“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” Matthew 6,34
In a recent survey on religious attitudes, more than 60% of those who responded said that, in the wake of Covid, their faith had been challenged. Many shared that their faith in God, in light of present suffering, was shaken. If, in the Lord Jesus, we have such a good and generous Shepherd, how is it that pain and suffering remain so constant in our lives?
Well, let’s remind ourselves that any discussion of hardship, challenge, and suffering would not be complete or even make sense if it were not for the Resurrection of Jesus. As St. Paul wrote: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are, of all people, most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15,14.19). If the Cross were the end of the story, we would be left where we began. Suffering would still seem meaningless and we would be left in a state of hopelessness. The mystery of the Redemption, which is actually rooted in hardship and suffering, does not end in those. In what is really the end, love triumphs.
So, Jesus brings suffering into what we can call “a new dimension,” the dimension of love, salvific love. The Son of God strikes evil at its very root, conquering sin and death with the power of love. He conquers sin by His obedience unto death, and He overcomes death by His Resurrection.
In His passion, Jesus took all human suffering upon Himself. He gave it a new meaning. He used suffering to accomplish the work of salvation. He used it for good. His love transformed suffering so that this awful reality might become a power for good. Suffering, thus, now has a saving power. And that is how we, as Christians, can find meaning and purpose in suffering, whereas before we might have thought it was totally useless.
Again, we do not give a merely abstract answer to the difficult question of why God permits hardship and suffering. Our answer is very concrete. The answer is a Person, Jesus Christ, and His Cross and Resurrection. Because of Him, we can even speak of such challenges as a call, a vocation. St. John Paul II wrote: “Before all else Christ says: ‘Follow me’ ‘Come!’ Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering … through my Cross! Gradually, as the individual takes up the Cross, becoming spiritually united to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed. One does not discover this meaning on the human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. At the same time, however, from this level of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering descends to our level and becomes, in a sense, the individual’s personal response. It is then that we find, in our suffering, interior peace and even spiritual joy.” So, today and always, seek first the Kingdom of God and repeat often: “Jesus, I trust in you.”
For a Biblical perspective, watch Bishop Robert Barron on Suffering: https://youtu.be/pfK5xYK0EzQ