This past month I’ve witnessed a lot of suffering. Usually these experiences are sprinkled throughout my year, but recently, it’s been a storm. Relatives passing away, cancer diagnosis, a teen overdose, and a first-time mother losing her baby the day before she was due. At times like this, it’s so hard to be faithful and not bitter, yet what else can I do but pray?
I just have to have faith that our suffering has a purpose. And also very helpful — that we don’t need to completely understand it.
By knowing that the trials and suffering that we are going through are not in vain, that they have a purpose, can give us the peace we need throughout it. I’m not saying that we need complete understanding of how getting cancer or losing a child has a purpose, but just knowing that it does can help. I don’t need to despair, because I know that God’s in charge. There’s some purpose behind this pain. And this, too, shall pass.
We can pretend that we “know” the meaning, that we see the “silver lining,” because God does reveal this to us at times, but the full meaning of the suffering will not be understood until we are on the other side. Remember that
At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
As hard as we try to put our thoughts as God’s thoughts, we just can’t. We like to see God as He was portrayed in the wildly popular book and movie, The Shack — an Oprah Winfrey type of person. We like to think He will sit down with us over a cup of tea and explain the universe’s problems. However, He is probably better portrayed by C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia as Aslan. Aslan was a beautiful and at times a very loving lion, but as was always said of him, “He is not a tame lion.”
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
I think we can be at peace just knowing that we don’t have to understand the why of every suffering. We don’t feel like we have to explain it, because sometimes no matter how hard we try, there can just be no “reasonable” explanation from our end.
Pope Francis said, at his message in World Day of the Sick 2015,
People immersed in the mystery of pain, when they accept their suffering with faith — even if they don’t understand its full meaning — can become living witnesses of faith, and capable of embracing suffering. (emphasis mine)
Perhaps what is most incredible about trying to understand suffering is that it isn’t just something that God said that we have to go through alone. Not only does He promise that it has purpose, He has shown us the most important purpose of suffering of all time. Our God took on the flesh of mankind so that He could suffer for us. This is the ultimate purpose of suffering, so that we can one day be united with Him.
Fr. Spitzer, author of a definitive book on suffering, The Light Shines on in the Darkness (love that title!) explains it this way:
Suffering is not beneath God — He enters into it in order to dignify it, give us an example, and turns it into a perfect gift of love … Jesus endured suffering — willingly entering into complete self-sacrifice in order to show us that suffering is not the undermining of our dignity and destiny, but rather their fulfillment. (75)
Ultimately, we know that our time here on earth is so short. The suffering that happens here now is to get us all into the heavenly kingdom, with those lovely resurrected bodies, with no more suffering! And Christ has led the way for us!
Jesus has led the way for us. He sympathizes with us — because He has been there. And He promises to be there with us when we suffer. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (CCC 1505)
Despite not having the full understanding to the why or purpose of our trials, we can often see that sometimes there is fruit that suffering produces. There are results of suffering that many people can see. You could call it that “silver lining” if you want, but it seems more than just a “lining” perhaps the whole “stuffing” of the cloud as well.
Popular speaker Fr. Mike Schmitz sums it up simply:
Suffering without Christ just hurts. But suffering with Christ can transform the world.
Copyright 2020 Tami Kiser