At Easter, some thoughts on suffering

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In this very difficult time I have purposely held my tongue when it comes to some of the political disputes around our response to COVID-19. This is a time to come together, not divide. I saw a Facebook post that pleaded for us to just pray for President Trump. Whether you like him or hate him, approve or disapprove of his response, we need him to succeed on this issue unlike any other.

But I have been thinking about this pandemic from a spiritual perspective and wanted to share some thoughts.

Mother Theresa was on William F. Buckley’s show “Firing Line” back in the 1980s and Buckley asked her, “Why is there pain?” Her response was quite astonishing. She said something like: God permits pain to draw us closer to himself.

Think about that for a moment. Have you drawn closer to God amid this crisis? Have you been drawn closer to friends, family, neighbors, more willing to show kindness and love than in normal times?

I know some people are suffering from job loss, and others are suffering from the disease itself, which can be very nasty, and of course the healthcare professionals are suffering from overwork, constant fear of infection, and the impossible task of trying to comfort COVID patients who are cut off from their families.

What about their pain?

I continue with Mother Theresa’s profound yet troubling comment. In today’s gospel reading from the Catholic church’s liturgical calendar, we read of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, of how he took the morsel from Jesus’ hand and then departed to tell the authorities of his whereabouts.

Judas had been with Jesus roughly 3 years at this point, had seen him perform countless miracles, raise Lazarus and a young girl from the dead, shown love and compassion to lepers and the dreaded Samaritans. In short, he had seen Jesus embody love and had no doubt received this love from Jesus himself.

And yet he betrayed Jesus. I think we have all been betrayed in our lives and sometimes no doubt feel betrayed by God himself when we are struck down with some horrible disease, or when our world is struck by a pandemic like COVID-19.

And yet what did Jesus say when Judas left to betray him? “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” Wait, what? How is being betrayed and led to certain death after being tortured a form of “glorification”? Are we glorified when we are led into suffering, either by natural or human betrayal? What if the answer is “yes”…?

Jesus did ask us to take up our cross DAILY, after all, and assured his followers that they would indeed follow him to the cross. All but one of the 12 apostles were executed for being his disciple.

But what is the purpose of this suffering and death? Scripture, Jesus, and countless scholars of the faith have told us that there is, in fact, meaning. That our suffering isn’t in vain, but that it can be joined with the suffering of Christ to assist in the redemption of humanity, to bring salvation and pay the debt of sin.

For sure, Christ’s suffering and death redeemed us once and for all, but he welcomes our suffering to be joined to his, across the bounds of time and space, to participate in and effectuate God’s salvation of his children.

It is a mystery that is very hard to understand, and maybe it is not possible to do so based on reason alone. We need God’s grace to fully appreciate the mystery of his ways, but if we trust what he says and what he has done, we can take solace in the fact that our suffering does have meaning and does, in some profoundly mysterious way, bring about our own glory.

Stay safe, keep hoping, and love each other.

Trey Hoffman

Peachtree City, Ga.

1 COMMENT

  1. One might adopt Mr. Hoffman’s labored explanation that incorporates ancient literature and supernatural actors for the COVID-19’s intrusion upon our lives. Or one might recognize that a sliver of RNA seeks to replicate so that it may survive, and our cells are great petri dishes. I’ll take the more parsimonious explanation.

    However, I agree with Trey’s ultimate conclusion: “Stay safe, keep hoping, and love each other.”