A close friend of mine recently fell into a severe emotional state when a good priest friend, who had suffered a long and painful bout with brain cancer, finally succumbed to the disease. How could God have allowed such a horrible thing to happen? Fr. M was still quite young and apparently had many good years ahead of him. When I mentioned that perhaps this was God’s will for Fr. M my friend lapsed into a bitter state of denial. “I don’t believe that God had anything to do with it,” he snapped back as if unable to reconcile a loving, merciful being with a deity who could actually will such terrible suffering on such a good and decent man.
I had no quick answers to his complaint, yet something deep inside me said that no matter how unpleasant the implications God, in fact, not only permits us to suffer, to which my friend would tacitly agree, but more to the point there are times when God positively wills us to suffer. It is on this second point that my friend and many fellow Christians would violently disagree. In fact, the all too common depiction of God as some cosmic sadist has likely turned more people against religion in our materialist, pain-averse culture than ever before. A mass consumerism which promises instant gratification has somehow robbed us of the former stoicism by which our great-grandparents quietly accepted pain and suffering as natural parts of life. Continue reading