Oversimplification of suffering

Estelle recently called me ‘scrappy’.  Well today I understand what she was saying because I feel quite scrappy, truth be told.

It’s no secret to anyone who really knows me, that ever since Bernadette’s illness and death, I’ve struggled with long held ideas and beliefs, asked a lot of questions, and done a ton of searching,  praying, and listening.  One of my recurring questions has been:  Where did we get the idea that . . . . .  (fill in the blank)?

Earlier today I listened to an Ascension Presents video by Jason Evert on Homosexuality, Gay Marriage, and Holiness.  I didn’t know he did Ascension Presents videos and I always enjoy listening to him, so I thought I’d take a moment to hear what he had to say.

For the most part, Jason Evert is very easy to listen to, he talks fast, probably to keep young people’s attention by fitting in the most information in the shortest possible time frame, he has a lot of very good things to say, and he presents his material with clarity and conviction.  My understanding of the video I watched today is that he had two general audiences:  those struggling with homosexuality and Christians struggling with how to respond in love, especially in today’s society that considers a ‘loving response’ to be bigoted, hateful, intolerant, and homophobic.

But in the middle of his presentation, he planted a seed, or watered a seed, that nobody in the comments picked up on but instantly caused my spirit to bristle and made me think of my question:  Where do we pick up our warped ideas about God’s will?    He said:

“Part of the truth of Christianity is the Cross. . . .  Suffering comes in life when our wills don’t match up to the will of God. . . . and this happens in all of our lives.    We’re then faced with the question:  Do I love God to the abandonment of my own will or do I love my own will to the abandonment of God’s will?”

I can understand that statement in the context of desiring something that would harm us, like homosexuality, adultery, gambling, drinking, overeating, drugs, whatever it is that will ultimately bring us harm; but his blanket statement was spoken in the context of the truth of the Christian faith in general.  It’s not a huge leap to subconsciously boil his statement down to:  If you love God and His will over your own, you won’t suffer.

I know it wasn’t a talk on suffering but it was a talk on ‘God’s will’ and when you couple the two together like he did, as far as I’m concerned it sheds some light on why Christianity is being outright rejected in record numbers today, why some Christians are even becoming atheists, and why Christians who experience deep suffering in their lives find themselves seriously questioning their faith.

First, Jason is talking to people who are already ‘on the outs’ with God because they’re struggling with homosexuality which they know God condemns.

Second, he used the club of ‘God’s will’, not clarifying what it is, except to imply that following all the rules (???)  is God’s will and not following them is against His will.  Or even more general:  if you’re suffering, you’re obviously not following or embracing God’s will.

Bishop Robert Barron makes it very clear in some of his videos that love is willing the good of the other as other, and that God doesn’t need us, He loved us into being for our own sake, adding that if God created us for HIS sake then He’d be a tyrant, like the Greek and Roman gods of ancient mythology.   But that’s where Christianity’s God differs from man-made gods, He is not a tyrant, He is a loving Father!

I think that a lot of time we throw around the term “God’s will” as if it’s the be all and end all of our job as Christians:  listen to the will of God and follow it with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and if you do it right you won’t suffer.

Yes, there is suffering that happens when we don’t follow God’s law because He has revealed to us the path that would lead to our happiness.  He didn’t say it would be easy, but it is the road He calls us to travel – out of love, for our own sake!

But there are other reasons why we suffer and it’s got nothing to do with our wills not matching up with God’s.  It is never God’s will that government leaders butcher millions of people, like Stalin or Hitler did!  It is not God’s will that tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, etc. destroy countless lives.  It is not God’s will that whole families are destroyed through divorce.  It is not God’s will that governments treat their citizens with cruelty and impose unjust laws.  Smear campaigns to silence or destroy people because we don’t agree with their views or agenda are not God’s will.   Millions of people dying of cancer or other diseases even though there are hundreds of natural cures that are hidden from them because they don’t make billions of dollars is not God’s will.  Rape, murder, assault, and the innocent paying for the crimes of the guilty are not God’s will.   Persecution because people believe in Jesus, not God’s will.  And yet in all those instances, people suffer – terribly.

The logical conclusion to “suffering comes in life when our wills don’t match up to the will of God” is that God is to ‘blame’ for all the bad things that happen in this world and we must accept it as His will or we will find ourselves suffering.  What about the reality that we have an enemy, Satan, who “roams the world seeking the ruin of souls”?    Would not that desire of Satan cause us suffering as well?  I’m pretty sure that nobody in their right mind would say that Satan’s actions of hate and destruction are God’s will.

You can’t tell me for one minute that my suffering as a mother who has lost her child to an ugly disease like cancer, who watched her daughter suffer and die, that my suffering comes from my will not matching up with God’s will.  Because to say that is to say that it was God’s will that Bernadette suffer in such a cruel manner and die at such a young age.  Seriously????  It is to say that all the physical suffering we go through is God’s will and we must accept it as such or suffer.  Physical pain is still suffering and separation from a loved one, even if they died peacefully in their sleep and we do accept it as God’s will, is still suffering.

I have yet to listen to any of these ‘educated’ men/women who share their great wisdom on the meaning of suffering ever once say that sometimes we suffer because there are forces that prevent God’s will from being done.  That we suffer because we know that what’s happening around us and to us is NOT God’s will.   To listen to avid atheists slam Jesus and insist that God does not exist and if He does that He’s the most cruel tyrant that ever existed, that too is suffering!   To suffer, watching others suffer, knowing that the evil perpetrated against them was never God’s will, how is that suffering because our will is not matching up with God’s.  Is it not true that we suffer precisely because our will does match up with God’s will?

I know I’m being a little scrappy and ranting because Jason Evert was discussing a completely different topic than suffering in general, but still, his statement that suffering comes in life when our wills don’t match up to the will of God is grossly simplistic at best or at the worst is just plain wrong, makes God out to be a tyrant, and unwittingly reinforces our distorted understanding of God’s will.

 

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