Why Do We Suffer?

To answer the title question of this article, it helps to begin with the context in which we now live, namely, a fallen world. The world in which we live is not the same one that came originally from the hands of God “in the beginning.” Our ancestors, Adam and Eve, disobeyed the command of God to avoid eating from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17) and to partake only of the trees that were “delightful to look at and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). They ate the forbidden fruit, however, and as a result, we now know not only good, but also evil which, among other things, means we die.

There is a long history that follows whereby the living God attempted to enjoy communion once again with His creatures, but they had fallen away from Him into death. The state of our fallenness first became evident when the LORD God came “walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day” calling out, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:8-9) God seeks us out but we fear being known as evidenced by Adam and Eve hiding “themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8). In hiding from God, we lost sight of Him and so lost sight of ourselves made to His image resulting in a multiplication of evil beginning when Cain killed Abel with an indifference that asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9)

Such indifference grew worse over time in a will carried away by malice which is the fruit of a protracted practice of evil. The stories can be read in the Bible where there’s a consistent theme for anyone with ears to hear, namely, God seeks communion with His creatures who are constantly on the run from Him into the arms of death. In fact, Saint Paul tells us that “death reigned from Adam to Moses” (Rom. 5:14) and yet “where there is no law, neither is there violation” (Rom. 4:15). But the time came when God gave the law to Moses revealing just how bad things had become. There was no violation without the law because we were so blind and self-justified in doing evil that we couldn’t see and acknowledge our offense. But then the law came and, as Saint Paul continues, “sin became alive” and “I died” (Rom. 7:9). “I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom. 7:7).

Is it any wonder we shun the law of Moses, plead ignorance, and want nothing to do with it? It doesn’t paint a very flattering picture. We don’t want to hear it and continue to hide, seeking refuge in the arms of death, the wage paid out by sin (Rom. 6:23). That was the state of affairs until such time when God sent His only-begotten Son to save us. In Christ God proved His love for us. “Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8). Christ reveals God to us to be sure, but He also reveals something quite profound about the world in which we live. The Son of the living God came into our world, which is the same world in which we now live, and put on offer pure, unadulterated, honest, and authentic love and He was crucified. That tells us something about our world. There’s something wrong with a world that meets such pure, unadulterated love on offer in Christ with conniving, manipulation, and eventually violent death.

Jesus said to His disciples at one point, “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16) which proved true when the wolves caught up with Him, the “lamb of God” on Calvary. It was a bloody mess and Mary stood by and watched while they brutalized her only Son. She was not blind, though Peter was since Jesus had to instruct him not to become a wolf, declaring, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). All this happened in the same world we now occupy. It’s a world marked by self-assertion and a competition of egos, a world in which the innocent suffer at the hands of the unjust. It’s a world where the weak are preyed upon by the powerful, where human suffering and misery are met with indifference and the declaration, “That’s your problem.” We live in a world bent on making a “human right” out of the powerful preying upon weak and innocent children in the womb. This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus, more innocent than even the child in the womb, placed on offer love, honest and true, and suffered capital punishment for crimes He never committed.

There’s something wrong with a world in which we’re tempted to “envy those who do evil” (Ps. 37:1) and about which Jeremiah asked directly, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper” and “all the treacherous live in contentment?” (Jer. 12:1) We live in that world and so also with the possibility of suffering evil but now with a difference. As a consequence of suffering such a glaring injustice, God, as Saint Paul taught in reference to Christ, has now “put all things under his feet” (Eph. 1:22). Christ crucified is judgment on the world in which we now live. Jesus made this clear to His disciples prior to His death, saying, “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). Keeping in mind that ours is a world that meets honesty with lies and love with indifference, the judgment upon it is, “You shall not last,” because now “according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). This means the end of evil, suffering, and death which we might anticipate being welcome and yet so many resist and lament the passing of this world even while powerless to stop it. The only conceivable way to stop the passing of this world would be to kill Christ again which is impossible since “Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him” (Rom. 6:9).

The earth and the heavens are certainly good by decree of the living God “in the beginning,” but they have been designated for a renovation by Christ who is a skilled carpenter. We still suffer today because the world in which we now live has yet to undergo transformation. It’s the same, tired old world in which the glaring injustice of the cross occurred and we, too, live with the possibility of suffering the same but with a difference. God has now subjected everything in this world to Christ “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” and “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26). The new heavens and the new earth are coming, meaning the world as we know it is passing away and we can’t stop it, which begs the question: why would anyone want to?

Photo by Taylor Burnfield on Unsplash


Fr. Dan Pattee, TOR currently serves as a Parochial Vicar at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He previously served for 29 years as a professor of theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH and has been a priest for 35 years and a TOR Franciscan for 41 years.

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