To many, it appears God is absent when cities are pummeled and lives are shattered.
Recently it seems like nature has some sort of grudge against humanity. With multiple hurricanes affecting millions of lives, wildfires ravaging the countryside, and massive earthquakes adding to the death toll, it can appear to some that God is taking a vacation.
In such situations it is natural to ask, “Why so much suffering? Why all this destruction?”
St. John Paul II wrote a lengthy letter on this topic entitled Salvifici Doloris, in which he writes, “Within each form of suffering endured by man, and at the same time at the basis of the whole world of suffering, there inevitably arises the question: why?”
He comments further, saying, “One cannot fail to notice the fact that in this world, at some periods of time and in some eras of human existence, [suffering] becomes particularly concentrated. This happens, for example, in cases of natural disasters, epidemics, catastrophes, upheavals and various social scourges.”
What we have witnessed recently is certainly not something new in the history of the world and has been a reality since the very beginning. Humans have suffered in countless ways and it is a difficult topic to grapple with.
The Book of Job is probably the most famous biblical example of this type of concentrated suffering. Almost every possible evil happens to Job and he loses everything. Yet, through it all he remains faithful, persevering in the midst of such intense suffering.
While some may believe that these recent catastrophes are due to human sins, the Book of Job shows us something different. John Paul II explains, “While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment.” Job was a righteous man, yet he still suffered greatly.
John Paul II reveals that if we want to discover the “true answer to the ‘why’ of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the ‘why’ of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.”
Jesus Christ came into this world and suffered for us. He took upon himself the wood of the cross and consoles us in our own sufferings. Yet, he also invites us to join him on the cross, to pick up our own crosses and follow him. He invites us to participate in an emptying of ourselves, suffering with him for the salvation of the world.
John Paul II confirms this when he writes, “And all those who suffer have been called once and for all to become sharers ‘in Christ’s sufferings,’ just as all have been called to ‘complete’ with their own suffering ‘what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.’ At one and the same time Christ has taught man to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this double aspect he has completely revealed the meaning of suffering.”
In the end, suffering is a mystery we cannot fully understand and some will struggle with it for the rest of their lives. The important part is to look at Jesus on the cross in the midst of our sufferings and to unite our suffering with his. Only then can we find God in the mist of such catastrophes. When we have lost everything, Jesus invites us in love to be with him, suffering on the cross for the sake of the world.