Suffering is a difficult topic to deal with, but as human beings we are forced to confront the idea of suffering on a daily basis. People’s ideas of the origin of their personal suffering tend to vary from individual to individual, and this creates problems for those who wish to maintain any kind of dogma on the subject. During the high-school religion course “The Paschal Mystery and the Church,” my classmates and I have read and discussed scripture regarding the many facets of Christ’s life, suffering being chief among them. My teacher has attempted to utilize biblical passages and church tradition to explain how God fits into human suffering. Despite attending a Catholic school, almost every one of my peers holds a slightly different belief regarding this topic.
Many students seem to hold to ideas that resemble predestination. They say that God’s plan is set in stone, and we are all following a path which He has set out for us. It is our job, they say, to make the most of what we are given. Several times, we have moved in a giant circle of one person trying to disprove the other, only to end with either party going away thinking exactly what they did at the beginning. Part of the problem with our discussion is the aggressively dogmatic approach to religious study that the teacher, and the church in general, seem to take. By refusing to consider the ideas of the students, they fail to get across their message in any constructive way.
As a Catholic school student, I personally tend to follow ritual practice according to their rules, however I believe that Catholic teaching on many issues is slightly flawed. The area of suffering in particular is one which I believe few churches can speak to effectively. Clearly a loving God couldn’t intend for humanity to suffer endlessly, but it is also impossible that a simultaneously omnipotent, omniscient, all loving God could be allowing his best loved creation to suffer. I see a God indifferent to the suffering of individuals as being far more likely. Perhaps, after all, we are not necessarily God’s exclusive concern above the rest of nature. I must emphasize the fact that this is not based in scripture, rather in reasoned thought and meditation on the subject over many months and years.
In an article by Fr. Jack Wintz O.F.M., the concept of “ambush theology” is discussed extensively. Fr. Wintz says how the idea that God is, as he says, “waiting to get us” is simplistic. He claims that this sort of thinking leads to a distorted view of God. Fr. Wintz uses terms like “simplistic,” comparing that theology to that of children. He says that it is inadequate to explain suffering as God’s punishment when the innocent suffer. This sort of language seems, to me, to be patronizing, and it has a dogmatic air about it. If anything were to confuse and drive away students of scripture, this would.
Suffering is truly more complex than to simply say that it is just God, or to say that it is caused by sin as the Catholic Church teaches. Many Catholic teachers try to explain suffering as being the result of human sinfulness. They say it is truly not punishment from God, but that it is the direct result of sin. The suffering of a victim of rape or torture is undoubtedly suffering at the hands of sin, however those who starve and die after and earthquake or a hurricane are suffering from entirely natural events. To say that a hurricane is in any way caused by sin without also considering it to be divine punishment for said sin is to follow a similar sort of flawed logic to those who Fr. Wintz and others claim to oppose.
We see suffering all around us. The violence of the natural world, the actions of those most despicable members of our society, and the pain of loss and grief. These are all forms of suffering which we cannot control, but which are also entirely worldly events. Though the Old Testament of the Bible tends to consider these things to be the actions a vengeful God, we can see that a truly loving God would never cause pain and death. By the same token, we can be sure that this loving God can’t be ignoring our pain and suffering. Suffering is, perhaps, not really the domain of the divine. Humans have the great benefit of free will, and what happens in our lives is entirely up to us. Life is only what we make of it, how we deal with our suffering. It is really up to us, not as individuals, but as a species, to determine whether suffering will continue unchecked or if we will seek it out and work alleviate the pain of others.
Wintz, Jack, OFM. “AmericanCatholic.org – Catholic Update ©1987 – Why Must I Suffer by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.” AmericanCatholic.org – Catholic Update ©1987 – Why Must I Suffer by Jack Wintz, O.F.M. Catholic Update, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0287.asp>.