Sunday, 20 April 2014

Why Evil, Suffering and the Cross?

After the horrors of the Crucifixion this Friday it is useful to contemplate why had this all to happen with Jesus entering into His glory. Why indeed all this evil and suffering, especially of the innocent in the world from the beginning, and seemingly endless and accumulative?


A helpful treatise is given by Fr John L Mckenzie SJ, see Reference below, in his chapter "The Mystery of Evil". So often we hear about the suffering of so many in this world with doctors helpless to stop the pain and the horrors of violence, crime and war. Every day the news blights our day with its offering of seemingly mindless evil. Many have in the past and are today turning against God and denying that He loves us or is indeed good. So what can we say when faced by those thinking us stupid to continue to believe in a just God or even in a God at all?

First we need to accept the fundamental truth that evil came into the world and deformed it and remains embedded in it because of original sin, and continuing sin is piled up on that every moment and will continue to do so until God calls "enough". So we are all suffering the consequence of our sins and the sins of others, and especially the innocent suffer.



Secondly, if Jesus as God wept over the consequences of evil, cured so many and delivered others from the grip of evil, why could He not remove it completely from the face of the earth? He as God seemed powerless. It would appear that, at the bottom line, in order to do so He would have to remove our "freedom" and this He would never do. So all Jesus can say - and this is repeated throughout the ages - "Repent and sin no more: I will not judge you". We in fact bring judgement onto our very selves and others by the lives we lead.


Isaiah Chapter 53 provides us with clues of how we might go about living and benefitting from evil in its multivarious forms. One of the greatest and most heroic actions of Jesus was that throughout His unbearable sufferings and crucifixion He never for one instant sinned Himself and only prayed for those sinning against Him. This very heroic act of not sinning and total obedience to God overthrew original sin and its consequences of barring man from Heaven into which as man He was the first to enter into that glory. This act also redeemed those who repent allowing them to follow Him. Please do note the one term which is most ignored and maligned today within Jesus' church and without: OBEDIENCE.


It is now worth reminding ourselves of Isaiah 53 so familiar to us in describing the Suffering Servant:

A prophecy of the Passion of Christ, Isaiah 53: Douai Version
[1] Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? [2] And he shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground: there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: [3] Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. [4] Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. [5] But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed.

[6] All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. [7] He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth: he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth. [8] He was taken away from distress, and from judgment: who shall declare his generation? because he is cut off out of the land of the living: for the wickedness of my people have I struck him. [9] And he shall give the ungodly for his burial, and the rich for his death: because he hath done no iniquity, neither was there deceit in his mouth. [10] And the Lord was pleased to bruise him in infirmity: if he shall lay down his life for sin, he shall see a long-lived seed, and the will of the Lord shall be prosperous in his hand.

[11] Because his soul hath laboured, he shall see and be filled: by his knowledge shall this my just servant justify many, and he shall bear their iniquities. [12] Therefore will I distribute to him very many, and he shall divide the spoils of the strong, because he hath delivered his soul unto death, and was reputed with the wicked: and he hath borne the sins of many, and hath prayed for the transgressors.

Underlined are the repeated reminders that it was for our sins that Jesus suffered.

Now let Fr McKenzie provide us with that missing piece of the puzzle: why evil, suffering and the Cross:

"The prophet has seen this truth, that through the suffering of men other men can be spared from suffering. Evil still remains an irrational factor in human life; but man can meet it in such a way that what he does is the greatest thing he can do. There is no reason why this should be, and the mind of man does not easily accept it; but the Servant of the Lord, as conceived by the prophet, is the final answer of the Old Testament as to how men shall meet the evil which they cannot overcome except by surrendering to it, by becoming its victims.........

Christianity has always seen in Jesus the "fulfilment" of these words of the prophet; He is the ideal Israel, who sums up in Himself the religious gifts, the mission, the destiny of the people of the Lord. And this destiny was to die. His words and His life reflect the same spirit which we believe we see in Job, in Jeremiah, in the Servant of the Lord: that there is no answer to the problem of evil, and no way to meet evil in the concrete, except suffering and death. We have seen men in all the ages try to shake off the burden by the most varied and ingenious devices, and they have all failed. Jesus alone came and said: Take up your cross. If you wish to live, die. If you wish to find joy, suffer. He did not explain it. He simply lived that way. If there were a better answer to the problem, if there were a better way to meet it, it is hard to think that the Incarnate God would not have chosen it. He did not make evil easy to understand or easy to bear; He showed only that it is possible to live with it, and to live well, to live heroically, without doing anything about evil except to suffer it. This is the mystery of the Servant, the mystery of the life and death of Jesus, that it is in yielding to evil in becoming its victim, in being consumed by it, that man has his only hope of overcoming it; and, by the solidarity which links Jesus with all men and all men with each other, this victory over evil can be communicated to others who are ignorant of what happens on their behalf."

Surely this must be the most reassuring reason to suffer in taking up our cross to follow Jesus along His narrow way to heaven: to suffer to spare others from suffering or to mitigate the suffering of others. How many times do we hear the words "for your tomorrow we gave our today".



In war a serviceman understands that he may have to suffer and die for others so why should it be an exception for non-servicemen? God has no other way, if we are to retain our freedom, except for us to accept, as His Son had to, our cross on behalf of others whether in war, sickness or caring. This why assisted suicide is so wrong and can be viewed as an act of extreme selfishness, for it denies or removes the right to suffer and die to spare others from suffering or to mitigate their suffering. Therefore in Christ's world all suffering has a noble purpose and the reward is heavenly glory as it was for Him. However, we must, like Jesus, abhor all suffering and do all we can, including suffering ourselves, to prevent or alleviate it; this especially includes the Devil's imposition of suffering by absorbing it rather than passing it on to others.




Reference: The Two-Edged Sword, Fr J H Mckenzie SJ, Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1955.

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