God Against Suffering
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe Frankenfield
Third Sunday of Lent
Once, after a religion class, a third grader came up to me and said, in a serious voice, “God sure messes up a lot.” Putting a hand on his shoulder I replied, “It looks like that doesn’t it. But He loves us even when it looks bad.” “I know,” said the little fellow. “I think he tries His best.” At the time I thought it a cute answer. Over the years I’ve come to see it as profound: God tries.
Enough bad things happen to us individually and communally that even those with deepest faith have to wonder what kind of a God they’re worshipping. I’ve listened to people fresh from tragedy tell me in tears that they simply can’t bring themselves to pray to “our wonderful, loving God.” They’re more broken-hearted than angry. They trusted God and feel abandoned by him.
Many people never come to terms with the suffering and loss in a world whose Creator is, according to our scriptures, love. Faced with a choosing between actual experience of how life goes and religious doctrine that doesn’t square with what they see, folks often base their practical decisions on their experience relegating religious faith to a ceremonial role. That’s a costly reaction.
Some folks can accept punishment for sin, a test of faith, or part of God’s plan that will turn out for the best as acceptable explanations for human suffering. Others find such ideas no help at all. Jesus never explained human suffering he simply worked to end it. He also encouraged his followers to do everything possible to relieve it or keep it from occurring in the first place.
We see this response to suffering in his healing of the man born blind and in his own prayer to be spared execution if that were possible without abandoning his mission of revealing God’s love to the people.
Our Tradition teaches that creation is good; it’s a gift to us from an all-loving Creator. When things fall apart, it’s natural to search for an explanation. But there’s a caution: don’t settle for an answer that insults God or people – and don’t substitute an intellectual quest for loving. The call of faith is to cooperate with God in bringing his gift to completion – even when matters remain unexplained.