September 12, 2021
A Reflection from the Interpath Traditions
by Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P.
Suffering is a fact of life. Successful and not-so-successful people have suffering in common. Sometimes the wealthy fret not having more, while the less fortunate may anguish over their inability to provide for their children. We all anguish as we face the challenges of life. We suffer each in our own way.
Suffering is a hot-button issue in theology. Why do innocent people suffer? A quick survey of the Faith Traditions reveals the depth of the problem and the inadequacy of the answers. It is often proposed people suffer because of their misdeeds and sins. Some religions are so transactional they see God as One who punishes or rewards. A very close friend once said to me, “God forgives those who deserve forgiveness. If they repent, then, and only then, will God forgive them.” It’s all very logical, neat, and clean.
When I look back over my life, I sense something different than a transactional God. I once came to the realization I was forgiven long before I ever repented. In fact, I repent because I have been forgiven. Ask any parent who ever raised a child. Forgiveness is the practical life-giving love that makes a parent a parent. Once I broke my mother’s favorite lamp. She jumped to her feet, terrified I might be hurt. She calmly reminded me I was more important than her lamp.
I realize now how much my parents suffered in loving me. If I did something wrong, or stupid, or mean, they were afflicted. Maybe God suffers more than we realize. Suffering is something people experience even if they do something good. The Prophet Isaiah (50: 5-9) reminds us of the innocent persons who suffer because they dared to do the right thing.
All of us know people who take upon themselves the anguish, pain, and hurts of others. Think of all those fighting fires, rescuing flood victims, attending to the sick, and feeding the hungry. They suffer because they love. The afflictions of others break their heart. Our World is deeply blessed by such people who do not hesitate to come to the aid of others, friend, or foe.
Unlike the great preachers and theologians who “know” why innocent people suffer, I do not. It breaks my heart to see a hungry child. I have no answers for such a profound question. I would give up in despair if I did not see those who suffer from relieving the sufferings of others. They sometimes endure insults and threats. Think for a moment of the doctors, nurses, and first responders attacked by expedient politicians, governmental leaders, and people who should know better. They suffer scorn for their generous self-giving and dedication. Compassion in the moment is their response to the perplexing question, “Why do the innocent suffer?”
I express my gratitude to you, Holy Community, for respecting those who suffer much in relieving the sufferings of others. Thank you for striving to be a self-giving person even in the midst of rejection, scorn, and suffering.
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