Salvifici Doloris – Week 2
Week Two: The Problem of Pain
Overview: In these selections from Salvifici Doloris, Pope Saint John Paul II explores the problem of pain, using the Book of Job as a reflection point for some of the reasons behind human suffering. He begins, however, by looking at how our search for understanding can affect our relationship with God.
A Taste of Part I: The Mystery of Suffering
“…it also happens that people reach the point of actually denying God. ” –John Paul II
In this letter, John Paul II claims that suffering is indeed a mystery. We cannot find a complete answer to the question of why. But this incompletion in no way negates the fact there is meaning embedded within the mystery. For this reason, the Christian is the one who uses suffering as an invitation to dialoguing instead of denying God.
A Taste of Part II: Offering Answers
“The conscious and free violation of this good by man is not only a transgression of the law but at the same time an offense against the Creator, who is the first Lawgiver.” –John Paul II
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting the great St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas in Par. 1849) defines sin as “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience.” Therefore, despite what we often hear it is not human to sin. To sin is an act of inhumanity (this is why we refer to serial killers as ‘animals’ because they are acting beneath the dignity of human nature). The Original Sin ushered in suffering in the first place and as inheritors of concupiscence (“the after-effect”), we cause suffering for ourselves and others when we commit sins. At the same time, this should not lead us to believe that every suffering we must bear is punishment for our own personal sins. This incomplete answer is the mistake Job’s friends make in trying to make sense out of their friend’s suffering.
A Taste of Part III: Beyond Crime and Punishment
“Perhaps there is included an invitation of His mercy, which corrects in order to lead to conversion.” –John Paul II
While it is true that suffering can teach us important lessons for personal growth, it is tempting to reduce experiences of suffering to merely lessons. There is also a recognition (as in the case of the story of Job) that all the puzzle pieces won’t be sorted out in our minds until seen in the context of the eternal.
It is neither the lesson nor the ultimate mystery that really converts me. What has led me to conversion is the surprising creativity of mercy and grace amidst life’s dysfunctional circumstances.
For Reflection & Prayer:
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” –C.S. Lewis
Has suffering caused you to dialogue or to deny?
For Further Study: The short, powerful, and consoling book by C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain.