Throughout history people have struggled to find meaning in their suffering. Sometimes this has led to cruel or unsatisfactory answers – such as, “You must have done something to deserve this,” or, “God is testing you,” or even worse, “What happened is really for the best, even if we can’t see it.” While well-intentioned, answers such as these don’t begin to uncover the true causes of suffering.
Scripture suggests that our suffering comes from two basic causes: human choice and an imperfect world. In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve are given the awesome gift of freedom, but with that freedom comes the risk of making choices that hurt themselves and others. God, who created us in love, does not control our choices between good and evil. Often, suffering is the result of this freedom to choose. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, can be seen as the results of an unfinished and imperfect world, one that is still evolving.
Perhaps the greatest model for human suffering comes in the form of Jesus. He did not seek suffering – remember that he asked that “this cup” pass him by – but he was willing to endure it as the price of being a loving person in an unjust world. And Jesus’ suffering is redemptive: He never talks about his death without adding that he will rise again three days later. Like Jesus, we can see our trials as redemptive, bringing forth goodness and new life for ourselves and others.
Nothing answers our questions about suffering as well as the example Jesus lived. Look for the image of this lived example in the crucifix. And be consoled that the question of suffering was not an easy one for Jesus, either.