As a high school theology teacher, I’m always on the lookout for lock-tight rational arguments that can defend the Church’s validity and the reality of Jesus as the Son of God. I’m profoundly aware of the confusion that a skeptical culture places in the minds of our young people in their quest for truth. Because of this, I want so desperately to show them the obvious rationality of each of the Church’s teachings. I just want them to know how much it makes sense.
This endeavor becomes most difficult in the face of the problem of evil and suffering. Even after many of my best classroom arguments for evil as a privation, and the prevalence of suffering as a result of the Fall and our own sinful choices, etc., some of my students retain a look of discomfort and confusion, revealing the lack of satisfaction their intellect has found in the face of my best rational offerings.
Although I’m sure some of this is a result of ineffective pedagogy, I think more of this is due to the chaotic and deeply dysfunctional nature of evil and suffering. Pain is jarring because it seems to fly in the face of God’s nature. Our feeble intellects and broken wills quiver in the face of pain; we think if it exists then God cannot be both all-loving and all-powerful.
It can be easy to sit in my armchair, locked in my ivory tower, and wax poetic about the philosophical basis for suffering as rooted in the sinful choices of the will, but when confronted by the very real and tangible suffering of individuals, those answers seem a paltry and inadequate balm to their bleeding hearts.
This is why I loved Francis’ off-the-cuff homily to typhoon survivors in the Philippines back in January. His remark is worth offering in full here. He said, “I don’t know what to say to you, but the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart.”
In the Golden Age of Internet Apologetics, it’s possible to begin to confront the reality of evil and suffering as only the Problem of Evil. Pope Francis, on the other hand, provides us with a witness to a deeply human response to evil. The God who is silent on Good Friday also calls us sometimes to simply be silent in the face of evil. It is this silence, this lack of a need to spout the right answers that actually reveals our deepest hope and faith in the absolute faithfulness of God.
The individuals who I’ve seen deal with suffering best are always those who possess a seemingly irrational, recklessly blind ability to cling to their trust in the Father in the midst of life’s greatest turmoil. They refuse to renounce what they know about God in the face of what appears to be painfully contrary evidence.
Faith is never truly blind. We have a great number of very clear reasons to trust in God as an all-loving Father, even in the face of suffering. Chief amongst these is the incarnate witness of His Son, Jesus Christ, who proved that witness to be utterly trustworthy by laying down His life for it and then rising from the dead. It’s not a lock-tight philosophical solution that gives comfort to the sorrowful heart, but a relationship with Jesus that enables us to believe that He is present even in the darkest situations.
The complete outpouring of the Son is God’s final answer to the problem of suffering. The mystery of suffering, before which we can sometimes only be silently reverent, is contained in the cry of Jesus on Good Friday, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Seemingly a despairing cry, it is actually one of deepest hope. Jesus’ pain doesn’t cause Him to recoil and mistrustfully hide from the Father, but to instead present the mystery of His pain (and ours) to an all-powerful and all-loving God who redeems suffering and conquers evil.