our true happiness lies in our relationship with Him. Only when we surrender our will to God can we find true joy and happiness. Yet, the human spirit will not surrender our self-will as long as we believe all is well. As long as our own life remains agreeable, we will not surrender it to God. Most of us will not give ourselves to God as long as there is any other place for us to look for happiness.
We’re not just imperfect people who need to be improved, but rebels who need to lay down our arms. What else can God do but allow our lives to become less agreeable and take away possible sources of false happiness?
Our illusion of self-sufficiency and self-control must, for our own sake, be shattered. Pain and suffering shatter the illusion that all is well and that what we have is our own and is enough for us. For our own good, we need to be reminded that we are not the center of the universe and are not really in control of our own lives. God often allows pain and suffering to help us find the proper perspective in life, which is rooted in our abandonment of self-will to God’s Will. In other words, God allows short-term suffering for our long-term good.
God will never allow a negative unless it will lead to a greater positive. This is a law that God has set in motion, and one that God will never rescind. This also assures us that the greatest good of all is not the salvation of our temporal bodies, but of our eternal souls.
God is wise enough to see that we need some pain, for reasons we may not fully understand, but which He knows is necessary for our eventual good. God may allow suffering and deprive us of pleasure in order to help us move toward the goal of spiritual maturity and eternal life with Him in heaven. Physical or mental pain and suffering can be the means by which we become motivated to finally surrender ourselves to God and to seek the cure of Christ.
However, the answer to the problem of suffering cannot just be an abstract idea, because this is not just an abstract issue. It’s a personal issue and requires a personal response. The answer to the problem of suffering is not a logical answer, but an Answerer. It’s Jesus himself. More important than an apologist is a savior.
We may not fully understand why God allows suffering or how God will bring a greater good out of it, but we can know that God can do so because God is all good. We also understand that God allowed the unjust and horrific torture and murder of His only Son at the hands of those He created--only because a greater good would come from it.
God understands our suffering because He has experienced it. God became human in Jesus Christ and willingly suffered for our good so that we might be able to attain eternal salvation in heaven. As the one mediator between God and man, Jesus offers forgiveness of sins and a living, eternal relationship with God to those who choose to turn from their self-centered lives and commit themselves to him as their Lord and Savior.
The realization that Jesus truly does love me, as evidenced by his atoning sacrifice on the cross, is the only real answer to the problem of evil and suffering. Jesus demonstrated how the very worst thing that ever happened in the history of the world ended up resulting in the very best thing that ever happened in the history of the world. And, if it happened there--the ultimate evil resulting in the ultimate good--it can happen anywhere, even in our own individual lives. By his example, Jesus asks us to love and trust him in all things, especially in our trials and suffering.
How can we not help but love in return this person, Jesus, who went the extra mile, who practiced more than he preached, who voluntarily entered into our world, who suffered our pains, and who offers himself to us in the midst of our pain? Are we broken? He was broken, like bread for us. Are we despised? He was despised and rejected. Do people betray us? He was sold out himself. Are our relationships damaged? He too loved and was rejected. What more can he do?
Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross set an example for us to follow. We must go where Jesus is and the cross is one of the places where he is. If we want to be with God, we have to be with him in suffering. Jesus said that we cannot be his follower unless we take up our cross. And, when we take up our cross with Jesus, our suffering is transformed into a means for our sanctification and salvation.
Therefore, we can silence our worry and adopt a spiritual perspective because we understand, we truly understand, that all will be well. All will be well.
To further explore the Catholic understanding of suffering and stories of how faith helped people in our day respond well to suffering, please see my book, Catholic Stories of Faith and Hope: How God Brings Good Out of Suffering, published by TAN Books. Bestselling author Mike Aquilina says this book is “rewarding reading for anyone who has suffered or shared another person’s suffering.” See: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1505118549/.