A personal reflection on the problem of pain
For many in the world today, the biggest question about God in this world is “why does He allow suffering”? For awhile, it didn’t make sense to me either. I had read Job, but that seemed to only make me think that God never wanted to be questioned for the problem of suffering. I heard all the platitudes about Christ’s being beaten and spit on as being equal to our own suffering and while that may seem comforting to some, it didn’t answer anything for me. I did not see how Christ’s own suffering had any equivalence to the suffering of someone like Amanda Berry, who was raped repeatedly for over 10 years while barely ever seeing the light of day in a Cincinnati basement by an evil man, or of the tens of thousands lost in the typhoon in the Philippines.
I understand this is a hard issue to grasp, but I think I also missed the point where Christ meets our suffering. I think we all miss the point. Death, corruption, pain and sin are all things that are part of our universe now exactly because God loves us and He allows us to have freedom to hurt or maim. He also gives us the freedom to choose life and love. As cold as it may sound, if God intervened in every situation, when a human would choose evil, there would be no consequence because God would step in and set everything right. He would be a Macchiavellian/nanny God. We believe He will come and set everything right, but it won’t be out of forcing good upon the world, but because He’s everything that’s good His love will force the darkness back. Hell is not Hell because no one wants to be there. As C.S. Lewis puts it, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside. Although, my idea of what Hell is has changed over time. I’ll have to save that for another blog post.
Jesus’ own suffering wasn’t an equivalency of pain. It wasn’t like that torture machine in The Princess Bride and Jesus experienced pain at “11” while the rest of us experience it at “7” or “8”. Rather, the significance of Christ’s suffering comes from His sense of loss of the connection to God He had and the darkness He saw when the uncreated light of God was taken away from Him. When his humanity was fully exposed to the magnitude of separation from God, He experienced what death really meant to us apart from God’s presence. It may have been like suddenly having all of his senses taken from Him.
Many also ask why God allows natural disasters and freak accidents? I see these things all as still a part of our free will. The universe is corrupted to the very fabric of reality and creation groans for it’s redemption (Romans 8:22). When God’s reality will finally collide with our reality, then creation’s harmony and true nature will be revealed. Is this a satisfying answer? No. Probably not. But it is a hope, and what else is faith but hope made manifest?
As Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov:
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.
As Christians, we now have the ability to turn suffering from it’s own chaos and point towards the order found ultimately in God. Every bit of suffering is used in order to bring us into total communion with the triune God. The suffering we experience now does not compare to the joy that awaits us. This turns mourning into joy, despair into strength, and pain into hope. If we allow it, suffering’s thorny tendrils can consume us and draw us away from His divine presence, but as priests we now have the ability to bless creation and make the elements that oppose us sacraments of God. Learning and practicing this will eventually make “love your enemies” seem not so much like an impossible task.
A man who, instead of avoiding and running away from sufferings of the heart produced by fear of eternal torment, willingly accepts them in his heart…will be determined, as he progresses, to tighten this bond ever more and more, and will thus advance more quickly. It will lead him to the presence of the King of kings. When this comes to pass, then, as soon as he sees, however dimly, the glory of God, his bonds – fear – will at once fall off, his executioner will hasten away and his hearts grief will turn into joy which will become in him a fountain of life or a spring for ever gushing forth: physically – rivers of tears; spiritually – peace, meekness and unspeakable delight, together with courage and free and unhindered readiness to strive towards every fulfillment of God’s commandments.
– St. Simeon the New Theologian