Suffering and Hope

By Aldrin Relador

Why does God allow suffering in my life?

The paradox of Christianity is that it is possible to suffer and be loved by God. We know this is true because Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross but His resurrection revealed His Father’s unabandoning love. ​​”He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:32). However, it is still a difficult truth to accept.

Why does suffering happen to us? First, sometimes God permits suffering rather than intends it. Call it God’s permissive will (CCC 311). God always wants what is good for us. Sometimes it may mean allowing suffering into our lives. God is our Father (Psalm 68:5, John 3:16) and so a good father will sometimes allow his children to experience trials in order to get stronger. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Second, we can make choices – including ones which might make us suffer. God loves us and so He does not force us to choose what we don’t want. It is against His nature. Human freedom makes our suffering possible.

 

How should Christians approach suffering? With hope!

Suffering is often regarded badly because of our painful experiences. A sudden death of a loved one; a heartbreak; a failure to meet expectations. We suffer not merely because ill-feelings accompany our experiences. We suffer because we face the irreversible loss of something good and significant to us. Then often we plead with God to undo what has been done. But when nothing changes we can be tempted to lose hope.

However, Jesus’ resurrection shows us that suffering does not have the final word (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). God always wants what is good for us, and the perfect good is our salvation through the suffering Christ on the cross. So suffering is good for us insofar as we are being saved. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) No suffering is greater than hope in God.

What then is Christian hope? Christian hope is not a mere desire for happiness. It is a free response to the promise of God that is placed in the hearts of every man (CCC1818). God makes clear his promise concretely through Jesus Christ. Jesus had promised us incomparable happiness in heaven if we follow Him despite our present suffering. This sort of hope is not vague optimism or wishful thinking that things are going to get better. Rather, it is a hope in the promise that things will always be better because Jesus will make it so. In this way, Christian hope keeps us from being discouraged and sustains us when we suffer (CCC 1818). This is why suffering is not the end.

Yet, some might ask a related question: why do we sometimes suffer in particular situations? That is something no human person can answer. Our perspective on our life is limited. Consider the story of Job. The Book of Job raises an important question: sometimes why must good men suffer? We know that Job was blameless (Job 1:1) and yet he lost everything that mattered to him (Job 1:13-22). In almost every chapter, Job laments and demands answers from God for his suffering. He finally responds to Job in the end:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? (Job 38:4-5)

The response invites us to be humbled and awed by God’s creation in our lives. After all, our suffering reminds us that we are not yet in heaven. God is still creating something new. But it does not happen overnight. No one said salvation would be easy. As Christ Himself said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

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