Can God and suffering both exist?
The secret of suffering
The sermon of Abbot Raimund Schreier on Good Friday 2016 in the Wilten collegiate church.
It is an ancient dream of mankind to be invulnerable and without suffering. Yes, in our society one thinks that one has to avoid suffering under all circumstances. The advertising suggests to us that we can avoid even the smallest ailment if we only buy the right products. If something hurts us even a little, the pharmaceutical industry tries to convince us that you have to take something right away. Also and especially we try to run away from emotional suffering: If we only think about it when someone in our circle of acquaintances dies, then we find it difficult to approach the grieving, to share this suffering with them. Or if someone gets divorced, we don't immediately seek contact with them, we don't know what to talk about, we lack words, we are literally embarrassed.
Well, basically it has to be said that - thank God - there are many ways today to alleviate suffering, to get rid of it. God doesn't want suffering. And yet it is part of life.
1. God redeems us through suffering.
Yes, it even belongs to the divine history of salvation. God became fully human in Jesus Christ, he descended to the greatest spiritual and physical pain. Jesus of Nazareth lived through total solitude. He feels abandoned by his father: "Eli, eli, lema sabachtani -My god, my god, why did you leave me?" (Mk 15:34, cf.Mt 27:46) And he endures the cruel torments of the flagellation and crucifixion. Without suffering there is also no history of salvation and redemption. In suffering and dying and through this suffering, Christ healed us humans. "We are healed through his wounds "(Isa 53,5), we heard from the book of Isaiah in the first reading. The love of God ready to suffer is the foundation of our salvation. We don't need to redeem ourselves. Christ redeemed us. That is why today we can celebrate the suffering and death of Christ in gratitude, because it is the prerequisite, the foundation for the resurrection, for redemption.
2. God is close to us in suffering.
Because Christ suffered all human suffering, he can be very close to us in our suffering.
If we read the story of Jesus' passion and meditate, then we also recognize in it the passion of today's world: the political and social conflicts, needs and constraints. Even today people all over the world are unjustly sentenced, deported, beaten, kicked, murdered. Many are nailed to the cross of their social role: as asylum seekers, as homeless people, as mentally ill. In Jesus' Passion the story of human suffering is presented. People know that their own suffering is understood and find consolation in it for the hopelessness of their illness, for the hardships of their lives and for their suffering in themselves.
We all know suffering from our personal lives: Serious illness, separation, loss of a loved one, depression, loneliness, slander, disappointments, insults, etc. Each of us has our story of suffering, our passion.
I would like to give a very concrete example of a person who suffered very badly, especially in the last years of his life: Cardinal Josef Bernardin, died on November 14th, 1996, Archbishop of Chicago. In 1995 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In 1993 the media reported that he should be charged with sexual abuse. Cardinal Bernardin was completely innocent. Someone wanted revenge on him. During this difficult time of emotional and physical suffering, the Cardinal feels particularly close to Jesus.
Among other things, he writes in his diary:
“The love and prayers of so many friends have been a great comfort to me. But I could not have endured the weight of this heavy cross without the daily prayer. Ultimately, it was only the intense relationship with the Lord - which grew deeper during those months - that helped me maintain some sense of inner peace; this in turn helped me to continue my pastoral ministry every day.
We are faced with a great mystery here; but it is true that through suffering we can come very close to Jesus. And that changes everything! " God is close to us in suffering.
3. Suffering transforms
The person who suffers severe suffering torments himself first of all with the bitter question: Why? Why me? It is very natural. Such phases of complaining, of admitting, are necessary. When it gradually succeeds, the question of the Why in the question of the What for transform, then the horizon begins to brighten. Man then perhaps also discovers the meaning of suffering. He looks into abysses and dimensions of depth that remain hidden from others.
„Resistance and resignation“, So wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer shortly before his execution in 1945 in Berlin-Flossenburg. Resistance and surrender characterize the attitude of Jesus and the attitude of Christians to the cross.
We resist by alleviating suffering and trying to get rid of it. The fight against the diverse misery among people corresponds to our Christian vocation.
But in surrender we endure the unchangeable; we can not change it; it is just there. We accept suffering, we accept it, surely in the hope that this cup may pass us by. To be a Christian therefore also includes the vocation to suffer, to endure adversity and scandal in a life that has been crossed over. Those who endure, endure and overcome suffering and pain in faith can experience: Even the hardest suffering can turn into blessings and peace. That is why Cardinal Josef Bernardin gave his book about his painful months the title: "The gift of inner peace".
In every suffering that happens to us, there is always the chance of transformation. Our humanity changes in suffering. In some respects we become more sensitive, we are able to empathize better with those who have met the same fate; we understand the other better and deeper; some petty standards fall away from us as if by themselves. We suffer with others and share the suffering; we become more mature in our outlook and free from prejudice. We become more empathetic in accompanying the suffering and dying. We don't sit at the bedside with a know-it-all and ready-made answers, but take the doubts and fears of those who suffer seriously. We are silent and weep with them. We can listen better.
So there are gates in our life that only suffering can open. Suffering transforms us!
Good Friday: We celebrate the suffering and death of Christ.
- With gratitude we can recognize anew that God has redeemed us in Christ through his suffering and death.
- We are reminded: This suffering Lord, the Son of God is very close to us in all our human suffering!
- and we recognize anew: suffering is part of our Christianity; it is the chance of any transformation. AMEN.
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