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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
General…

SENSITIVITY TO SUFFERING AND HAPPINESS PROJECT

SOMETIME IN JANUARY, an elderly priest in his 80s visited me in our apartment. He moderated our retreat in November last year during which he noticed that my face wasn´t bright. He approached me and offered to give me a listening ear if I would be ready for that. I immediately told him yes. I have been looking for this and thank God it happened.

We fixed our first appointment sometime in December but on that day he was weak and was rushed to the hospital. He finally made it this time around. It was a time of heart-to-heart discussion in which I poured out everything bothering me before him. Like a loving father, he listened to me. He acknowledged my pains and felt I was unjustly treated. He then told me that unfortunately because of his age, there was nothing he could do about it. I wasn´t disappointed. I wasn´t expecting him to do anything. What I needed was that listening ear and I felt relieved. He then took me to the home altar and presented my case to our Blessed Mother. His prayer was very touching. He said that my story pained him much and he imagined how it could pain Our Blessed Mother who shared in her son´s suffering. At this point, I felt light within. I am not alone in my suffering. Other people are sharing in it also. Our Blessed Mother knows what I´m passing through. She too shares in my pain. This is for me the beginning of my healing. My problem has not been solved but I had inner energy to carry on. That is my consolation.

No one is without suffering. The Scripture is filled with the issues of suffering especially in Job and Psalms. Because of this, right from the biblical time, there has been a question on the origin and cause of suffering. We are familiar with the Deuteronomistic History that centers on deed and consequence. This school of thought believes that one suffers because of his own sin. Even when one cannot remember what he has done wrong, it is still believed that his guilt remains at the unconscious level. While this may be true, life is filled with stories of people suffering for no sins of theirs. There are many people today suffering unjustly. How do we explain that? Even the Suffering Servant of Yahweh in Isaiah is a clear example of what I mean. The theory is called vicarious suffering, one suffering for the sins of others. Closely related to this is the case of suffering as a result of God´s love and a sign of ejection. The often quoted passage is that God chastises whom he loves (cf. Prov 3:12). In the apocalyptic time, it is seen as a birth pang to a new era. Because of this, the sufferers sometimes see themselves as being superior to others. The danger here is that there is not really the courage to combat injustice and other causes of suffering.

Some hold the view that complaining is a sign of faithlessness. We all are called to participate in the suffering of Christ. Again, while this is true, we have to be careful. Questioning suffering and the unjust structure resulting to it may also be a noble thing to do. In this way, it becomes a fight for justice. The truth remains that suffering is part of life. It is part of the created order journeying towards perfection. I therefore suggest that the best approach to suffering is silence when we lack adequate explanation. This should not be a passive silence but one that will make us to confront and if possible overcome the cause of the suffering. Acknowledging that suffering exists and offering it to God while doing our own part as human beings is a noble task.

Loss of sensitivity to sin seems to be traceable. Right from the Bible, God is seen as one who feels the pain of his people. He told Moses in the burning bush, "I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt; I have heard their cry …. " (Ex 3:7). This passage shows a God who feels pain and who suffers with his people. It becomes clearer in the New Testament with Jesus Christ who actually suffered and died. Hence this powerlessness of God ought to be emphasized in our theology and preaching. It comforts the sufferer and enables him to cope with his suffering. The eclipse of this "powerlessness of God" seems to be from the encounter between Christian proclamation and the Greek philosophical world. Looking for categories to explain God to this new audience, there was a lot of exchange between Greco-Roman metaphysics and Christian notion of God. From this time, we have a metaphysical concept of God who is all-powerful, all perfect and all knowing. While this is true, the other side of God was relegated to the background namely the God who accompanies his people and suffers with them. This could be the effect of the concept of God by St. Thomas Aquinas and other medieval thinkers. But the Christian God is not exactly the same as the metaphysical God. Another milestone in this could be on the soteriological teaching of St. Augustine. With much emphasis on sin and the effects on afterlife, there seems to be more negligence of social commitment in this world. For an adequate speech about God today especially in the face of suffering, we must balance these two sides of the same Christian God. In the creed we see this clearly manifested. While God the Father is confessed as the Father Almighty and Creator of heaven and earth, it never contradicts the confession of Jesus Christ who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died on the cross. Then, the power of God is shown in his resurrection. In the confession of Jesus as God the Son we see brought to light what seems to have been relegated in the confession of God the Father.

If God suffers with us, then he is happy when we are happy. It therefore does not please him when we lack good things of life and when we suffer unjustly. Just like speech about man without a place for God in it, speech for God without a place for man in it could also be atheistic according to Wolfgang Reuter. God is a being in relationship with himself as three divine persons and with us and the entire created order. Sin disfigures creation especially sin of injustice because it is committed against man created in God´s image. Part of our work as Christians therefore is to acknowledge the existence of suffering and injustice. Questioning injustice could also be a virtue when done in the right way. We should not be eager to condemn those who act in this way as if they have no faith. Jesus Christ came and combated with unjust structures and institutions. In this way, he put smile on the faces of many. We too are called to do the same.

The saving deed of Jesus is not just the suffering and death on the cross. It began with his proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the accompanying liberating actions. This actually set him in conflict with the Jewish authorities which later led to his suffering and death. The fullness of his saving deed is resurrection which gives us hope that our own mortal bodies will be resurrected on the last day. "You will not abandon me in Sheol nor allow your servant know decay. .. in your presence there is fullness of joy…" (Psalm 16:10&11).  However, this happiness begins from here when we join Jesus in making others happy.

Once more, we should not be in a haste to make judgements over suffering. Our response should be rather practical. We must acknowledge that the person is suffering. We must show solidarity with the sufferer. We must confront the situation. We must try to overcome it. We may or may not succeed. When we do not succeed, it becomes our way of projecting to the sufferer the image of a "powerless God" who also identifies with his people. Put the other way, making others happy should be one of our projects as Christians.

 


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