Yesterday I finally finished reading Making Sense Out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft and am thrilled I did. I stopped reading it about half way though the ‘clues from the artists’ because it just didn’t seem to be what I was looking for and it was the type of read that required concentration and work therefore energy and I guess I just decided it wasn’t worth expending the energy. That’s when I switched to John Paul II’s letter On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering . But after a break and the desire to read something again, I decided to finish Kreeft’s book and it turned out to be an incredible blessing.
There was one line in chapter seven that stayed with me, like something caught in one’s teeth, all the way to the end of the book. “To question God’s goodness is not just an intellectual experiment. 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 asked in a vacuum.” When I read that, it was like someone had looked into my heart and understood it. When I try to pray, all I have are tears and the question ‘why?’. But it’s not an accusing why. It’s not a rebellious why as some may suspect or think, it is like a small child after being told no and just not understanding the no and with a trembling bottom lip and tears in their eyes cry ‘but why?’, especially when what is being asked for appears to the child to be something good.
I can’t help but think of all the times I’ve said no to my children over the years and watched their eyes tear up and their bottom lips quiver. There were so many different reasons to say no and sometimes I would just say no because they needed to learn to hear the word and get use to the fact that they wouldn’t always get what they wanted, especially when they were toddlers. But always I would do my best to comfort them. I knew as a parent it was a very important lesson I must instill in my children. As children of God, is it any different? And as a tiny child who doesn’t understand that I said no for the benefit of that child maybe not right this minute but as an adult, I can just imagine how much MORE God must say no to me for some present or future benefit. And as a mother praying and asking God for a miracle for Bernadette, it’s not just me He’s dealing with, He has the whole picture and it’s far more complicated than what I can imagine. He’s dealing with Bernadette herself as well as everyone connected to he, her Daddy, siblings, family and friends. And He must do the most loving thing because He is Love. That doesn’t mean I will understand and it doesn’t take the pain away – yet.
Further along in Kreeft’s book he’s having a conversation with a ‘reader’ and the reader is stating his objections to what Kreeft laid out in his book as the answer to suffering. The reader says, “I still just can’t believe it, can’t accept it, can’t say yes to a God who lets my son or daughter die, or wife or husband leave, or friend commit suicide. You’re like Job’s three friends. Your words make sense, they hold together, but they just don’t do it for me.” He goes on to say he has to hate someone whether it be God, himself or another:
Kreeft: Do you?
Reader: Yes, I tell you! How can I smile when I feel like screaming?
Kreeft: You can’t. But you don’t have to hate someone.
Reader: How can I pray when I feel like screaming?
Kreeft: Can you cry?
Kreeft: Then begin by crying instead of screaming.
Reader: I can do that.
Kreeft: I’m not telling you to pretend, to fake anything, to be dishonest. Suffering often makes us dishonest, you know. The fear of suffering makes us say and do and believe things we think will free us from hurt, when we think honesty and facing facts would hurt.
Reader: So what do you say I’m suppose to do, just cry?
Kreeft: No, but begin there. Because that’s honesty, that’s how you really are.
Reader: Then what?
Kreeft: Then wait.
Reader: Cry and wait? Is that all? Wait for what?
Kreeft: For God to come and wipe your tears and melt your hardness. I can’t do that. You can’t even do it. But God can.
Reader: But will he?
Kreeft: I know He will.
Reader: How? How do you know that?
Kreeft: Because you’re searching for Him.
The conversation continues but the part that really struck me was to cry and wait, wait for God to act. To cry! He said when we cry we’re searching for God and God promises us that if we seek Him we will find Him. “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be open to you.” (Matt. 7:7) So I cry and wait.
That part was encouraging, but the absolute best part of the entire book is that Peter Kreeft comes to the exact same conclusion about suffering that John Paul II did!! He may not use the exact same words but it is the exact same answer. Jesus is God’s answer to suffering. Jesus is God’s solution to suffering. And we are invited to be part of the solution by uniting our sufferings with Jesus. “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. . . . . 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 takes it and uses it in ways so powerful that we would be flattered with wonder if we knew them now.”
I was telling Marc this morning, after devouring the rest of Making Sense Out of Suffering, now I need to go back and read it again… and again… and again. It’s not a book you read just once, just like John Paul II’s letter On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. Even though it’s on my Kindle and I have it all highlighted, there is something about taking notes and writing it out that helps it go deeper. Then comes the challenge of living it.
Keep it up Patti!