Why am I suffering? Or worse yet, why is my loved one having to go through such suffering? Each one of us has probably asked these questions at one time or another. Unfortunately, we have no simple answer as to why God—who we know is faithful and good, who created us out of love—would also allow us to struggle, suffer, and grieve. All we can honestly say is that we don’t really know.
But that’s not the end of the story. Because Jesus himself suffered a harsh death so that we could be saved, we know that suffering can have meaning; it can be used by God in some way for good. And when we are going through hard times, we can look at Jesus on the cross and know that we are not suffering alone or in vain, even when we don’t understand the reason for it.
In this issue, we want to explore how, with the strength of the Lord, we can cope with our trials. We also want to suggest some strategies to help us persevere when we are enduring hard times. No human life is free from trials—whether that’s difficulties at work, struggles with family members, health or financial problems, the loss of loved ones, or natural disasters and accidents. But because Jesus is close to us, we can stand firm through hard times in a way that glorifies God and gives witness to his life in us.
Discipleship and Suffering. There’s a natural tendency to want to avoid or minimize suffering in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. Unfortunately, the desire to have a trouble-free, happy life can allow a kind of “contract mentality” to creep into our hearts and minds that goes something like this: “As long as I’m a good Christian, as long I honestly seek to obey God’s commandments, he will bless my family or at least protect us from bad circumstances.” Yet we only have to turn to the Scriptures to know that this is not a biblical view—and it’s not what happened to most of those who chose to follow the Lord!
Just look at prophets like Moses, Ezekiel, Hosea, or Jeremiah. All suffered while they sought with all of their hearts to do God’s will. And Jesus’ resurrection didn’t prevent the early Christians from suffering. In fact, the apostles suffered greatly. Eventually, many were martyred.
Even without persecution or martyrdom, every disciple of Jesus will go through some type of suffering as we follow the Lord. Jesus himself warned us, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, emphasis added). Discipleship involves putting others ahead of ourselves. It involves obedience to the Lord’s will, day in and day out. In short, discipleship involves dying to self. No doubt that’s a struggle at times, but it’s what helps us to grow in holiness.
The Story of Job. But what about the suffering that seems to have no purpose or meaning? How do I deal with the death of a family member whom I love? Or why did I get fired when I worked hard and did nothing wrong? In these times, we can feel a lot like Job in the Old Testament.
For many years, Job had a blessed and happy life: he was healthy and prosperous, and he had a large, loving family. He sought to live for the Lord and was known to be “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8). But Satan thought Job’s righteousness was simply a response to God’s many blessings, so the Lord allowed Satan to test Job. If God’s blessings were taken away, would he still be faithful to God (1:12)?
And so Job lost his health, his family, and the respect of his friends (2:7). He couldn’t understand why he was suffering; he knew he was innocent. His friends tried to offer answers—sometimes simplistic answers—to his suffering. But the reason for his trials still wasn’t clear.
This is the case in our own lives as well. Sometimes we may think that when calamities happen, we must have sinned or displeased the Lord. Of course, at times we may suffer from the result of poor choices. But often our trials seem to have no rhyme or reason. And it is in these times that we need to seek the Lord’s presence.
This can be difficult; not even Job was able to do this at first. But when Job did cry out in his anguish, the Lord revealed himself to this suffering man. He showed himself to be the almighty, all-powerful God who had created the universe and who had created Job himself. As a result, Job finally began to discover hope.
The Lord is our Creator as well. Every blessing in your entire life has come from him. He not only created you, but he has walked with you through blessed days, and he continues to walk with you through the storms of your life. You might not be able to understand why you are suffering. But you can hold fast to the fact that our God is good and faithful and that he loves you every minute, even when you are not faithful. You might not understand why you are suffering, but you can proclaim with Job, “By hearsay I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you” (42:5).
Suffering Redeemed. As Christians, we know that suffering, whatever the reason for it, never has the final word. Why? Because through his passion and death, Jesus brought life to all of us. Our Father used the greatest suffering to bring about the greatest good. And he can use your suffering to bring about good as well.
The Lord never actively sends difficulties our way. But we live in a fallen world, and God can use our trials to help us grow. Our hardships help us draw closer to the Lord whenever we spend time pouring out our hearts to him in prayer. In fact, it may be during times of suffering that we experience God’s love most keenly; we may sense that he is with us. This is why the psalmist assures us that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (34:19). So if you are going through trials, the Lord is close to you in a special way. You are not alone, even if you have felt very much alone. And even when God is silent and you have to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), you can trust that the Lord is truly with you and cares for you.
Our own trials often help us to grow in love, empathy, and compassion, which inspires us to reach out to other people who are also undergoing trials. When that happens, our suffering has made us more like Jesus. We may also experience God’s love through the love, care, and intercessory prayers of those around us. This is another way God uses suffering: to knit together and build up the body of Christ.
Finally, God gives us the opportunity to offer up our suffering for the needs of other people. When we join our own pain to his on the cross, he redeems it: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). Every tear we shed, every pain we experienced, can be offered to the Lord. As our faith teaches us, “By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1505). God wastes nothing—not even our trials!
The Joy That Is before Us. Ultimately, suffering is a mystery. We can’t explain it in any satisfactory way. But we can try to view our lives from God’s perspective. Suffering can help us look beyond the immediate and the earthly to the eternal, when “God will wipe away every tear” from our eyes (Revelation 7:17). It may even lessen our fear of death, as we anticipate that day when we will be ushered into heaven and all our pain and suffering will be no more.
“For the sake of the joy that lay before him [Jesus] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). By God’s grace, we can do the same! We don’t have to just grit our teeth and bear it when we are in the midst of trials. The Holy Spirit will lift us up to the very heart of God our Father. In those moments, with St. Paul, we can proclaim that "this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And to that we can say, “Amen, Alleluia!”