SUFFERING AND NOBILITY PT.  III

 

       Suffering that is granted by God, is a privilege, being always a clear indication of God's special treatment of the soul; it is His invitation to enter into the abyss of divine mystery; it is to partake in the salvational work with Christ. And so, "Love unites a person with the beloved, in the desire to share the other's lot. Is there a mother who, faced with the suffering of her child, would rather be a mere onlooker than suffer with her child? How much more, then, ought this to be the attitude of a person before God, who has suffered for our sins! If Jesus has suffered for the Christian, ought not the Christian desire to share Jesus' sufferings? Scripture assures us that the Christian can and does share his suffering" (God, the Father of Mercy, p. 89). Sufferings thus are the necessary grounds, footings, and keystones which lead to greater knowledge, faith, hope, courage and more remarkably to fuller experience of love: "suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a 'civilization of love.'" For human beings are incapable of fully finding themselves without giving voluntarily and entirely (and without compensation) of themselves. The significance of suffering can be grasped only through love, and the more human beings share in God's love, they rediscover themselves more thoroughly and completely in suffering: they discover and rebuild their souls, which they deemed "forfeited" because of suffering and because of their deliberate disobedience to the known will of God. Suffering in the union with Christ has as a consequence receiving from Christ inestimable strength and also brings about the completing in the sufferings of Christ or "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." This does not mean however, that Christ's Redemption was incomplete; it denotes rather that the redemptive possibility effectuated through powerful enough or adequate love remains always unclosed and allowable to those who wish to unite their sufferings with Christ's salvific sufferings. Sufferings are not only allowed because of love, but love is also the fons et origo - the foundation and the meaning of everything that is in existence, and hence the greatest reservoir of the meaning for suffering, being the "fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This answer has been given by God to man in the cross of Jesus Christ" (On Christian...). Put differently, sufferings expose the intrinsic and indispensable properties that characterize the theology of redemption - known as Christian soteriology. Soteriological or redemptive undertaking has as a purpose liberation from evil and as such will be always connected with suffering, since at the basis of human suffering there is an intricate relation with evil. Therefore, "The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil (lost of eternal life) and against definitive suffering," liberating human beings from sin and death and consequentially furnishing for humanity holiness, eschatological hope, and eternal life. By His voluntary and innocent sufferings Christ provides for humanity the supreme answer and solution to the insoluble and difficult problem of suffering: "Christ gives the answer to the question about suffering and the meaning of suffering not only by His teaching, that is, by the Good News, but most of all by His own suffering, which is integrated with this teaching of the Good News in an organic and indissoluble way. And this is the final, definitive word of this teaching: 'the word of the cross,' as Saint Paul one day will say" (On Christian..., p. 27). God in His providential plan furnished for each human person his/her own share in the Redemption and hence share in the redemptive suffering of Christ. Through faith human beings perceptibly and progressively are able to esteem more fittingly the unprecedented significance of the redemptive sufferings of Christ, and also through faith they acquire fuller understanding into the meaning of their own suffering, finding them imperative and substantive. "Suffering must serve for conversions, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially God" (On Christian..., p. 17).

       Sufferings, not only impel to question and examine the most essential aspects of human existence but also the purest and greatest sufferings lead, again, to purity of supernatural knowledge and love. Sufferings supported by faith, hope and most importantly love, lead to the resurrection, that is, the rising from the old natural self and returning to the new whole self or the true life. And, the purest sufferings are those which entail the following essential elements: the sufferer accepts them as gift from God; under no condition he/she complaints or protests because of them; does not inflict any form of pain to others because of them - does not sin because of them: "Let not the heart in sorrow sin," is unconditionally accepting of all pain; grows in faith, hope and love because of pain and makes an offering of his or her suffering to God for sanctification and salvation of the entire humankind - all souls both here on earth and in the afterlife.

       Sufferings become valuable and serviceable only if they are endured in faith, hope and most importantly in love; if they are accepted in love and are completely consecrated to God. Human beings who have the ability to sacrifice and suffer limitlessly are those who also ascend to limitless heights, and the purer the sacrifice and the purer the suffering the quicker the true progress. Saints are not those individuals who agree to suffer because they evince a particular fondness for suffering, some indeed may even detest suffering, nonetheless they love Christ so wholly that they allow their love for Him to be confirmed by any form of pain and tribulation. Thus, they agreeably exclaim that to "KNOW SUFFERING IS TO KNOW CHRIST." Suffering without faith, hope and love is loathsome, and purposeless; it is as Merton puts it, a "curse." It is wasted, as he continues for those who do not know Christ, those who suffer completely alone. The effects sufferings procure for the sufferers depend on how intensely they love and what they love. For if they do everything primarily from self-interested motives, they will find sufferings detestable. If they love others not even supernaturally in God, but are able to suffer for them, sufferings will ensure them some worthiness, strength and character. If however, they love God and their neighbor in God, they are willing to allow sufferings to annihilate everything that is not God in themselves - all that is fruitless and insignificant. If a person loves God, as mystics contend, suffering does not really matter for it is ultimately turned into joy. Sufferings become ineffectual, unusable and even destructive when they change love into its opposite, dispose to fear, lead to transgressions or when they cause us to become self-absorbed and experience helpless self-pity. As Merton pointedly explained: "But until we turn our wills to God, suffering leads nowhere, except to our own destruction." Mystics agree that for the sufferings to be fruitful, sufferers must endure all with love and no hate, even without speculation and rumination, without falling into temptation for vengeance, without the smallest retaliation, vindictiveness or compensation, and suffer without impatiently awaiting the end of sufferings. On numerous occasions Christ reminded His followers that sufferings ought to be appreciated and loved, and the more they are loved and appreciated, the more they please God. As Christ explained: "THE MORE YOU LOVE SUFFERINGS, THE PURER YOUR LOVE FOR ME BECOMES" (op. cit., Divine Mercy...) since again, refusal of certain sufferings is synonymous with inauthenticity of one's love. Useless sufferings are those that "are not benefiting others, are helping nothing at all, but rather are a burden both to others and to the sufferers themselves" (Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart, p. 122).

Christian Works by Dorothy Kardas, Psy.D. Th.D. 

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