"Somebody's after me!" I complained to my father-in-law. "No," he disagreed, "someone is protecting you." "Both!" was my rejoinder. All this led to an interesting discussion with my online friends about the nature and source of suffering. Does suffering come from the world, from God, or maybe from our not-so-friendly neighborhood demons?
We all agreed that there is plenty of suffering occurring naturally in this world. We don't necessarily have to go looking for supernatural causes. Whereas the Garden of Eden had no natural disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards abound after the Fall. (See Catechism sec. 400). So, sometimes a car accident is just a car accident. But what if it isn't?
Sometimes in the Bible, the Devil causes people's suffering, as happened to the Old Testament figure of Job. In the Book of Job, God allows Satan to take away Job's prosperity, his health, and his family. Job responds by saying, "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away : as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done : blessed is the name of the Lord." (Jb 1:21). In the end, "the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before." (Jb 42:10).
Elsewhere in the Bible, God causes suffering as a correction or punishment. In the Gospel of St. Luke, for example, Zachary was struck dumb because he disbelieved the angel who announced to him that his elderly and infertile wife, Elizabeth, would finally have a child. (Lk 1:13-20). Zachary's punishment was lifted when his son was born, and Zachary named him John, according to the Lord's command. (Lk 1:63-64). Zachary's son, John, became known as John the Baptist, who heralded Jesus as the Messiah.
So it seems as though the source of suffering could be either the world, God, or the Devil. How, then, do we know the source of our particular suffering? And does it even matter?
My online friends and I agreed that our response to suffering matters much more than our ability to pinpoint the source. Suffering can turn us towards God in our need, or away from God in our pain and disappointment. Turning towards God, blessing him as Job did and accepting his will as Zachary did, is ultimately the only response that will bring us peace.
No one goes through this life without suffering. We will suffer, our families will suffer, our children will suffer, our friends will suffer. We cannot avoid it. Fr. Stan Fortuna drives this point home in his rap song, "Everybody Got 2 Suffer," which is based in part on Blessed Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Salvifici Dolores. Yes, that's right, a rap song based on a papal document. Love it! (The video's on YouTube, by the way). The question is not whether we will suffer, but how will we react to it. Will we say together with Job, "Blessed is the name of the Lord"?
I'm trying to be more like Job, but it's hard. So, God, bless you for sending us those three car accidents. I think.