Why are we suffering
asked this question on 6/14/2000:
Thank you for the wisdom and compassion you evinced in your response to the query on Shekina. It is very difficult to express suffering and personal experiences of this nature. But I do have a question. How many times must a person forgive someone who has hurt you very badly and continues to do so? I know Jesus said we must forgive 70 times seven, but when is enough, enough? [...] Can you help me with this? Gracias.
It is a problem in talking to someone who is suffering deeply. There is never enough empathy to understand the anguish even described in detail. You can reason, you can coax but… I have talked too many across an abysm of hurt and the distance was too big. But on the other side I have seen peace in the face of those in agony when the Lord opened up the mind and the heart.
You probably will feel very hurt after reading my answer. But I think it is more compassionate to rip of in one hard movement the bandages than pull a bit, and pull a bit more prolonging the agony ad infinitum. The bandages have to come off if we want to treat the wound. Read until the end and then react, ok?
It is difficult to answer your question when you are not able to see the face of the person whom you are talking to without observing the changes of mien and bearing during the conversation. The changing expressions are many times a more direct answer than words. So bear with me if I dwell where there is no necessity to do so and hurry on where I should stay a while.
Let us begin with some fundamentals. Do you believe that God talks to you through the happenings of your Life? Do you believe in God? You may stare at me in disbelieve. How can I ask something like that having read your testimony? I am sorry. But your question denotes that you have faith-trouble. How so?
Once a youth asked a man whom God has blessed manifold with many pains – he has now only one kidney: "What is it to be a saint?" And received the answer: "Being able to believe everyday that the God loves you". Your simple wishing to think "enough is enough" in order to reject the person who makes you suffer or to take revenge or, at least, to give back a measure that the other might suffer even a little, or to feel justified in distancing yourself for good, is like a outcry: "Lord you do not love me – in these circumstances at least". It may be the feeling that you consider the proportion of pain outrageous: "too much is too much; unfair, not just".
Please don’t be afraid to admit that you harbored these thoughts and reactions that are many a time more felt than reasoned. Read the book of Job. He did say it loud and clear that he felt treated unjustly. Perhaps you can compare me to Job’s friends who tried to convince him that all his anguish was a simple consequence of his sins. He might have been without sins – he is a catechistic symbol because there is nobody without sin – but you are not without. The least sin on our side justifies the most horrible torment if you have the slightest inkling of God’s holiness. If you plead innocent I remind you all the terrible thoughts you have admitted against your mother. I seem cruel. But I tell you that you can’t ever get a grip on your situation if you persist in the stance of the victim, the innocent, and the martyr. You have a chance if you admit that your sin warrants much more than all that you have suffered up to now. The other side is much guiltier? Are you God to be able to judge, to occupy His place? But all boils down to the fact that "this is unjust", isn’t it?
Forgive me for talking to you like that. But your own frailty or Mr. Lucifer is pushing you to get up on the pedestal of the injured party. Am I telling you that God is taking revenge because of your sin? Not ever! But God cannot talk to you when you have climbed up on the dais of unjust harm. What am I doing? I am pushing you down to your place where you belong! Only there the Lord can talk to you. It is through your history, the events and facts of your life that the Lord is talking to you. If you escape from your history He cannot enter in a communication with you because you are not there to hear Him. Feeling like a victim is to run away. He is telling you that everything comes from His love and that His love is here in this ache. You are thinking that this is brutal? Do you believe God loves you?
Let us pursue an other track of thoughts. You love somebody. This somebody is sick. He-she has to be treated. The more dangerous the sickness the more concentrated and strong the medicine. What is your sickness that the Lord has to act with so much energy and so long?
A monk of the desert – you should read their apothegms – affirms: "Why are you suffering? It is because you do not want to go in the direction where God wants to pull or push you! Well, He is stronger, He will not give up!" So there… Understand, I am not saying that there will be no suffering going in God’s direction. But you will never say: "Unfair, enough, too much" because you trust His love not only regarding God’s motive in all this but also in the proportion or measure of your pain. Shying away, what is it? It is disagreement.
May this suffice for now? I might be way off the track. I can imagine that your mother is insane and she should be in an institution. Or that there are special circumstances that justify you way of seeing things. I do not know.
But I do know that God loves you and that up to this day He has done everything perfect for you. And that you are blind that you do not understand. I know too that I cannot continue without some reaction from you revealing in what direction to continue.
So may God bless you
And if you want post me your reaction.
In Corde Jesu
PD. The experience of "night spiritual" is for saints.
Thank you for your answer. I could never be angry with you over the truth. if the shoe fits I’ll wear it, if not, I’ll try to explain why. I'm not trying to be a victim or martyr. [....] So, it's really the sin of anger-mine we're talking about. Every night, I fall asleep talking to God, asking His guidance and forgiveness of my sins. I can't put her away, although my husband and family want this. She is my mother, i couldn't bear to see her locked up. Padre, any suggestion would help. I'm not a saint, only a frail human being. As for the dark night of the soul- I felt His leaving as an almost physical thing. It was not imagined. This truth i will not change for anyone.
Thank you for not getting angry. Santa Teresa de Avila wrote once: "One day getting to know yourself better is more important than many days of prayer". And she has been a champion of prayer. I interpret your answer as a wish to continue. You see we may disagree. But I think it helps to look straight at the monsters. They wilt and lose strength. San Ignacio describes the reaction of the devil with the attitude of the wife in marriage. When the husband is weak the wife grows ever more audacious. When the husband takes a reasonable valiant stance… This is to describe attitude that all Christians have to assume. I am citing the example of Ignacio. It is a means to the discretion of spirits.
You say you have forgiven your mother because she is ill. What if she has real responsibility? Would there be no forgiving?
The deepest hurt consists en seeing suffer those whom we love. We cannot take their place and we cannot take it away. What mother does not transform herself into a ferocious being when the well-being of her children is at stake?
More so is it urgent that you ask yourself why God permits this situation in your life. If your mother is ill you have probably suffered all your life. God is not cruel and does not want to see His sons and daughters suffer. Why does He let your boys experience the abuse day after day? I imagine that your hurt is aggravated because you could put an end to it but you will not do it. You feel responsible. Why does God not intervene doing you the generous thing?
He puts before us something like a mirror so that we might see what is what:
Dt 8: 2 "Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands".
God knows what is in our heart. He doesn’t need any tests. But we need to be humbled and tested so WE may come to know what is there in the deepest abysm of our heart. There can be absconded some monsters for many many years.
You tell that your son says, "The devil is in her, that she likes to hurt". He has heard that, he is repeating something someone has said.
Sitting in judgment is one of the things that have to be discovered and eradicated from our heart. Because we take the place of God. Those who make us suffer by their violence or deviousness are there to make us look into our heart. Look at the beatitudes (Mt 5). What sentiments has the Christian of this kind according to the Gospel?
Anger is a terrible thing. It is an outburst of hate. And hate is not justified even by the wish to protect the children. Could we say that if the other would not provoke there would be none? I disagree. It is there, dormant perhaps, but it is there to react at the slightest provocation. Numerous repetitions create a sensitive spot. You touch it with a hair and you jump even anticipating the pain. The solution is not to learn to be able to dominate, to harness it. It can break the bond any time. It has to be eradicated.
Let me tell you something about that. You cannot eliminate it. It is impossible. It is as impossible as fulfilling by effort even ever so generous the beatitudes. Nobody can love his enemy making an effort. It may function awhile. But at the least distraction the explosive reaction (visible or not) succeeds. Reasoning with the other or with myself does not have any real effect.
God is love. Why the enemy then? So you may find out that human effort is vain. Those who understand this experience their total incapacity. Then God can help them if they want. But I think they have to learn that the incapacity exists and that no goodwill can change that. Then they will have to find out that the love of God is behind all this, that this dolorous experience is necessary to reach happiness because like Adam and Eve we want to be like God, arrange everything according to our wishes. Someone said that only 0.01% of those in hell has been condemned for being bad. The rest, the 99.99% will be condemned for their willful blindness. So God who loves His children has to strike hard to shatter our creations. In some cases it needs much time not because God wills it so but because we are so hard to convince.
You can understand that there is not even necessary an accumulation of wrongdoing. It is enough that the potentiality exists, like a covert sickness. It has to be healed. If not it is like a dormant volcano ready to explode and spout lava that is burning inside. They say that it needs a miracle to get us to admit what is inside because we spend our whole life trying to convince ourselves and others that we do not have these deficiencies, that we are not responsible.
The marvelous thing is that the conviction of our incapacity, frailty and sin provokes from God not an irate reaction but compassion (see Luke 18:10). Why is it so difficult to admit our incapacity? Because we think that we are better than rapists, murderers and prostitutes.
So first things first. Clairvoyance. See reality (Mt 15:19). This is devastating. And then we need a new miracle: To be able to believe that God loves us when we discover what is really inside.
Enough for today, ok?
You decide if you want to go on.
God bless you
In Corde Jesu
PD. I do not want to declare inexistent your "dark night" experience. Only I want to suggest that we shouldn’t give our experiences grand names.
There is one thing that you and i disagree on: I don't believe that God is teaching me through such terrible suffering. I did, for many, many years, until my being confronted by all my sins, errors and flaws. During this time, it came to me, that God, who loves me, would never hurt me in this way. His lessons are always instructive, never destructive. Lucifer is the cause of all of the destruction on this earth, both in personal as well as global matters. I hear more people blame God for terrible events. each time, i respond that God is a just, fair, stern and loving Parent, who would never hurt His children so. That they need to look at the Trickster for the blame. There are clear differences in the way He teaches lessons, at least from my limited viewpoint. When things go wrong on a less catastrophic scale in my life, when I'm uncomfortable in my own skin and unhappy, it's His way of letting me know there’s hard work to be done, and there will be no comfort until it's resolved. But hurt me in the ways I've been hurt? Never. He is the song in my heart and the Joy and Solace of my life. My faith is very simple, not sophisticated, Padre. But i know enough to feel His Loving Presence and the peace He gives me.
I read a book, Hostage to the Devil, by Malachi Martin, some years ago, and wept. For his description of evil was so apt. He said that evil strips joy from the heart, laughter from the home and makes a mockery of all we hold dear. This, Padre, is my mother. There is nothing she doesn't mock, sneer at or strip to ribbons. at times it's like being near a black hole. And the children heard the devil described by her, in reference to Justin, my youngest, saying he's a future serial killer, possessed etc. Very much what I've heard my whole life.,
I can sense you are really trying to understand all of this, and appreciate your help. More than you know. You are a good and wise man. Thank you so very much. I need your help.
Reading your answer I was tempted to let things be. You have arranged your universe and obviously this arrangement has helped you to live in peace. So why unsettle things that seem settled? Why bring up anew the doubts that have been cleared up? Why add anew uncertainty to the suffering? But...
Couldn’t it be that you are not really satisfied with the whole scenario you constructed with help from literature and personal consideration? Is that why you brought up the question and want to go on?
Your intuition is right. God is not cruel. But regarding the fact of "being confronted with all your sins, errors and flaws" there is no end to it. The saints until their demise discover "new" sins in their life and surely you have read about saints that inflicted themselves terrible sufferings because of their sins being in sublime states of mystics. Our Patron Saint Santa Rosa suffered terribly and sung God’s praise in competitions with the birds. Now thinking about it I remember one saint who took his instruments of penance and threw them into the lake. It might be your case. God has a special way for everybody. But…
Your sensitivity cringes at the mere thought that what you have gone through and are going through might fall under the direct responsibility of the loving God. He cannot be that cruel! He cannot dispense the anguish you are going through. Only an evil being like Satan is able to do that because he enjoys making suffer.
May I contend that you are pressing the Creator of heaven and earth into your limited categories? May I suggest that you are trying justifying God before the tribunal of your and others’ rationality? It is laudable, certainly. But you are thinking of God like a sensitive, kind, loving HUMAN being in whom there is no trace of cruelty. There cannot be even the least responsibility for any hurt that might be!
If you have read the book of Job you will have found that the conclusion of the book apparently does not satisfy anybody. It gives no explanation why the innocent suffer. This is the basic question of the book of Job: Why do the innocent suffer? That is why in my first proposal I have suggested that you are not innocent and that God is teaching you something. The good book says that even the just (saints) fall seven times everyday and get up. The number seven in the Bible is an expression for many times. But let this be for the moment. We are talking of the suffering of the innocent. This in not just, this is not fair. So it cannot be associated with the all-loving God.
What is the conclusion of the book of Job? God asks Job if he has been present in the creation of all that exists. The argumentation does not aim at anything else but affirm that God is God beyond any human reasoning. At long last Job understands two basic things. First that you cannot "understand" God. So his ravings and protests are completely way out of proportion and measure. They are like shooting arrows against the moon. God cannot do anything but laugh at this disproportion like an understanding father does not mount into ire but laughs at his child that throws a tantrum. There is no possible reasoning because the child couldn’t possibly understand. So he laughs at his ravings not in derision but in a good-humored stance: "Someday you will understand. Just wait until you grow up". He does not take his suffering away nor try to explain it.
So Job who is a grown man has seen some of the disproportion and he can only say: "Sorry I spoke so stupidly and hastily. I did not understand anything, I had no right to talk as I talked", putting his hand over his lips. Remember he is innocent. You cannot subpoena God and question Him for his motives and reasons and oblige him to give an explanation. Any explanation we might elaborate is so inadequate that it contains more error than truth. Many years ago I have given up defending God to unbelievers. And those who question Him some way or other are unbelievers. This is not a moral judgment but a description. We all are incredulous one time or an other. You can only "forgive" God when you get to know Him as I presume you have. But there is no explanation.
And Job understands an other thing in midst of his "not understanding": the love of God. How? "With these my stupid, unseeing eyes I will see my God". We Christians know he is talking about resurrection not when he will pass away but at this precise moment were there is no possible rationalization, there is only obedience. The imagery of getting back children and wealth is just that. He walks with God. He has not understood but he is one with the will of God.
Please consider an other way of thinking. We are talking about God in our human limited way. So we cannot explain that the Lord is love and justice at the same time, that He plants and destroys. So we help us saying that God "permits" suffering, he permits Lucifer. Some say that liberty includes sin. But who can explain why God has created a world that permits sin? He could have created one with liberty and without sin. The Rabbis have a Midrash that God created thousands of worlds but destroyed them all until He created our world because it was the best. The truth is that nothing happens without the Lord’s "permission". Even the devil is an employee of God who cannot do anything without His "permission". Wherever you turn everything is God’s responsibility. "The buck stops there".
I am sorry if I am knocking out the fundament of your "peace of mind". But the only truth helps us to be free.
I would like to read your answer before going on if you want to. Only one thought more: God has given no explanation but He has given an answer: His Son. And Jesus did not sit down and explain or defend His Father. He helped us to know Him, not to "understand" Him. And "knowing" in the Bible, means, "to be one with the person you get to know". He cried out in the garden against the suffering but wanted to do His Father’s will.
Don’t be afraid to involve God in your hurt. He is involved at long last and from the beginning. Saint Paul has suffered immensely and at the same time exhorts the communities to live in joy. Hurt does not erase the Joy and the Solace. God sustains us even when we try to explain Him.
I am not trying to complicate your faith. Faith is simple, perhaps reasoning does complicate things. But God gave us reason so that we might know when He cannot comprehend. And you know that the highest knowledge is not knowing. Read sometime "The Cloud of not knowing".
Santa Teresa de Avila writes that if she can choose between a confessor that is a saint and an other one that is learned she would choose every time the learned one. She has had bitter experiences with holy ones. I am certainly not holy and I am not saying that I am learned either. But I am putting at your disposition some of the teachings of our masters through the centuries what I have been able to gather. Please understand me. The argument is not: I have studied so your opinion is not valid because your viewpoint is limited. No!!!! Since baptism you have the Divine Counselor at your disposition, the Holy Ghost.
So this is not to say that I am right. I might be very wrong. But at least I have contributed to clear up doubts on your side when you have consolidated your position facing up to and destroying my arguments. I am not trying to convince you. I am throwing some curves and you find out if they are "strike out" or not, in our Latin-American parlance: I am shooting some soccer balls and you decide if there is a "goal". You are the referee, ok?
God bless you for your patience
In Corde Jesu
Missionary of the Sacred Heart.
Faile47 asked this question on 6/20/2000:
Your arguments, as always are cogent and well-reasoned. In Job, Satan asks God permission to test Job, as a challenge to Jobs much vaunted piety and faith. saying that it's easy to believe when everything is going Jobs way-riches, fame, sons and lands. But what happens he says, if You allow me to strip everything away from good old Job? Will he still be so pious and faithful? And God permits the test. And I do agree, that it's very easy to be pious and good when you've got the best in life. Poor old Job didn't have an easy time of it. So, yes, I’m aware that Satan has a role in Gods plan. And that we can't blame everything on him, either. God permits sin, because He gave us free will. And that means we are free to love Him or not. I love Him because He is my All. Sinful as I am, He is the center of my universe. I am helpless before Him and dependent on Him, for the very breath in my body. Without Him, Padre, i am nothing. He has His Foot on my neck. I do not try to anthropomorphize Him, He is unknowable. But all i have ever felt from him is Love.
When He went away, I cried and my husband told me I was like a badly spoiled child. That He was truly testing my faith. and that I must be strong and try to pray harder for His return. It was a vast dark horrid emptiness. May it never happen again.
As for being shown my sins, Padre, that was not the end of it, of course. but these were profound, self-deluding traits that were deep inside of me. They are gone forever. but, as bad as I am, there is plenty more work to be done.
My universe is not so ordered and set in stone, that there is no room for growth. Your guidance is very much needed. Learning from your reasoned replies, helps me look deeply inside myself, for error and need for improvement. I m an avid and apt pupil Padre. I still don't think God is responsible for my 2 brothers dying or my illnesses. But, i could be wrong.
I don't know if you've visited the Catholic site, but there really was a bit of confusion, that was finally settled! We are a contentious lot at times. I look forward to a continuance of this discussion. May God always shelter you and keep you safe.
Thank you for your posting.
Happy you that all you have ever felt from Him is Love. That is a special privilege.
Let me ask you something. Does your husband blink sometimes at your line of thought and arguments?
"I m an avid and apt pupil Padre. I still don't think God is responsible for my 2 brothers dying or my illnesses. But, I could be wrong". Please, are you prodding me on or is your argument a "non sequitur"? It is scholastic parlance and means: "There is no more discussion possible".
If your are goading me then you want to be convinced. In that case please tell WHY you "still don’t think that…"
If it is a "non sequitur" there is nothing to argue about. Because instead of "I still think" you should say perhaps: "I still sense or feel". You can’t argue against feelings or intuitions. So you go and argue with God. He will be put out at the thought that something is outside of His reach. I may sound flippant but I can’t even conceive that he might not like to have your brothers with him in heaven. As for your illnesses He arguably might have a convenient lapse of memory. I know I sound facetious but your line of argument makes me beg for enlightenment.
So please, I am waiting for clarification.
God bless you
In Corde Jesu
Missionary of the Sacred Heart
Faile47 asked this follow-up question on 6/22/2000:
Padre, Good evening,
I am not trying to goad you, I'm just looking for answers. I'm not deaf to your belief in the whys of everything that has happened to me. But, to me, He is a loving God and He doesn't hurt us sadistically or unnecessarily.
So, i am asking you, how He would hope to teach anyone, anything, if He hurts them so badly, in the process. I would think, that being the case, most people would want nothing to do with him! rather like an abusive parent. Jesus is the epitome of Love and forgiveness. Explain, please, how this Son of God, who preached love and forgiveness, could allow beatings, murder and the like. What lessons are there to be learned? Illness, i concede, has tremendous value as an educational tool. But viciousness and violence, I'm not so sure of.
And yes, my poor husband blinks often. He does understand my feelings about God. He says God took over the parenting department a long time ago, since I obviously badly need the guidance. Please don’t be upset with me. I'm neither frivolous or facetious in my questioning of this. and I’ll try to make my words cohere better. I do need your guidance and deeply appreciate your patient efforts. God Bless you, Padre.
I think we are free to choose between good and better as well as good and evil, if you will. The angels are still able to choose, and I believe Jesus was free to choose to accept His torture and death, or reject it! Satan tempted Him quite freely in the desert, which indicates logically, that He did have a choice.
If we weren't capable of making independent decisions about these matters, what value would we have. I still posit that we would be little better than puppets on a string, and both God and Lucifer would be bored silly. I believe God places great value on the trying, the striving to make the right choices, to be good, and upon failing, getting up and trying again. Do you not think this is reasonable? Or is this just one of my childish, inane fantasies?
This subject is very important to many people. can you clarify your position, so I may try and learn from it?
God bless you.
How did we ever get to discuss the subject of liberty without sin? It was my fault. I think I have fallen prey to these debates we had in our school time and I wanted to shine. Forgive me. These discussions are very interesting but they don’t help really. It is like those medieval debates about what would have happened if Eve hadn’t paid attention to the serpent. If we don’t pay attention we will reach high speculation as in those times when they had serious discussions about the very profound question: how many angels can dance on the point of a needle?
I mentioned the theoretic possibility of freedom even if the choice between good and bad did not exist. With this line of thought I wanted to submit that God has created the world knowing there would be sin. Why? I do not know. But this fact shows that "the buck stops with Him". So debating the possibility of freedom without choice of sin helps to figure out what are the essentials of freedom of will. But it has no direct benefit regarding the subject we are talking about.
But let us go on. Basically I do not want to defend God where He cannot be defended and where He shouldn’t be defended. He has created the world and He knew that there would be sin. And He created it all the same. If you take out something out of his domain you limit God. But even this line of thought is purely theoretical.
I could try something else. I am sorely tempted to prod you a bit. When I force a little your arguments then God has permitted sin and human frailty so neither He, nor don Luci nor us become bored with life. In that vision the human reality is like a gym to exercise moral and spiritual muscles, to make ethic aerobics. Human striving is necessary to avoid being puppets. I could argue like that. But I think there is a better way.
Sin doesn’t make us free persons but love. The aspects I mentioned earlier – that we are sinner, that we do not merit anything but hell, that to suffer is to learn, that we are at cross-purposes with God’s plan, that the human inclination is towards egotism, that we are capable of religion (we can be honest, hardworking, well intentioned -perhaps- pious, we can do good works,) but we cannot produce one single instance of grace. Perhaps we could be worthy of some kind of Eden or the heaven Mohamed has imagined. But to be His adopted children never.
In that disgraceful condition we are met by a total undeserved love. Even our killing His Son will not be a hindrance for Him to love us. This kind of love we cannot produce because it is totally divine.
And the plan of God consists in repeat in every adopted daughter and son the life and death and resurrection and ascension of His only Son. So we have to grow up to the full dimensions of His Son (a joyous and at the painful experience) and reproduce in ourselves the image of Christ. In order to do that He has to create us, chose us, justify us and glorify us. Now the glory of Christ is His death and resurrection. That is were the love of His Father shines through.
I think that these inadequate and pitiable thoughts show at least one thing: that any effort, strive or some such endeavor in order to become His child is ludicrous. It pretends to do what only God can do. Our part is to let God do His work in us because He respects our free will. But once someone has told God that He can do what He wants He accepts and does the same as with His own Son. He leads us in direction of Calvary.
The affliction that is part of this kind of love redeems because it carries with Christ the cross for redemption of others. Perhaps you could read the encyclical of Pope John "salvifici doloris".
I suppose you have said to Him something as did His son: "Not my will but Yours". Well, He took you at your word. If the suffering is unbearable tell Him He should stop because He has exceeded His license or He shouldn’t take you that literally. I am not ironic.
I think this is what it is all about.
Perhaps I should have begun with this post and then have worked backwards. Well He wanted is so. So be it.
I add to citations of Palladius of Hierapolis:
"The beginning of true spiritual life consists in knowing how to endure and to utilize what is contrary with the certainty that nobody may inflict harm except himself… Totally present in the world he is resolutely elsewhere: he waits with patience for divine action he can’t neither imagine nor conceive".
"Actually the servant of God is the chosen witness in order to testify in the name of Christ who sends him so someone might come back to Him of Whom he has lost memory and knowledge. He testifies too and with no less force that God remembers His pact and that His fidelity is forever: He hears the prayers and in His mercy He saves, He takes away all things dire, He delivers from all project of the devil and blesses giving in all this eternal life. The servant of God brings to mind that his Master has pity on His creature but he is silent about the reason of the proposed salvation. God takes action according His gracious design and man cannot explain it. Radiant the servant ventures ‘God is love’ and accompanies his message with a crucified life".
Thanks for your prayer. I pray for those who do for me asking the Lord to give them hundredfold.
God bless you
In Corde Jesu
Missionary of the Sacred Heart
P.D. How is your mother? I pray for her too, and for all of yours.
P.D.D. What about my penance?