My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and peace in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you in fellowship with the Holy Spirit. On Friday night, I had an opportunity to hear Boston College Philosophy professor Peter Kreeft talk in CY Stephens Auditorium on the problem of evil and suffering. To be honest, I wish I would have advertised for it in our bulletin because he did a superb job of articulating what I believe to be the Catholic understanding of evil and pain, an understanding that is also consistent with our readings today.
Part of what Dr. Kreeft was addressing was the relationship of faith with the existence of suffering or how can an all good God exist in a world where there is the evil of pain. Dr. Kreeft talked about four statements from C.S. Lewis that, in the mind of most atheists, cannot all be true. 1 God exists. 2 God is all powerful. 3 God is compassionate. 4 and Suffering exists. If God exists and he is all powerful and compassionate, then we shouldn’t have suffering. If God exists and is compassionate but we have suffering, than he cannot be all powerful. If God exists and he is all powerful and there is evil, than he must not really care about us. And, the atheists favorite, if God must be all powerful and all loving as we Christians believe he is and yet there is still suffering in the world, the suffering for instance of the Jewish people from the first reading who suffered under the Egyptians as slaves, then God must not really exist.
How do we Christians believe in God, believe he is all powerful and all loving and yet explain suffering in the world, whether it be the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti or the suffering of the parents of missing Iowa State student Jon Lacina? The remarkable thing that Dr. Kreeft said was that we cannot know why these things happen. And, in fact, if we did know than it would contradict the very notion of an all powerful God. Suffering is a mystery. We have to trust that, in the end, there is meaning to it even if we don’t know what it is.
As I read over the gospel for today, I couldn’t help but think how true this is. Jesus didn’t run away from suffering. He starved himself for forty days, just like Moses and Elijah had done before him, and he suffered hunger. He walked out into the desert, a place where thieves, the sick, and demons hung out. Even before he began his ministry, he wanted to be with and know the pain and suffering of being in the desert. And, while in the desert, he felt temptation to alleviate his suffering. But, he refused, even when the devil used scripture as a temptation. This man, whose life is nothing but mystery, taught us all about the mystery of suffering, both in life and in death. He taught us about the all powerful God who exists and loves us so deeply that he is willingly enters into the suffering with us, to know it firsthand.