marble white statue of Mary holding the body of Jesus, why does God allow suffering

If God is good, then why does He let bad things happen?

Catholic mindfulness presupposes faith that God the Father is a good Father. But if God is good and all-powerful and loves us, why does he let awful things happen to good people? Simply put, why does God allow suffering?

This blog article contains an excerpt from The Mindful Catholic.

I once sent out a flyer for a mindfulness course that mentioned “trustful surrender to God who loves us,” which prompted a letter from a woman who was deeply upset. She asked how she could be expected to practice mindfulness based on a God who loves her when he let her child die.

Now, there are no words to take away the horror and tragedy of an experience like this.

When we experience that kind of pain, we want it to go away immediately. We think of every possible way to get out of that pain, and the thought that God could make it go away but doesn’t can be too difficult to bear. Therefore our minds come up with all kinds of arguments against God, against his goodness, his power, his love, his very existence.

At times like these, it might make more sense to believe that God is angry, doesn’t care about us, doesn’t pay attention to us, or doesn’t even exist.

If God loves us, why do we suffer?

“Why, God?” is the question we ask, but there is a different question. We might ask instead, “Where are you, God?” And if we can cry out to the Father, “Why have you abandoned me?” we just might hear, in between those sobs, the faint echo of our cries from the mouth of Jesus, who suffers with us.

It is not that God doesn’t want to take away our suffering. It is that we have gotten to a place so far away that we must experience the suffering of purification in order to be close to God, like the fire that melts gold to remove its impurities.

back of a woman looking out of a window

There is a certain element of mystery here, and no amount of words will ever adequately plumb its depths. However, if we tweak a bit the way we ask the question and look for a different answer, we might draw a lot closer to the healing insight at the heart of this mystery of suffering.

God never said life would be without suffering. If we need any evidence of this, we have only to look at the cross.

If there’s anyone the Father would have saved from suffering, it would have been his own son. As mysterious as this is, alleviating suffering isn’t the way God proves his love.

If he didn’t do it when his own son begged him to “remove this cup” and cried out from the cross, “Why have you abandoned me?” there must be more to understand here. Why let his son and himself go through such suffering?

The answer can only be unrelenting love. God’s love for us is why Jesus suffered the cross.

Understanding why God allows suffering

Here’s a different way to understand suffering. Catholics are fond of the phrase “offer it up” to try to encourage one another in the midst of suffering. There might be some validity to the sentiment, but I think it is also sort of misleading (and many times unhelpful). If you’ve ever been the one suffering and someone has said, “Offer it up,” you know what I’m talking about. This phrase has a sense of choice about it, as if you are choosing the suffering you are going through.

We don’t choose suffering; it is forced upon us. Sometimes we suffer as a direct result of our choices, but even then we certainly didn’t choose the suffering. Because of original sin, we suffer. Because of the world, our fallen nature, or spiritual temptation, we suffer, and not by choice.

The one who truly did have the freedom to offer it up is the one who didn’t actually have to suffer. The one who did have a choice was Jesus. He didn’t have original sin, and he didn’t have to suffer. This is the reality that can shift our thinking on the matter.

Jesus, who did not have to suffer, chose to suffer because we suffer.

view from below and behind a large crucifix in a church

He looked at us upon our crosses, and he said to himself, “If that’s where you are, that’s where I want to be.” He was like us in “every respect, yet without sinning” (Hebrews 4:15). This means he suffered everything we suffer. He suffered the heartache of losing friends, of loved ones dying, of being misunderstood, even of being overworked (trying to get away from the crowds for a little time to himself but being pulled back in because of people’s needs).

Ultimately he allowed himself to go through the excruciating pain of suffering all this without the consolation of God’s presence. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Why did Jesus go through that? Because we go through that.

He knew he wasn’t going to take away our suffering, so he joined us in it.

God is really here for us. We can let go of our worries and trust him. Again, the point is not to present something to you here that might fully take away your pain in times of great suffering.

The point is to get you to think for a moment that if you are tempted to doubt the goodness or existence of the Father, maybe your doubt has more to do with the way you are thinking about it than the actual existence of the Creator of the universe.

Maybe there’s a different way to see things, in which even in the midst of this earth’s greatest tragedies, God is still good.

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