WHY MUST I SUFFER?
by Francis Remler
(Loreto, 2003, 96 pages, $22.00. Available from AD Books)
The problem of suffering has been with us for as long as mankind has been around. Job wrestled with the issue over two millennia ago. It is the theme of art, literature, philosophy, and religion.
There has been no shortage of reflection on the problem of pain and evil, and especially of what seems to be gratuitous suffering. All people grapple with these questions, although theists especially struggle with the problem. The trick is to harmonise a concept of God which pictures him as all loving and all powerful, with the tremendous amount of evil and suffering in the world.
Does God not care? Is he not powerful enough to prevent suffering? Is God not really good? Is suffering really just an illusion? Many questions arise. Christian thinkers struggle with the problem just like anyone else, but the central answer for the Christian is Jesus Christ. He not only was he the supreme example of innocent suffering, but he provided a way to deal with pain and evil.
That knowledge does not take the sting out of suffering, nor does it answer all our questions. Thus books from Christian publishers continue to pour forth on this subject. Helpful recent Protestant titles include A Grief Observed and The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, and, Where is God When it Hurts? by Philip Yancey. Helpful recent Catholic treatments would include Peter Kreeft's Making Sense Out of Suffering.
Father Remler provides concisely the traditional Christian understandings of suffering with a Catholic readership in mind. For example, we suffer because of original sin; we suffer because of the consequence of bad choices; we suffer temporal punishment or chastisement for our sins.
What may be among the more important reasons is that we suffer to make us more like our Saviour. He is, after all, the suffering Servant, and as disciples of Christ, we are to follow in his footsteps. Becoming a believer does not exempt one from suffering. Christ walked the path of suffering, and so must we.
There has been a long tradition in Christian history of speaking of the value of suffering in terms of soul-making with Christian character developed through the furnace of affliction. To be conformed to the image of God's Son is our highest calling.
This volume ends with a brief look at some past saints and their suffering, and concludes with another look at Jesus Christ, the man of sorrows. If this book reminds believers to keep their eyes fixed on eternity, and weans them from the cares and corruptions of this world, it will have performed a worthwhile task.
Bill Muehlenberg is the National Vice-President of the Australian Family Association and is a Baptist.