Reinforcing the value of life.

Reaffirming the pursuit of happiness.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why would God allow bad things to happen?

Why Must I Suffer?

There’s no totally satisfactory answer to these questions because evil and suffering are Divine mysteries. Philosophers and theologians have pondered these mysteries for thousands of years. There never has been nor will be complete answers this side of heaven.

Nonetheless, looking at theory can correct misconceptions about the role of God in suffering. It’s important to note the difference between moral and non-moral suffering. Moral suffering is suffering that we caused or could have prevented based on choices we made. Non-moral suffering comes from things that we didn't cause or couldn't prevent. This article addresses moral suffering.

Evil exists because God respects our freedom. When we suffer, we might conclude God doesn’t exist or doesn’t care. God granted us a freedom that even He won’t meddle with because He respects our freedom. Our freedom is necessary for love to be authentic. God loves every person He has created; He will not force His love on anyone and will allow them to choose against Him. Choosing against God involves the possibility of moral suffering and evil.

Our freedom to love involves risk. We risk suffering. It is a suffering to be forgotten by a friend who has picked new friends, suspected of wrongdoing by the person you love most, lied to by a friend, or slandered by co-workers. It is a suffering to be rejected because of who you are and for what you believe, dominated and used for someone else’s gratification, humiliated by a family member, tormented by guilt and shame from past mistakes, handicapped by physical illness, abandoned by the person you love most, or grieved by the death of a loved one.

There’s a tendency to blame God for suffering, especially suffering resulting from things outside of us, choices made by other people that affect us. If we’re honest, we can't blame God for this sort of suffering because it involves people making choices out of their own free will. God respects and protects our freedom to love so much that He risks us choosing not to love people and even not to love Him.

Isn’t there an exception? Can’t God coax our family, our sweetheart, our friends, and our co-workers to love us more? We perceive God as being silent because He allows our freedom to be non-coerced, even by Him. God does not intrude upon free will but can give Divine Influence. How He dispenses Divine Influence is also a mystery.

Our human capacity to understand this mystery is limited. This is a tough reality to make peace with. I do know God can ultimately redeem whatever goes wrong; herein lies my hope. Where evil, sin, and suffering abound God teaches me to respond that out of suffering we can create beautiful qualities that last forever. I’ve learned the only really satisfactory way of dealing with evil is not to simply bind it, but rather to overcome it with good.

Suffering gives us the opportunity to move beyond ourselves to create beautiful qualities that transform our hearts. Hidden in the poignancy of suffering is a choice. Will I turn inward to myself because my suffering is pointless and unbearable? Worse yet, will I deny the existence of my suffering altogether? Or will I open myself to the possibility of growth through embracing my suffering?

When suffering turns us in on ourselves, we seek instant pleasures in things, appearances, and egos. These pleasures only distract us momentarily; they can never satisfy suffering. We grieve God when we retreat into ourselves because He seeks to draw us out of ourselves to free us for service in truly great things.

God isn’t to blame, for example, for my suffering of being forgotten, suspected, lied to, slandered, rejected, dominated, humiliated, tormented, afflicted by prolonged ailments, abandoned, or grieved. My own free will and that of other people bring these harms. When harm comes my way, God weeps with me, and extends His gifts of grace, comfort, and humility. His consolations are unlike any other on earth.

I admit, that in the poignancy of suffering, I have felt self-pity, resentment, bitterness, and betrayal by the God whom I love. I’ve been tempted to perceive His silence—the withdrawal of consolation—as Him being indifferent. There’s anguish in not entirely understanding the mystery of suffering.

I’ve found the only resolve is patience. "Put your hope in the Lord, be strong; let your heart be bold, hope in the Lord" (Psalms 27:14). Comfort comes when you most need it. When I think God’s far away, He’s often closest to me. Perhaps, God, too, desires someone to console Him.

Written by Shanelle Pierce, © 2005 Center for Life Principles, All Rights Reserved.

This article summarizes the topic of suffering as laid out in the book, Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom, and the Life Issues, by Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D. This book is the basis of our curriculum and mission.

A Personal Approach to

Faith in Times of Suffering

Positively coping with suffering doesn’t come naturally. What does come naturally, for me, is to become anxious and to revolt from any help God would offer. I’ve learned that what really makes suffering difficult to bear is my own impatience and refusal to accept suffering.

Everyday I must re-learn how to bear my suffering as Jesus bore His. When we are open to the guidance of God, good things can come. Here’s a few specific ways to weather a tempest of suffering with peace.

We can offer our suffering to God by imitating His son. How do we offer up suffering? Pray. God can turn our suffering into a saving work of grace for someone we love, the world, and ourselves.

In the hours before His crucifixion Jesus prayed, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" He offered His suffering up. He cried to God for "Help!" Similarly, we can pray to God for help.

Father Spitzer suggests these spontaneous prayers in times of suffering:

  • "Help!"
  • "I give up; You take of care it."
  • "Snatch victory from the jaws of defeat."
  • "Don’t waste one ounce of this suffering. Make good come to the world and to me."
  • "Thy will be done."

These brief prayers are cries of surrender to God’s will. Sometimes, I pray one or more of these prayers repeatedly because my suffering is so intense all I can manage is a call for help. For me, this prayer is not so much a prayer of words but a prayer with the body. When we pray like this, we physically offer up the anguish of our hearts.

God unites our suffering with His to carry out a saving work of grace. How He does this—you guessed it—is a mystery. Although feelings of suffering linger when I pray with my body and I feel far from God, as an act of faith, I try to remember that feelings aren’t facts. I don’t deny emotions of sorrow or pain but act on faith.

Our openness to God through prayer allows Him to console and lead us. We trust God to bring the greatest good out of our suffering. Our trust in God’s goodness is the purest act of faith when suffering is the most acute.

A personal favorite from Fr. Spitzer’s prayer arsenal I use when, for example, I’ve tripped over words, causing someone to suffer, is: "Lord, make good come out of whatever harm I may have caused." We should trust God to bring good out of suffering we have caused and do our best to learn from the experience.

When suffering seems purely evil, it can lead to depression, emptiness, and even thoughts of death. Any person suffering who has hope will not ultimately be overcome with emptiness. With a hopeful attitude, suffering leads to joy and peace. What a paradox!

We can look to Jesus and the cross to shed light on this paradox. Jesus took upon Himself the suffering of all people. He carried the cross to forever unite Himself to our pain. He died on that cross and rose to lead us through death to eternal happiness.

We can unite ourselves with God in times of suffering through prayer. If you’re Catholic, the highest form of prayer is the Mass. The Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus given in love to us. When we receive the Eucharist, we receive the gift of Jesus as He unites Himself with our pain. We, also, can offer our suffering to Him.

Receive the other sacraments (reconciliation), as they are living encounters with Jesus who strengthens us to live out our personal commitment to Him. Spend time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament to find rest. Spiritual guidance from a priest or trusted friend can also be a conduit of peace and conversion, as can be studying the Word of God. Studying the Bible can be a great source of comfort for Protestants and Catholics, alike. These acts of faith may or may not accompany a "warm-fuzzy" consolation. If they do, praise God. If they don’t, grit your teeth and act on faith anyway.

I don’t wish to convey false expectations. I don’t have "seven sure ways to conquer suffering." There’s no quick fix or cheap relief. The good that comes from suffering is often long-term, not instantaneous, and requires wise counsel and fortitude. I do know from personal experience that God brings good out of my suffering, most often through the transformation of my heart.

Written by Shanelle Pierce, © 2005 Center for Life Principles, All Rights Reserved.

This article summarizes the topic of suffering as laid out in the book, Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom, and the Life Issues, by Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D. This book is the basis of our curriculum and mission.

"Why Does God Allow Suffering?"

Why does an all-loving God allow suffering in the world.

45-minute audio tape
This inspirational talk explores how happiness, love, and suffering are related, why God allows suffering, and a compassionate answer to euthanasia.

Please help us to

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© Copyright 2005 Center for Life Principles. All Rights Reserved. A project of Human Life of Washington.