Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Is God Really There?" (Part 2)

Last night, Brother Hyacinth from the Dominicans led Part 2 of our discussion, “Is God Really There?” It was an enlightening and penetrating conversation with many excellent questions and comments from students. The main focus was the problem of evil: how an all-good God exists, how is there evil in the world? After the discussion, I spoke briefly with some medical students who struggle personally and professionally to answer that question. I gave some insights which seemed to help. I have addressed this question in a talk, “Why Does God Allow Suffering?”, a few times. The notes below are from my talk and are very much along the lines of what we all discussed last night.

I know this probably TMI, so just unpack a little at a time.  Look for something in these notes that helps and focus on that for now.  Then, slowly unpack other parts of what you read below.  Of course, I am available to discuss these notes with any GW Catholic indivually or any related questions to suffering with which you are struggling.

-resource – JP II (“On the Christian Meaning of Suffering”)

I. Calcutta / Jeremiah

-suffering I saw in Calcutta (2000) reminded me of Jeremiah 14
- “my eyes stream with tears… over the great destruction which overwhelms…my people…look! those slain by the sword…look! Those consumed by hunger” (14: 17-18)

- he saw the vast pains of the people of Judah due to war, famine, and drought
- he’s essentially saying to God, 'Lord, do you see this?'
- similar to the question we like to ask, ‘why does God allow suffering?’

II. Why does God allow suffering? (similar to, ‘why does God allow sin?’)

- a mystery (how an all-loving God could allow suffering in the world He created)
-we don’t claim to know full answer; just what’s been revealed

a. God’s active plan / perfect plan – He wills no suffering or death
God’s passive plan - He allows suffering and death

- God = good
- Paradise - all good

Catechism of the Catholic Church:
- original state of holiness and justice
- harmony b/w man and woman & all creation
- “as long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die” (#376)

- Wis 1:13 - “God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living

b. How did suffering enter the world? SIN (explain Orig. Sin)

- Free Will (God respects our freedom that much)
- suffering is consequence of free will / choice to sin

c. Suffering is a natural result of sin

- Jer 14: “We recognize, O Lord, our wickedness, the guilt of our fathers; that we have sinned against you” (v.20).

- our sins or the sins of others
- diff. types of evil – moral (adultery, e.g.)
- natural (Hurricane Katrina, e.g.)
- physical (disease, e.g.)

III. Why does God allow good people to suffer?
“ innocent “ ?

1) why “ a young mother of 3 to get cancer?
2) why “ a young bride to become a widow after 3 years of marriage?
3) why “ an elderly, devout Catholic to suffer so much physically?

IV. CRUCIFIX: Why did God allow this (His own son to suffer)?
- same question as those above; (use in counseling ppl)

• Christ is ultimate innocent victim (never sinned)
• Father has infinite love for Son; not punishing Him


a. Our justification / salvation
- “he was pierced for our offenses” (Is 53:5)
- “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24)
- “this is my body….this is my blood… shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven”

b. LOVE: sacrificial love (greatest love)
- teaches it and lives it

c. Union with poor and suffering (who are dependent on God)
- “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
- unites with lonely, depressed, rejected, isolated

d. Bring a greater good (grace of Christ)
- “God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good. As St. Paul says, ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’”  – St. Thomas Aquinas

V. (repeat) Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?

(suffering of the guilty is due to their own sin
suffering of the innocent is due to sins of others)

- be in union with His Son
- Father has infinite love for His Son
- “ for those in union with His Son

(trust, too; “Lord, I know you won’t give me more than I can handle. I just wish that you didn’t trust me so much” - Blessed Teresa of Calcutta)

If we are suffering and can’t attribute it to any sin of our own, then GOD IS NOT PUNISHING US FOR PAST SINS

- just like He wasn’t punishing Christ on the Cross


a. Join in Christ’s work of justification / salvation
- St Paul – “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24)

- ‘offer it up’ / 13 year old girl in hospital who complained about her pain until her mother told her to offer it up for others; she happily did that and didn't complain anymore

- our suffering can be salvific

b. LOVE (greatest love) / purification
- “Love is always a process involving purifications, renunciations, and painful transformations of ourselves” (PB XVI)

- “God chastises those who are close to Him” (Judith 8:27)
(He loves)

c. Union with poor and suffering
- “blessed are the poor” (dependent on, trust in God)

d. Bring greater good

- Job: returned more than he originally had


1) T. Paccassi: finding joy in her children after getting cancer
2) Woman in nursing home: Healing of family because of her redemptive suffering

VI. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta / suffering

- “the best way to imitate Christ is through suffering; those who are closest to Jesus on Earth are those who suffer the most”

a. great graces available and powerful prayers of those who suffer
- nursing home residents, sick – pray for parish, youth, specific situations

b. right there with Christ, united with Him on the Cross
- S. Walden – widow at age 27

VIII. Conclusion

What are God’s feelings about those who suffer?
- most likely, the same as Jeremiah’s.
- God’s “eyes stream with tears” seeing His children in pain. Ultimately, His answer to the question of suffering is that He sends His Son to suffer for our sake so that we might be saved / transgressions/ by his wounds we are healed (of suffering

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