The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Second Chance

How could a loving God allow so much suffering?

That's a question that has plagued humanity from its earliest understanding of his Divine Father. In Western culture, suffering gets equated to bad under all circumstances. Scientists have been experimenting with a drug called propranolol to erase painful memories from war veterans, car accident patients, and rape victims. The idea being that eliminating these memories in the early stages of recovery will prevent post traumatic stress disorder down the road.

It's an ethical dilemma to be sure. To what extent should one eliminate the painful past? Is one's life to be defined by only the sum total of the good experiences? Does not wisdom also come from learning from those more difficult, even traumatic events that shape and mold one's character? What if such a drug had been administered to the Christians and Jews who survived the Nazi concentration camps? Without testimony from the victims, would the horror of such human atrocities survive their initial discovery?

What if the apostles and disciples of Christ had taken propranolol post crucifixion? Without the memory of His passion and death, what meaning does the resurrection take?

And yet suffering is a part of the fallen human experience. While the intent seem laudable, such research into completely wiping out the undesired times of one's life from memory is an act of playing God, and really not a very good one at that. The answer to why such a loving God would allow suffering to occur is not that complicated.

In the beginning God created a world free of suffering. Adam and Eve had no knowledge of it prior to the fall. After the fall, man's reality changed. The simple answer to why suffering exists does not lie in the whimsies of a Creator who is trying to teach one a lesson. God does not punish man by giving him suffering. New Orleans wasn't flooded as some kind of biblical trip to the proverbial woodshed. Death, pain, distress are a chosen reality. By the human race's first parent's free will this fallen reality was selected over the paradise in which they were created into. Humanity serves as the inheritors of the consequences of that decision.

Hindsight being 20/20, the temptation to proclaim that one would have done better if given that same situation today seems logical. Yet how many less than holy temptations does one give into on a daily basis? Is it not arrogance to presume such ability for doing better than Adam and Eve?

God in His mercy assessed the situation. He, too, had a choice. He could either leave man to forever live in his fallen state away from Him, or he could offer humanity another way, a second chance. Enter the New Adam.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
John 3:16-18

Suffering is a quality, a characteristic, of the world that Christ came to save. It could no more be eliminated from reality than the air which man breaths. The question is not why suffering exists, but how does one use suffering for the glory of God? The simple act of respiration provides a wonderful allegory. The Lord gives man this gift of air to inhale; however, if he keeps it in by holding his breath, within a minute he becomes distressed. The air he a moment ago drew life from now becomes toxic. He must give this gift of air back to the Lord by the simple act of exhalation. How interesting that the air he drew in that sustains his life provides the carbon dioxide plant life needs to live. Simply breathing provides a natural exchange of gifts between man and creation.

In a like way, man encounters suffering. Like the air, he doesn't seek it out. It's simply there waiting for him, though praise be to God, it's not as all encompassing as air. If he takes in the suffering and holds it in, then the suffering becomes toxic to his spirit. He despairs. He loses faith. He doubts his Lord. Yet if he releases this suffering back to Christ, then relief is found, and purpose gets restored. While oxygen is the good that gets retained from breathing, a closer union with Christ is the good that comes from the taking in of suffering. The question is, how does one exhale suffering to complete the exchange?

"Love is the first ingredient in the relief of suffering."
St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

Love provides the strength and courage to release the suffering internalized. To give one's burden to Our Lord perhaps becomes the most liberating act one does. Christ takes on our suffering and redeems it in the eternal sacrifice. How joyful when one can take suffering and pray that it be used for the benefit of another who is in need or even a soul in purgatory. In a sense, suffering becomes almost a sacramental by which the grace of dying to one's ego is achieved.

There is no tragedy too big for the consolation of Christ. Perhaps instead of seeking to create a false world where nothing bad ever happened, the scientists tinkering with propranolol should seek to discover the true purpose of suffering in the natural order.


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