Suffering and God's Top Priority

Suffering and God's Top Priority

Have you ever wondered why God does not remove a particular cross or suffering from your life—despite your many pleas for relief? The New Testament documents numerous occasions of people asking to be healed and receiving exactly what they asked for. Why can’t it always work that way? 

In an episode of Fr. Spitzer’s Universe, Fr. Spitzer answers this very question. Spitzer explains that God has certain priorities when it comes to healing suffering. In his love for us, he chooses these priorities over the miracle of healing.

To heal or not? God’s 5 priorities 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” —Isaiah 55:8-9

In those prayers where you feel as if God has been silent, consider instead that he has prioritized one or all of the following: 

1. Your salvation  

God loves you and wants you to be with him in heaven. Therefore, God’s not going to heal you if it means interrupting your course to salvation

2. The salvation of others

Whether it feels like it or not, your suffering touches all kinds of lives. If your suffering leads to others’ salvation, God’s going to allow that suffering to continue. Fr. Spitzer uses the example of his progressive blindness—he believes his failing eyesight helps him help others toward their salvation. 

3. Your freedom

God will not forsake your freedom in order to alleviate suffering. People often ask why God didn’t just strike Hitler dead—or Stalin or any tyrant? Why doesn’t he stop anybody at all who’s about to do something painful to another human? Fr. Spitzer notes that if this were the case, we’d all be struck dead! Where does God draw the line? God will not stop our human freedom. He wants a world where our freedom matters, because freedom leads to self-definition. Ultimately, it’s about our choice to move into the kingdom of God, which is the most important decision we will ever make. 

4. The freedom of others

Just as God values your freedom (see above), he values the freedom of all his children and their decision to choose heaven.

5. Natural causation

God wants to preserve natural causation (events occurring naturally). This is why he doesn’t always give everybody the miracle they ask for. If God gave every single person a miracle, all the time, then there would be no challenges to face. We humans need challenges so that we don’t disappear into our own little pleasure bubbles. If we want freedom, the ability to see who we really are, the chance to make a sacrifice for something noble and good, and to make a difference in somebody else’s life—then we need some challenges. Challenges are what allow us to choose between courage or cowardness and compassion or letting others suffer alone. 

A short story on finding beauty in the challenges

At the end of the Father Spitzer’s Universe episode, Fr. Spitzer shares an adaptation of a parable that his dad told him as a boy:

In the beginning, God created the entire world as a banquet table. At the table, he placed people who didn’t have elbow joints or neck joints. God also placed a sumptuous feast in front of all of them. However, they could not eat the feast, because they could not bend their arms or necks to reach the food. 

A group at the end of the table began to discuss this issue and concluded that God can’t be all-knowing. If he were, he’d know that it would be better to make people with elbow joints and neck joints, so that they could feed themselves. Therefore, God is not all-knowing. 

A second group was sitting by and said, “No, it makes sense that God’s all powerful. It’s just that he’s not all-loving. If he were truly loving, he would never had allowed us to suffer by giving us no elbow and neck joints.”

A third group piped in saying, “Oh, no, if God exists, he’d have to be all powerful and all loving. Clearly—because he hasn’t given us elbow and neck joints—he just doesn’t exist. 

Finally, a fourth group was sitting at the other end of the table. They were done asking questions and theorizing. They simply looked at the person sitting across from them and, in doing so, realized that it did not require neck and elbow joints to pick up the food and feed their neighbor in front of them. Then, they ate heartily, feeding one another.

At this moment of the challenge, the fourth group looked beyond themselves. In the midst of the challenge, love freely was born. 

This simple parable illustrates that challenging situations have the capacity to help us grow in love and community. It is in sacrificial moments that we decide to give of ourselves rather than resent what we have not been given. These are the moments that turn our eyes to the cross, which has changed the meaning of suffering for all. As Pope John Paul II says,

And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation. —John Paul II, “Salvifici Doloris” (“On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering”)  

For more on suffering from Fr. Spitzer and the Magis Center, see “Do We Need Suffering and What Is Its Purpose?” “Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen to Good People?” and “Fr. Spitzer on Why Some Miracles are Denied."

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