And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me (Mat 1:38).
“THE POWER OF PAIN
Pain is one of our great supernatural resources. That statement is out of line with our usual pattern of thought. We are accustomed to viewing pain as an unmitigated evil. For some persons, the existence of pain even is a source of temptation against their religious faith. ‘If God is good,’ they ask, ‘why does He permit suffering, particularly so much innocent suffering?’
‘IF GOD IS GOOD,’ THEY ASK, ‘WHY DOES HE PERMIT SUFFERING?’
Thoughtful people realise that we could not have the world we do have, without suffering. A great amount of suffering is caused by man’s own inhumanity to man. To prevent this, God would have to make man a puppet, with God pulling the strings on each man’s actions. Being no longer free, man would cease to be human.
FREE WILL AND CREATION AS WE KNOW IT
Similarly, to eliminate all pain caused by nature, God would have had a different kind of world. Fire burns. Coal tars initiate cancer. Gravity crushes. Electricity kills. The world could not be our world, as we know it, without pain.
Still, after all possible explanations of pain have been made, there does remain a large element of mystery in this question of suffering. For example, why deadly microbes, why poisonous reptiles?
THERE DOES REMAIN A MYSTERY
It helps a little to remember that God’s plan for the universe encompasses billions of years. Our own world with its pain is but one pinpoint in that vast plan and only one moment in those uncounted eons. How the phenomenon of pain may eventually contribute to God’s over-all design, we must await to discover.
‘GREATER LOVE THAN THIS NO MAN HAS, THAT ONE LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS’
The really important truth about pain, for the Christian, is the fact that it does have a meaning in the here and now. In Eden God gave to suffering its value as an atonement for sin. On Calvary Jesus Christ gave to suffering its ultimate nobility as He expressed, in the language of pain, God’s infinite love for man. ‘Greater love than this no man has, that one lay down his life for his friends.’
SHARING THE SUBLIME FRUIT OF SUFFERING
Jesus did not hoard to Himself this sublime fruit of suffering, this ability to make one’s pain count for others. In His scheme of salvation, our Lord has chosen to share with us His redemptive work. Each of us who has been baptised in Christ has the privilege of helping Him to carry His cross. Each of us has the power to atone by our sufferings for the sins of others and to crack the locks on hearts that have been closed to God’s grace.
‘WHO NOW REJOICE IN MY SUFFERINGS FOR YOU, AND FILL UP THAT WHICH IS LACKING IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST IN MY FLESH FOR HIS BODY’S SAKE, WHICH IS THE CHURCH’ (Colossians 1:24)
Whatever pain may be our lot, in honesty we must admit, ‘I deserve this for my sins.’ Only an innocent child can truthfully say, ‘I do not deserve to suffer.’ If God’s justice were not tempered with mercy and if we had to pay the full price of our infidelities, we should be living our whole lives in pain.
However, when suffering does come to us, it would be a mistake to conclude, ‘I am being punished for my sins.’ God is not a vindictive God. He may permit us to suffer for our spiritual good and to better assure our eternal happiness, but He does not send suffering to ‘get even’ with us for our offences against Him.
MOST SUFFERING IS THE INEVITABLE RESULT OF LIVING IN THE KIND OF WORLD THAT IS OURS
In fact, it probably is quite rarely that God positively ‘sends’ suffering to anyone. Most suffering, such as disease or accident, is simply the result of natural causes; or, it is the result of the evil will of fellow humans. Most suffering, in other words, is the inevitable result of living in the kind of a world that is ours.
If God does ‘send’ suffering, it is more likely to be to a saint than to a sinner. The saint is better qualified to use suffering unselfishly for the salvation of others.
‘I OFFER THIS CROSS, BELOVED JESUS, IN UNION WITH YOURS’
Suffering comes in all styles and sizes. It may be a simple headache, a slight cold or a minor disappointment. It may be the excruciating agony of cancer or of acute arthritis, or the mental distress of deep despondency or loneliness.
Whatever our particular pain may be, it will be a tragic waste if we refuse or forget to say, ‘I offer this cross, beloved Jesus, in union with Yours. I offer it for my own sins and especially in atonement for the sins of others. Let my suffering bring another soul to You!'”
– Fr Leo J. Trese, 1966 (text within the inverted commas; capital headings added afterwards).
(see also Mt 5:2-12)