A little over three years ago, our brother, Guy, died after a two year struggle with cancer. It was a heart-breaking experience. During that time, it was extremely difficult to reconcile a loving God with such a tragic experience. It still is today. Each day literally millions of people will receive heart-breaking news. It has been that way for as long as man has been on this earth. So have the questions, ‘Why do these things happen?’ ‘Why does there need to be suffering and pain, death and disease?’ ‘How does God, our loving Father, permit His children to suffer?’ There has been and will continue to be a lot of discussion, theories and rationale put forward over time in an effort to answer these questions. I have read a lot of it – both in the Bible (Job and elsewhere) and just by searching on the internet. Most certainly much more astute and theologically correct than what I might ever say here. But there is one path of thought that I have used since the death of my brother that has given me tremendous comfort. I will do my best to lay it out now, knowing that we can never be certain as to what lies in ‘the mind of God’, but also with the presumption that you readers believe in a loving God. And as believers in God you have already developed a certain level of faith in the unseen. (…So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal…2Cor 4:18)
Foremost, we must understand the difference between our perspective and God’s perspective when it comes to this life here on earth. Having the ability to place life’s events in the context of a lifetime (let alone eternity) is something that takes time and requires practice. Living in the now, the very present moment is how we first see the world. I am hungry – feed me. I am tired – need sleep. I hurt my toe – make the pain go away. Whereas, God’s perspective is infinite, and it extends way beyond our life here on earth. His perspective is no less than our communion with Him in Paradise for all eternity. When you compare the two you begin to understand one of the tools that satan uses to keep us separated from God. If satan can keep us distracted with the here and now – the moments of pain and pleasure – of suffering and self-gratification – we become less focused on what God’s plan for us truly is – nothing less than eternal salvation in Paradise. Now God knows what he is up against when it comes to the distractions of the here and now. Much like a parent knows the consequences of allowing a child’s focus to remain continually on TV, the internet, social media, sports, or whatever. Sometimes as parents we need to refocus our kids with actions that may, at the time appear unfair, but in the long run benefit our children immeasurably. Remember, God ALWAYS has our best interest in mind no matter what the cost may be in this life. (Summary: God’s perspective is infinite – ours is negligible.)
So how does God’s plan justify pain and suffering? The answer here, too, requires faith and trust in God, as it does when a parent is teaching a child to ride a bicycle without training wheels, holding on to the seat and then suddenly letting the child go. Yes, the child may fall but there are those brief moments when the child rides freely, moments which become minutes, than the child rides freely and wonders why they ever needed the training wheels – and how right Dad was! Now, our salvation comes through our savior Jesus Christ. Salvation through Christ can be simply stated, although difficult to achieve: Be like Christ. Or, as St. Paul wrote, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:5). Become more Christ-like every day. Ask yourself, ‘What would Jesus do?’ And although you may not achieve perfection in this life, moving towards it assures you a place in the next.
So how does a tragedy say, like the illness or death of a loved one help us to become more like Christ? Well, when you begin to think about it, at what times in your life have you been the most vulnerable, the most compassionate, the most forgiving? When is our perspective the sharpest? When are we most removed from the material and our worldly possessions? When do we care the least about our ‘stuff’? When do we rely on God’s help the most? When are we the least proud? When are we more focused on the needs of others? When do our relationships with one another come to the forefront? When are we closest? In short, when we are the most like Christ? Life’s great irony is that tragedy brings us closer to one another. (Think 9-11) It mends broken fences. Pain and suffering gets your attention like nothing else, and it changes your life. And God knows that most of us need to change our lives in order to obtain salvation. (“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis)
So in essence, no earthly tragedy is suffered in vain. Each serves God’s purpose when we view it from His perspective. Each suffering generates compassion and reminds us to remain focused on the needs of others as we pass through this life to the next. As strange as it may sound to some of you, I have even become somewhat comforted that one day my own death may help someone to do the same, to become more Christ-like and therefore closer to God. That, for me, would justify my being. For in the end we are all here to serve God and one another.