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6/2/2013 4:50:00 PM
Questions about suffering
Catholic News Service
An aerial photo taken April 25 shows a block of destroyed residences near the site of a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
Catholic News Service
An aerial photo taken April 25 shows a block of destroyed residences near the site of a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

Catholic News Service


Here is an unsigned editorial titled "Questions about suffering" from the April 24 issue of The Tablet, Brooklyn's diocesan newspaper.

Suddenly and devastatingly, last month's explosions shattered the lives of innocent people and raised serious questions that are not easily answered. Four much-loved people, one a young child, were killed in the Boston incident and, as currently accounted for, 14 in the heart of Texas, 11 of whom were emergency responders (three in training!), as they rushed bravely into the ominous plume of smoke preceding the blast.

In both cases, well over 150 suffered physical injuries, many resulting in the loss of limbs and the use of vital organs. The emotional scars and the spiritual stumbling blocks are unfathomable.

Like many other people of good faith, our first response as Christians in the face of such suffering is to bring solace to the injured. We pray. We bind up. We cry and grieve with the sorrowing; we assure them that they are not alone.

The doctors, nurses and other caregivers who responded so selflessly and tirelessly affirm the fundamental goodness of human beings, even as we are aware that evidence of human negligence and downright evil is likely to increase as the causes are investigated. Whatever the outcome, we do not give in to hatred or despair.

The physical consequences of massive explosions such as these are not mitigated by an analysis of their causes. Yet, we all want to know why. As human beings, we look for reasons. Why did this happen? Who or what was responsible?

The Texas explosion remains under investigation. Two suspects were found who perpetrated the Boston massacre, one killed. Should it surprise us when a culture that tolerates some individuals and institutions going about, as a matter of right, the callous and systematic destruction of pre-born human beings, that puts at greatest risk the weakest members of our human family -- the poor, the aging, the physically and mentally handicapped -- will empower others to assert their cause just as violently, also as a matter of right?

German theologian Dorothee Soelle, in her book, "Suffering," asks us point-blank whose side we think God was on in the concentration camps -- that of the murderers or that of the victims. The most important question that we need to ask about suffering, she suggests, is whom it serves. "Does our suffering," she writes, "serve God or the devil, the cause of becoming alive or being morally paralyzed?" Not so much the question of where it comes from as to where it leads.

In the end, whether suffering is caused by bad luck or bad people, we also need to know what meaning it might have. We may not yet be ready for the answer to the question -- which leads to the future -- while we are fixated on the question of whose fault it was -- which looks to the past.

Ultimately, however, we will have to ask ourselves whether we will allow these terrible events -- one of which is quite patently a malevolent act of terrorism and the other, apparently, a hapless disaster -- to strengthen our love for what we live for or our hatred for what we are against. Can we really avoid the choice?

The Christian martyrs never loved death or suffering in themselves and for their own sake. We do not exalt the Roman instrument of torture, the crucifix in itself, as possessing any redemptive value. Great suffering, however, even the evil infliction of violence itself, became for Christ (decisively) -- and now for all empowered by him (by participation) -- the occasion to affirm the love and mercy of a good God.

Whatever else the diabolical forces of darkness and evil might marshal to destroy our lives, let them never deter us from witnessing to the power of love to heal, console and affirm the goodness of human life -- life at all stages, without exception, especially at its most innocent and defenseless.



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Mary Jo Tully ~ The Path to Resurrection

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