Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Why is there Suffering? How do we Respond?

Suffering is a harsh reality in our world. Whether we are talking about suffering from a cold or suffering from the devastation of a hurricane, suffering is everywhere. Where does it come from?

The Church's response is that suffering is an unfortunate consequence of our sinfulness, in its many forms. We do not, however think that there is a direct correspondence - that every individual sin leads to an individual instance of suffering. Instead the Church teaches that we exist in a state of sin and that leads to a state of suffering.

We have no control over the existence of suffering, but we can choose how we RESPOND to suffering. The text outlines four possible responses to suffering in our lives:
1. Hopelessness (also called Fatalism)
2. Individualism
3. Enlightened Self-Interest
4. Compassion

Let us examine each one:
1. Fatalism - this is the idea that my actions are of no consequence; nothing I do can change the world for the better, so I need not try. This mentality is behind the remarkably low voter turn-out in our country, and the legion of people who complain about everything from healthcare to education but take no action. Fatalism is feeling very small in the face of very big problems.
2. Individualism - the idea that if a problem does not impact me Immediately and Directly, then it is of no concern to me, and therefore I should not be compelled to act in response to it.
A sense of "rugged individualism" is at the heart of the American Spirit.
3. Enlightened Self-Interest - simply put, this is looking out for yourself by looking out for others. When acting out of Enlightened Self-Interest one acknowledges that the well-being of others effects his or her own well being. The efforts are directed outward, toward others, but the focus is still inward, on the self.
4. Compassion - this word means "to suffer with" (com- with, passio - suffer). In other words, compassion is a deep empathy or love for another person that prompts an individual to share in his or her suffering. (Side note - the romantic association we have with the word passion stems from the medieval idea of courtly love, in which young people were so intense in their love for one another that it pained the heart to be apart from the beloved.)

Finally, I wish to offer you a few ideas to balance out the concepts mentioned above.
Fatalism is countered by an attitude of Hope. Hope is the theological virtue grounded in the belief that one's efforts plus God's grace will create a better future. (Please forget the textbook's definition of hope as it is naive and self-centered.) Hope is recognizing that while I must put forth the effort to better my situation, God's grace will make that improvement possible.

Grace is God's free gift of love. We can do nothing to earn grace, but if we are not willing to work with grace it will do us little good.

Individualism is balanced by an attitude of Interdependence - the recognition that all lives are interconnected. If part of a community or society suffers then all of the society or community suffers. We must not, then overlook the suffering of the least among us, but rather direct our attention to their needs.

We'll stop here for now. Take a break and see what's behind the title of my earlier post (Salvation History in 30 seconds and re-enacted by bunnies.) Warning - not for the faint of heart.
Ad Jesum per Mariam.
Mr. B.

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