Why do we suffer?

One of the most common arguments against the existence of God, namely a benevolent and all-powerful one, is the existence of pain, suffering, tragedy, and evil in our world. Why would God allow this to happen? Why doesn’t he prevent all of the evil that is taking place? If He truly loved us, wouldn’t He allow us to be wholly and eternally happy without suffering? Why does He put the innocent and righteous through such painful trials? The problem with this argument is that it implies that suffering and pain are allowed by God for their own sake. It ignores the fact that suffering and pain serve a purpose and have meaning.

Patrick Conley welcomed Fr. Marcel Taillon onto The Inner Life to talk about the meaning of our suffering, why it isn’t pointless, and how we can sanctify our struggles to generate goodness from our pain.

Patrick began with excerpts from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

“For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

“Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

If St. Paul can sanctify the suffering that he endured, so can we. The problems of our everyday life are nothing compared to the persecution that the early Church received. Granted, it’s not always easy to be a Catholic, particularly in this day and age, but we should look to the leaders of the early Church as role models for mortification. St. Paul was scourged, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and betrayed. And yet, these “momentary light afflictions” are “producing for us an eternal weight of glory”. We need to know that “what is seen is transitory” and “what is unseen is eternal”.

Either St. Paul has lost his mind and suffering no longer means anything to him, or he had some kind of supernatural outlook on these trials that was born of his deep conversion to Christ. And given his track record of preaching and living the word of God, the latter seems a more reasonable assumption.

So, how do we see the will of God through suffering? How can we emulate St. Paul’s resilience? Fr. Marcel took us back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Everything was perfect. There was no sin, no suffering, so sorrow, no pain, and no death. Then, by free will, we welcomed it all into our world. So, God sent His only Son. And by His cross and resurrection, He set us free.

“The symbol of the cross is the symbol of redemptive suffering,” said Fr. Taillon. “Our own experience of suffering, when united to Christ – we use that expression oftentimes – we join in Christ’s redeeming act by redeeming others and atoning for our sins and uniting ourselves to the cross of Christ.”

We all suffer in one way or another. We will suffer and everybody we know will suffer. These aren’t opportunities to pity ourselves and cry out in shame and humiliation. These opportunities are challenges to find Christ in the midst of our distress and emerge even stronger in Him.

Our natural response to loss and suffering is, unsurprisingly, to seek answers. Why? Why is this happening to me, my friends, and my family? What have I done to deserve this? God, why have You forsaken me? As inquisitive and logical creatures, it’s a reasonable response. We even see Jesus cry out the same question as He bled out on the cross. But in that same scene, we witness the answer to our suffering:

‘“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”.’ (Luke 23:46)

Suffering is the method by which God chose to redeem us. And within the midst of those most painful moments of His life, Jesus showed us the way to make the sacrifice worth it. Choose to embrace the suffering, and in doing so, you will realize that you are embracing God Himself. He will guide you through the torment. He will give you shelter; a reprieve from the storm.

‘“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”’ (Matthew 11:28-30)

Tune in to The Inner Life weekdays at 11am CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.