Thursday, May 26

THE ANCHORESS AND HER READERS TACKLE A DIFFICULT SUBJECT: THE MYSTERY OF SUFFERING

Greg at "What Attitude Problem?" points in this post to a "fascinating conversation" that I, in fact, was following yesterday at "The Anchoress" -- a back-and-forth exploration of the mystery of suffering and whether or not a painless civilization is something devoutly to be wished or if there is a concomitant "loss of our humanity," as The Anchoress avers, in striving to be free of all "discomfort" and "inconvenience." Leave it to The Anchoress to tackle such complex theological, philisophical, and ethical themes. Of course, that's precisely why she has such a large following: she puts her heart, mind, and soul into her writing, and her writing is first-rate. Do take a look at the "Comments" thread that forms this "fascinating conversation" that will challenge you to ponder your own views and their antecedents grounded in life's experiences.

I, for one, do not want to live my life in an anesthesized condition, free of pain, heartache, discomfort, inconvenience, or any of those elements that comprise the "human condition" and give life meaning. What is a movie, a novel, a biography, or a song without an expression of the range of experiences -- good and bad -- that comprise a human life on this earth? Who would seek the soporific ennui of a life devoid of those elements, some hurtful and some sublime, that mark human existence and separate us from the rest of living creatures?

Where I stumble, where I struggle to reconcile my religious faith with the woof and warp of life and living is in the suffering of the innocents -- the pain and suffering indifferently meted out to so many of the pre-born, the babies, the toddlers, and the adolescents in our world. I was taught as a Catholic that God is omniscient and omnipotent, so it only follows that I must ask why an all-knowing and all-powerful God would create a universe in which his most noble creation -- man -- endures so much hunger, illness, and suffering (even premature death) before even reaching an age in which the mind can at least endeavor to reconcile such afflictions and infirmities with the soul.

The answer always given to me, both when I have suffered and when those I love have suffered, is it's the mystery of faith. That's when for me theology collides with humanity, and I'm often left utterly confused and feeling hopelessly abandoned to a cold, indifferent cosmos.

How have I come to reconcile the pain I would never inflict on innocents with the pain and suffering they so often experience in this world of God's making? I tell myself that it is because we try so desperately to understand God in an anthropocentric way, with these thorny questions of ours springing from and shaped by our own humanity -- our human condition -- rather than from God's purpose in creating us. It simply cannot be done. That's why, in religious terms, faith must conquer reason, because human beings can come to know God, but not comprehend Him. When he sent his only begotten Son to Earth, he invested Jesus with our own humanity, so that God's love translated in terms we could better understand with our own need for redemption. But that does not mean that God retains human elements and feels our pain or our heartache or is moved to intervene. Maybe it's as simple as we can never appreciate the world he offers us through all of eternity without coming to understand first what imperfection truly is.

And how many of us, despite all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, would ask that we make the journey to Heaven before first partaking of the range of experiences here on Earth? Is that not why we cry at funerals? Is that not why a child's death is so grievous?