08 September 2008

More Questions: Does God Will ANY Suffering?

[[Dear Sister O'Neal. Again, thanks for your response. It is clear you don't believe God causes chronic illness, nor that he actively wills it. Do you believe that ANY suffering is the will of God?]]

Actually, I do believe that God wills some suffering. This would include forms of suffering that are simply part and parcel of being (or becoming) authentically human on and in their journey towards union with God. Such a journey involves struggle and struggle involves suffering. For instance, loneliness would be a form of suffering I think God wills because it causes us to be open to others, to our own sense that we are not isolated or non-relational monads. It also underscores the gift quality of the love relationships we share in; these are not things which are necessary (in the technical sense of that word). That is, they might not have been and in fact they might not be again. Above all this "existential" or "ontological" loneliness marks us a made in the image of the Triune God, relational and made for love in all aspects of our being --- solitary (eremitical) as our lives might also be.

I think that some non-pathological forms of anxiety are normal and willed by God, not only because such anxiety marks us as incomplete and finite of ourselves and also opens us to those things which bring comfort and actual joy, but because we find creative outlets for it. The peace of Christ is not the numbness that can come with drugs or other forms of artificial distraction, etc. It includes a kind of anxiety, a yearning for more, a sense of being made-for more and challenged to embrace it. Similarly, temptation is part and parcel of the human situation (temptation is clearly present in Scripture prior to sin) and leads either to sin or to self-transcendence. Of itself temptation is neutral but it can serve life and spiritual maturity.

Even death itself (the greatest cause of anxiety) is intended by God. But this is, as I referred to in my earlier post, death-as-transition, not sinful, godless, death-unto-oblivion. We are made for eternity. It is death as limit (and this includes all the limits of contingent being we meet each and every day) that reminds us we have but one life which we are called to live and in which we are called to achieve authentic humanity. We are made for eternity, and God sustains us eternally, but growth into authentic graceful humanity is a task we have only a limited time to complete. We need the spur of death to put things into perspective, to remind us who God is and who he is for us, who we really are and what the ultimate challenge before us is. But note well here that ordinary death does not call attention to itself, it does not serve itself. (Sinful death is a different matter.) Ordinary transitional death witnesses to the eternal "more" or fullness and abundant life we are called to. This is true with each of the forms of "existential" suffering I have referred to here. None of them call attention to themselves. They all witness to something other and more than suffering itself. They are life-serving and it is this that predominates.

What I think we cannot do is make a religion out of suffering. Our experience of the God of life and wholeness, the God who enters our existence exhaustively, must be what puts suffering in perspective, not vice versa. The living God can use suffering and transform it with his presence, but he does not wield it like a weapon nor does he send it directly; some of it it is built into the situation and structure of human life and is necessary for growth and development in authenticity and maturity. Other suffering is the result of sin and evil per se and we especially cannot trivialize this by minimizing its reality as evil and an example of the absurd. Especially we cannot attribute such evil to God. Ultimately, as those who proclaim the Gospel of the God of Jesus Christ however, our witness is to be to life, to wholeness and holiness, and to all the ways God empowers transcendence, not to suffering per se whether that suffering is existential or the result of sin.