It is perhaps our oldest question, why does God allow us to live a life of suffering and pain?
There was once a merchant returning home from a long journey. Attached to his saddle was a large satchel full of money.
As he was riding along an open plain a storm broke out. The rain poured down on him drenching him and his horse. Ahead was a forest that offered some protection. He spurred his horse and made for the wood but by the time he got there he was soaking wet.
As he entered the shelter of the trees the storm passed by and the rain stopped. He slowed his horse to a walk. He started to complain to God about the weather, his discomfort, and his inconvenience all due to the untimely storm.
Suddenly a bandit jumped on to the path ahead of him, leveled a musket at the merchant, and pulled the trigger.
But the musket didn’t fire. The rain had dampened the musket’s powder causing the fun to misfire. The merchant seized the reprieve and spurred his horse into a gallop riding away to safety.
As he continued on his journey the merchant reflected on the encounter and began to thank God for his safety, his life, and the rain.
He never complained about the weather again.
Like the merchant, we are on a journey. Our lives here on earth are a pilgrimage. We are making our way towards eternal life in Heaven.
Sometimes God sends us harsh weather in the form of difficult times and tragic events. But we continue our journey secure in the knowledge that God has His reasons.
This is key to understanding the events of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Throughout our journey we may bear many crosses, and even experience a suffering akin to the crucifixion. But we know that on the other side of the crucifixion is the resurrection.
In the story of the raising of Lazarus, Saint John tells us that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
But when Jesus is told of His friend’s illness He doesn’t rush back to help him. Nor does He heal Lazarus from a distance as He did with the Centurion’s servant. Instead He waits for two days.
Jesus lets His friends experience their helplessness and weakness, the painful separation of the death and loss of a loved one.
If Jesus truly loved them why did He allow His friends to suffer like this?
If we did not suffer here on earth, if all of our needs were immediately met and all of our problems solved, we might make the mistake of thinking of earth as Heaven. We might think we could make ourselves happy by relying entirely on own efforts.
But we live in a fallen world and suffering is inevitable.
God allows us to experience hardship and pain and suffering in order to teach us that our life here on earth is a journey, it is a great adventure on the road to Heaven. It is not the destination.
If you have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” you may recall that the fellowship of travelers reach the realm of the elves after many harrowing experiences. After such a difficult time the domain of the elves seems like Heaven, it is peaceful, beautiful, and safe. There is a very real temptation to give up the quest and remain there, enjoying a life of ease and comfort.
But that was not why they were there. They were merely at a rest stop along the road. Their true purpose was to battle evil and destroy an ancient artifact that threatened to make the earth a living Hell. They knew they would find rest on the other side.
What matters in life is not being perfectly comfortable. What matters in life is knowing, loving, and following Jesus Christ.
Jesus uses our sufferings to remind us of that. They remind us that we are not God and we need to turn to Him and stay close to Him. God uses our sufferings to act in our lives in new ways, revealing Himself to us in new ways, as He did with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
God shows us that He is more powerful than any tragedy we may encounter. Nothing is out of reach for Christ’s redemption.
And in the end, if we trust in Him through the hardships, we will know unimaginable joy when we are raised to new life. He will bring the greatest joy out of the greatest tragedy.
He has shown us He is trustworthy. The rest is up to us.