Only God’s love can propel our pain to being purposeful

If God loves us, there should be no suffering and afflictions. This may sound right, but I’m afraid that this is also a wrong conclusion to bad and incorrect theology.

It is so commonplace to find atheists coming up with this argument against the existence of God – that if he exists, and if he is indeed a God of love and goodness, then the very existence of turmoil and suffering and anxiety in life proves that God does not exist. This is the same trite argument over and over again in the vitriol that goes on in comments made by angry atheists on the Internet whenever someone makes a reference to God’s love or providence in life.

I guess to be fair, it is a logical conclusion to arrive at if one’s notion of God is one whose raison d’etre is diametrically opposed to sin, suffering, pain and fear. God’s very omnipotence then should also render him being capable of obliterating all traces of things that he detests. For these pundits, omnipotence equals Omni control. I do understand this kind of logic, but it is a flawed logic.

Why is this flawed? Because it fails to appreciate that omnipotence is God’s Omni potential to love as well, and the greatest display of love is when one is given full freedom to accept or reject this love. Our given freedom by God our Father has a corollary – the freedom of the beloved to return the love given by the lover in total and true freedom – without any coercion, force, compulsion or manipulation. It is when we are unable or refuse to return the love given to us that turns us inwardly unto ourselves and hence to sin.

Someone asked me recently that she understood my theodicy but has problems when she herself encounters situations of pain, anxieties and tensions even when in a state of grace, making us feel unhappy. Does not God want our happiness? Why then are we not happy all the time? Why is this so?

Again, this is a ‘wrong’ question, but a good one to ask. It was Fr Ronald Rolheiser who once said that asking ourselves if we are happy is akin to torturing ourselves. Asking this question doesn’t bring much solace to our aching souls simply because none of us lives perfectly fulfilled lives. All of our lives are quite simply “unfinished symphonies” as Karl Rahner once famously said. There are always areas in our lives that are mourning, where we are hungering for something that cannot be satiated. Fr Rolheiser astutely challenges us to not ask if our lives are happy, but to ask ourselves if our lives have meaning.

This is a deep question simply because “meaning” requires us to go deep into our very hearts, while “happy” is superficial, doesn’t have as much depth nor asks of us to enter into the silent chambers of our hearts and interior life which usually goes unexamined.

I imagine myself to the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion, climbing up next to him and ask him if he was happy being nailed there on the Cross, slowly suffocating and bleeding profusely from his wounds. I am quite certain that the answer would be no. There is no happiness in undergoing such immense shame, ignominy and agony. But Jesus would say that what he is undergoing is extremely meaningful. It teaches the world just how expansive and inclusive God’s love is for all of humanity, loving even those who were responsible for this heinous murder of God. There is meaning in showing the value in longsuffering and sacrifice and non-violence. These don’t necessarily provide for happiness in the way that the world knows happiness. But because they are signposts and sacraments of how deep God’s love and mercy are, they are indeed meaningful.

Happiness can be superficial and fleeting, and indeed it often is. This is partly because happiness has much to do with feelings, which are strong and passionate on Monday but cold and limp on Tuesday.

But what provides for meaning and purpose prevails.

Posted by Fr Luke Fong

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