Excerpt from Making Sense Out Of Suffering

Dr. Peter Kreeft, from Chapter 7

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College, and an apologist for the faith in the tradition of C. S. Lewis.  He has written a book on the problem of suffering entitled Making Sense out of Suffering.  What follows is most of Chapter 7 from this book. Dr. Ronald Enroth states unequivocally, "There will be a struggle with the question of why God allowed people to be ensnared" in a cultic group.  Dr. Paul Martin also identifies this issue:

"The cultic experience often results in a crisis of faith:  "How could God allow this to happen to me?"  "I must be horrible since I failed God and His plan for my life."... A need for meaning among these people is paramount.  The victim must be helped to regain a belief in self and the world that allows room for "bad things happening to good people."

Dr. Kreeft tackles this issue with his inimitable style and verve.


"Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ.  Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God or of ourselves."  Pascal

This is the most important chapter in this book, for it is the answer, the only adequate answer, to our problem of man's suffering and God's silence.  We are finally led not to the answer but to the Answerer....The answer must be someone, not just something.  For the problem (suffering) is about someone (God--why does he...why doesn't he...?) rather than just something.  To question God's goodness is not just an intellectual experiment. This is not merely the philosophers' "Why?"  It is rebellion or tears.  It is a little child with tears in its eyes looking up at daddy and weeping, "Why?"  Not only does it add the emotion of tears but also it is asked in the context of relationship.  It is a question put to the Father, not a question in a vacuum.

The hurt child needs not so much explanations as reassurance.  And that is what we get:  the reassurance of the Father in the person of Jesus, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9). 

The answer is not just a word but the Word; not an idea but a person...Besides being here, he is now. Besides being concretely real in our world, he, our answer, is also in our story, our history.  Our story is also his-story. The answer is not timeless truth but a once-for-all catastrophic event, as real as the stories in today's newspapers. God did not varnish over out sin and our suffering.  He came into it, like a dentist or a surgeon, to get it all out.  In fact, he became our garbage man. He touched and took away our garbage.  God became a man; we touched him, we handled him.  John the Evangelist begins his first letter in words that still tremble with awe at that fact:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands...(I Jn 1:1).

...The incarnation was the biggest shock in history.  Even his own people, whom he had prepared for two thousand years for this event, could not digest it: "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11).  Even his own disciples could not understand him. 

It was the unthinkable...that the eternal God should have a beginning in time, that the maker of Mary's womb should be made in Mary's womb; that the first one became second, the independent one became dependent as a little baby, dependent for his very earthly existence--not on 'the will of the flesh" but on the new Eve saying yes to the angel where the old Eve has said yes to the devil.

Even the devil did not expect this folly.  That God should step right into Satan's trap, Satan's world, Satan's game, the jaws of death on the cross; that he should give Satan the opportunity to cherish forever, in dark, satanic glee, the terrible words from God to God, "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?"--this was something "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived" (I Cor 2:9).  That God should take alienation away from man by inserting alienation into the very heart of God; that he should conquer evil by allowing it its supreme, unthinkable triumph...this is "the foolishness of God [that] is wiser than men, and the weakness of God [that] is stronger than men" (I Cor 1:25).

Calvary is judo.  The enemy's power is used to defeat him...And this very event, Satan's conclusion, was God's premise.  Satan's end was God's means.  It saved the world.

Christians celebrate the greatest evil and the greatest tragedy of all time as Good Friday.  In the symbolic language of Revelation, the meek little Lamb (arnion) defeats the great and terrible beast (therion) in the last battle, the fight for the heavyweight championship of the universe, by means of his own despoilment.  God won Satan's captives--us--back to himself by freely dying in our place.

It is, of course, the most familiar, the most often-told story in the world.  Yet it is also the strangest, and it has never lost its strangeness, its awe, and will not even in eternity, where angels tremble to gaze at things we yawn at.  And however strange, it is the only key that fits the lock of our tortured lives and needs.  We needed a surgeon, and he came and reached into our wounds with bloody hands.  He didn't give us a placebo or a pill or good advice.  He gave us himself.

He came. He entered space and time and suffering. He came, like a lover.  Love seeks above all intimacy, presence, togetherness.  Not happiness.  "Better unhappy with her than happy without her"--that is the word of a lover.  He came.  That is the salient fact, the towering truth, that alone keeps us from putting a bullet through our heads.  He came.  Job is satisfied even though the God who came gave him absolutely no answers at all to his thousand tortured questions.  He did the most important thing and gave the most important gift:  himself.  It is a lover's gift.  Out of our tears, our waiting, our darkness, our agonized aloneness, out of our weeping and wondering, out of our cry, "My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?" he came, all the way, right into that cry.

In coming into our world he came also into our suffering.  He sits beside us in the stalled car in the snow bank.  Sometimes he starts the car for us, but even when he doesn't, he is there.  That is the only thing that matters.  Who cares about cars and success and miracles and long life when you have God sitting beside you? 

He sits beside us in the lowest places of our lives, like water.  Are we broken?  He is broken with us.  Are we rejected?  Do people despise us not for our evil but for our good, or attempted good?  He was "despised and rejected of men."  Do we weep?  Is grief our familiar spirit, our horrifyingly familiar ghost? Do we say, "Oh, no, not again!  I can't take any more!"?  He was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." 

Do people misunderstand us, turn away from us?  They hid their faces from him as from an outcast, a leper. Is our love betrayed?  Are our tenderest relationships broken?  He too loved and was betrayed by the ones he loved.  "He came unto his own and his own received him not."  Does it seem sometimes as if life has passed us by or cast us out, as if we are sinking into uselessness and oblivion?  He sinks with us.  He too is passed over by the world. His way of suffering love is rejected...

How does he look upon us now?  With continual sorrow, but never with scorn. We add to his wounds...We, his beloved and longed for and passionately desired, are constantly cold and correct and distant to him.  And still he keeps brooding over the world like a hen over an egg, like a mother who has had all of her beloved children turn against her.  "Could a mother desert her young?  Even so I could not desert you." 

He sits beside us not only in our sufferings but even in our sins.  He does not turn his face from us, however much we turn our face from him.  He endures our spiritual scabs and scars, our sneers and screams, our hatreds and haughtiness, just to be with us.  Withness--that is the word of love.

Does he descend into all our hells? Yes. In the unforgettable line of Corrie ten Boom from the depths of a Nazi death camp, "No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still."...Does he descend into insanity?  Yes, into that darkness too.  Even into the insanity of suicide?  Can he be there too?  Yes he can.  "Even the darkness is not dark to him."  He finds or makes light even there, in the darkness of the mind--perhaps not until the next world, until death's release.

For the darkest door of all has been shoved open and light from beyond it has streamed into our world to light our way, since he has changed the meaning of death.  It is not merely that he rose from the dead, but that he changed the meaning of death, and therefore also of all the little deaths, all the sufferings that anticipate death and make up parts of it.  Death, like a cancer, seeps back into life.  We lose little bits of life daily--our health, our strength, our youth, our hopes, our dreams, our friends, our children, our lives--all these dribble away like water through our desperate, shaking fingers. Nothing we can do, not our best efforts, holds our lives together...The only hearts that do not break are the ones that are busily constructing little hells of loveless control, cocoons of safe, respectable selfishness to insulate themselves from the tidal waves of tears that comes sooner or later.

But he came into life and death, and he still comes.  He is still here...Love is why he came. It's all love.  The buzzing flies around the cross, the stroke of the Roman hammer as the nails tear into his screamingly soft flesh, the infinitely harder stroke of his own people's hammering hatred, hammering at his heart--why?  For love.  God is love, as the sun is fire and light, and he can no more stop loving than the sun can stop shining.

Henceforth, when we feel the hammers of life beating on our heads or on our hearts, we can know--we must know--that he is here with us, taking our blows.  Every tear we shed becomes his tear.  He may not yet wipe them away, but he makes them his.  Would we rather have our own dry eyes, or his tear-filled ones?  He came. He is here.  That is the salient fact. 

If he does not heal all our broken bones and loves and lives now, he comes into them and is broken, like bread, and we are nourished.  And he shows us that we can henceforth use our very brokenness as nourishment for those we love.  Since we are his body, we too are the bread that is broken for others.  Our very failures help heal other lives; our very tears help wipe away tears; our being hated helps those we love.  When those we love hang up on us, he keeps the lines open.  His withness with us enable us to be with those who refuse to be with us.

...All our sufferings are transformable into his work, our passion into his action.  That is why he instituted prayer, says Pascal:  to bestow on creatures the dignity of causality.  We are really his body; the Church is Christ as my body is me.  That is why Paul says his sufferings are making up in his own body what Christ has yet to endure in his boy (Col 1:24).

Thus God's answer to the problem of suffering not only really happened 2,000 years ago, but it is still happening in our own lives.  The solution to our suffering is our suffering!  All our suffering can become part of his work, the greatest work ever done, the work of salvation, of helping to win for those we love eternal joy.

How?  This can be done on one condition:  that we believe.  For faith is not just a mental choice within us; it is a transaction with him.  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one opens the door, I will come in and eat with him" Rev 3:20).  To believe, according to John's Gospel, is to receive (Jn 1:12), to receive what God has already done.  His part is finished ("It is finished," he said on the cross.)  Our part is to receive that work and let it work itself out in and through our lives, including our tears.  We offer it up to him, and he really take it and uses it in ways so powerful that we would be flattened with wonder if we knew them now.

You see, the Christian views suffering, as he views everything, in a totally different way, a totally different context, than the unbeliever.  He sees it and everything else as a between, as existing between God and himself, as a gift from God, an invitation from God, a challenge from God, something between God and himself.  Everything is revitalized.  I do not relate to an object and keep God in the background somewhere; God is the object that I relate to.  Everything is between us and God.  Nature is no longer just nature, but creation, God's creation...My very I is his image, not my own but on loan.

...In summary, Jesus did three things to solve the problem of suffering.  First, he came.  He suffered with us.  He wept.  Second, in becoming man he transformed the meaning of our suffering:  it is now part of his work of redemption.  Our death pangs become birth pangs for heaven, not only for ourselves but also for those we love.  Third, he died and rose. Dying, he paid the price for sin and opened heaven to us; rising, he transformed death from a hole into a door, from an end into a beginning.

That third thing, now--resurrection.  What difference does it make?  It makes more than all the difference in the world.  Simply the difference between infinite and eternal joy and infinite and eternal  joylessness.  Resurrection was so important to Christ's disciples that when Paul preached the good news in Athens, the inhabitants thought he was preaching two new gods, Jesus and resurrection (anastasis) (Acts 17).  The same Paul said, "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 men most to be pitied. 

Because of resurrection, when all our tears are over, we will, incredibly, look back at them and laugh, not in derision but in joy.  We do a little of that even now, you know.  After a great worry is lifted, a great problem solved, a great sickness healed, a great pain relieved, it all looks very different as past, to the eyes of retrospection, than it looked as future, as prospect, or as present, as experience.  Remember St. Teresa's bold saying that from heaven the most miserable earthly life will look like one bad night in an inconvenient hotel!

If you find that hard to believe, too good to be true, know that even the atheist Ivan Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov) understands that hope. He says,

I believe, like a child, that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.


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