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Aug 22, 2022
Lost a loved one
My husband, Tom, who is in late stage ALS, wrote recently on his scribble board...Suffering. Every day i ask him many times, Are you in pain? He usually says no. When I read the word Suffering, I knew he meant he was suffering emotionally. He is a man of faith, so I reached out to Church. The Deacon has been visiting to pray with us. And recently, Tom, received the Catholic Rite of the Annointing of the Sick. The prayers in this Rite are uplifting and healing. In the spirit of the adage. "Pray for help and row to shore", I also requested an anti-depressant and stronger pain killer.

I am sharing this article since it reflects how Tom and I encounter suffering in life. A mystery.

Why Do We Suffer?
James Martin, S.J.
March 13, 2011
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a horrifying disaster that unfolded before our eyes on television and the Internet, not only wrenched the hearts of every compassionate person, but also raised for the believer an age-old question: Why do we suffer?

That immense question, or the "problem of evil," has bedeviled theologians, saints, mystics—-all believers--for thousands of years. The question can also be framed as: How could a good God allow suffering? (And I’ll speak here of “natural evil,” that is, natural disasters and illness; rather than “moral evil,” those caused by human decisions.)

First, we have to admit that none of the answers to "Why do we suffer?" can completely satisfy us when faced real suffering—our own or that of others. The best answer to "Why do we suffer?" may be "We don't know.” Anyone who offers you “the answer” is either a liar or a fool. And has probably never faced real suffering.

Second, we have to admit that belief in God may mean belief in a God whose ways will always remain mysterious. In an article in America, Rabbi Daniel Polish, author of Talking About God, put it succinctly. "I do not believe in a God whose will or motives are crystal clear to me. And as a person of faith, I find myself deeply suspicious of those who claim such insight.”

Polish goes on to quote Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, "To the pious man knowledge of God is not a thought within his grasp...." This is the greatest challenge of faith, says Polish, "to live with a God we cannot fully understand, whose actions we explain at our own peril."

But while there are no definitive answers to the question of suffering, and while we may never fully understandit, there are what you might call “perspectives” offered by the Jewish and Christian traditions.

During my graduate theology studies, for example, I took a course called "Suffering and Salvation," taught by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., the distinguished New Testament scholar. In that course, later adapted into the book "Why Do We Suffer?" Father Harrington looked at the traditional explanations presented in Scripture. None is an "answer" for suffering and each may raise as many questions as it answers. Yet, taken together, they can provide, as Harrington says, "resources" for the believer.

So our class read in the Old Testament the psalms of lament, the Book of Job, passages in the Book of Isaiah about the "suffering servant," excerpts from the New Testament about the passion and death of Jesus, as well as meditations on the meaning of the "cross" in St. Paul's writings.

And we studied the main approaches to suffering found in Bible: Suffering is a punishment for one's sins (or an ancestor's sins). Suffering is a mystery. Suffering is a kind of purification. Suffering enables us to “participate” in the life of Jesus, who himself suffered, and likewise, the Christ who understands suffering can be a companion to us in our pain. Suffering is part of the human condition in an imperfect world. And suffering can enable us to experience God in new and unexpected ways.

A few of these perspectives I have found at best wanting, at worst unhelpful. For example, the notion that suffering is a punishment from God makes no sense in the face of innocent suffering, especially when it comes to terrible illness or a natural disaster--like the earthquake and tsunami last week. Does anyone really believe that a small child with cancer is being punished for his or her “sins”? Does anyone really believe that God “caused” natural disasters in order to punish innocent Japanese in small fishing villages? It is a monstrous image of a vengeful and cruel God.

Jesus himself rejects this image of God in the Gospel of John, when he comes upon a man who had been blind since birth (Jn 9:2). His disciples ask him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"


Jesus replies, “It was not this man who sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” And he heals him.

But some of these traditional biblical and theological resources have been useful in my own life during different periods of suffering and pain.

Perhaps the most helpful was the belief that God can accompany us in our suffering. And that it was okay, and even healthy, to lament these things before God, as many of the psalms do. That it was "mysterious," something I might never understand, like Job's question in the Old Testament, but that I could still continueto be in relationship with God. That I could try (but would sometimes fail) to emulate the patient way that Jesus faced suffering. That Jesus, who had suffered intensely in his life, could be, through my relationship in prayer with him, someone who understood my trials, small though they may be, and who could accompany me in them.

Most of all, that God could somehowbe with me through times of pain, and small signs of hope could become apparent when I accepted the reality of suffering. In vulnerability, in poverty of spirit, in brokenness, we are often able to meet God in new and unexpected ways. Perhaps this is because we are more open to God’s presence: when our defenses are down, when we have nothing left, we are more open. This is why people who suffer are sometimes seen as becoming more religious or spiritual. They are not becoming more irrational, but more open.

This is not the “why” of suffering, nor does it “explain” suffering; but it can sometimes be part of the overall experience.

But my suffering is small. When I worked in East Africa as a young Jesuit, I met refugees who had seen their brothers and sisters murdered before their eyes. Also during my Jesuit training, I knew a woman in Boston who had been confined to a hospital bed for over 20 years. And recently a close friend's young wife was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor, and, after returning from the hospital, when I wept at home for the two of them, I saw in an instant how little I had ever suffered compared to them, and to others. My suffering is very small.

And compared to the immense suffering of those in Japan today, whatever suffering I have experienced is infinitesimal.

Moreover, my suffering is not yours. Nor are my own perspectives on suffering meant to be yours. Just as every believer must find a personal path to God, so must he or she find personal perspective on suffering. And while the collective wisdom of the community is a great resource, the platitudes and bromides offered by otherwise well-meaning believers as quick-fix answers are often unhelpful.

Sometimes those easy answers short-circuit the process of deeper individual reflection.

Believers are rightly suspicious of easy answers to suffering. My mother once told me of an elderly nun who was living at a retirement home with my 90-year-old grandmother. One day the woman's religious superior came to visit. The elderly nun began to speak about how much pain she was enduring. "Think of Jesus on the Cross," said her superior.

The elderly nun replied, "Jesus was only on the Cross for three hours.” Easy answers usually do more harm than good.

Richard Leonard, an Australian Jesuit priest, wrote about his experience with such facile answers in his recent book Where the Hell is God?

Richard's family has been touched with great suffering. His father died of a massive stroke at the age of 36, leaving his mother to care for Richard, then two, and his siblings. At dawn on Richard's 25th birthday, his Jesuit superior woke him to summon him to the phone for an urgent call from his mother. His sister Tracey, a nurse working at a healthcare facility for aboriginal people, had been involved in a terrible car accident. When Richard and his mother reached the hospital their worst fears were confirmed: Tracey was a quadriplegic.

Through tears, Richard's mother began to ask him questions about suffering that put his faith to the test. Richard called it "the most painful and important theological discussion I will ever have in my life.” "Where the hell is God?" his mother asked.

Richard's answer to his mother was, in essence, that God was with them in their suffering. "I think God is devastated," said Richard. "Like the God who groans with loss in Isaiah, and like Jesus who weeps at his best friend's tomb, God was not standing outside our pain, but was a companion within it, holding us in his arms, sharing our grief and pain."

Besides the idea that suffering can sometimes open us up to new ways of experiencing God, this is the theological insight that I find most helpful in times of pain: the image of the God who has suffered, the God who shares our grief, the God who understands. Much in the same way that you instinctively turn to a friend who has already gone through the same trial you are facing, you can more easily turn to Jesus in prayer, who suffered. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” as St. Paul’s the Letter to the Hebrews says.

Richard takes a dim view of those who offer glib answers in the face of suffering. "Some of the most appalling and frightening letters," he writes, came from "some of the best Christians I knew.” Tracey must have done something to offend God, some said. Others suggested that her suffering was a "glorious building block...for her mansion [in heaven] when she dies.” Others wrote that his family is truly "blessed," because "God only sends crosses to those who can bear them.” Or, more simply, that it is all a "mystery" that simply needed to be accepted, almost unthinkingly.

My friend rejected these answers in favor of a hard look at the reality of suffering, one that only comes with the long struggle to have an "intelligent discussion about the complexities of where an how the Divine presence fits into our fragile and human world.”

When we are suffering, our friends will want to help us make sense of our pain, and they will often offer answers like the ones Richard described. Some answers may work for us. Others may leave us cold or even be offensive.

But, in the end, every believer must come to grapple with suffering for ourselves. And while our religious traditions also provide us with important resources, ultimately, we must find an approach that enables us to confront pain and loss honestly with God.

Suffering is indeed a "mystery" for most believers, but it is not something that we should ignore, but one that we should engage with all our mind, heart and soul.

This essay was adapted from The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.

Source: America Magazine, James Martin, March 2011
Excellent collection of material on this personal and emotional situation.
When I shared my diagnosis with my grandchildren, I shared that I h ad no idea why I was inflicted with this disease, but that God wanted to accomplish something more powerful through h ow I deal with it. Can I give Him the glory each day? Can I share the power of my faith with those I meet?
There are many that will lift us up in their daily prayers.
Thanks, Tomswife. An extremely challenging topic for believers and non-believers. I believe the question of innocent suffering has prevented many from being able to trust God. God's answer to Paul that "My grace is sufficient" may not provide a sense of relief to sufferers. James' statement, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." is certainly challenging.

If I were healed now, I would certainly die of something later. Would that be better? I don't know; maybe not.

Similar to AlDowns, I try to see this as something for my good, maybe preparing me in a way to be with God. I see things with a greater sense of gratitude, and my relationship with my wife has become much deeper. But those things may be small comfort to others.

I'm very sorry that Tom is suffering. I hope that through prayer God will allow him to begin to have peace.
First, I love Father Martin and follow him on FB. He was interviewed by Stephen Colbert and it was a great interview.

I will pray for Tom to be released from any type of suffering.

I don't believe God punishes people or holds us responsible for anything our ancestors did.

I also don't believe God is up there like a puppet master controlling everything that goes on here.

What I do believe is that God is a mystery. I'm studying under a pastor who actually explains the origin and translations of the Bible. I've put my trust in Jesus for a long time now. I've come full circle on how I see scriptures and take into consideration what was going on historically and culturally at the time they were written.

Both you and Tom are in my prayers. I'm glad he has you and I pray for you to have strength.
First, I am not challenging anyone’s faith in the Bible or Jesus. I’m glad it
gives them comfort, peace and strength to endure any suffering. I believe in
God and Jesus gave us words to live by.

But I have questions about my faith and the stories I was taught. I haven’t
prayed prayers lately because it’s the same words God has heard from me
hundreds of times. Sometimes now I’ll say to myself, “You’ve heard my prayers.”

But… I have questions concerning the Bible which I was told/taught so many
times is/was the word of God. Really?

The canonical gospels of Jesus are the four which appear in the New Testament
of the Bible. They were written between 66 and 110 AD… over 30 years after
Jesus died. Thirty years. Memories, recall, did they keep notes for 30 years?

All four were anonymous with the modern names added in the 2nd century.
There were several other gospels but only four were chosen later.

John the Apostle… only a minority of contemporary scholars believe he wrote
the gospel, But … most scholars conclude that he wrote none of them. Did they
add John just because he was beheaded 30 AD. If so... who wrote what John
supposedly said. That would have been about the same time Jesus died. ??

I don’t go to church… again I was told if I don’t go to church I’d be committing
a mortal sin and I’d never see heaven. Except for the homily it’s the same thing
working up to Easter after Christmas then working up to Christmas again.

I am happy for those who do go and find peace, joy and comfort sitting in
their house of God. Yes, when they pass the basket.. it’s needed to maintain
the church and other expenses. Except for many phonies I’ve written about previously.

I guess when my day comes I’ll find out where I stand.
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I think many of the modern denominations are all about control and money. When the King James translation was written, there were fights about what books to include and parts were added/omitted. I don't see any of the Old Testament as being literal but some of it is backed up historically. Bits and pieces. The great flood is an example. It's written in many versions and by many authors. The whole Noah's ark story is really outrageous, IMO. I think it was told to make a point, not as a literal story.

Some people believe the earth is flat. Some people believe the earth is 7,000 years old. Both are not true. There is clear scientific proof that the earth is around 4 billion years old and there were people on all the continents way before 7,000 years ago.

So, my take is the stories about Jesus (only 2,000 years ago) can be taken as probable. I believe Jesus came to teach us how to live here on earth, not how to get to Heaven. He was really a progressive and anti-government yet truly a religious scholar and teacher. He lived and died as a Jew. He was a champion of the poor, the sick, and widows and orphans. He's the only think in our modern Bible that makes sense to me. Just my opinion.
Thank you Tom'sWife for the beautiful re-introduction to Fr. James Martin. I actually had that book at one point. I will revisit it again as I pray to make some sense of my BFF's rapidly progressing ALS. Blessings to you and Tom.

"But… I have questions concerning the Bible which I was told/taught so many
times is/was the word of God. Really?"

Notes from Voddie Baucham's sermon "Why I choose to believe the Bible"

I choose to believe the Bible because…

“The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written down by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses that reports supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies and claim that their writings are divine writings rather than human in origin.”
My concern is... the Bible was assembled 300 years after Christ died so Constantine
could unify his empire. All word of mouth ear to ear and most written was
from recall. Many apostles stories were left out. And it's been proven John
did not write the one being used in his name. He was beheaded before.

I have no concern to those who believe the Bible is the word of God and they find
comfort and faith in the Bible. Again, if it strengthens your faith, comfort and
peace while you are suffering is good for you. History is history... which one
that one wants to believe/consider is a matter of. choice.

Peace to those who may find offense in what I have posted. It is a forum.
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"the New Testament contains four writings called “gospels,” there is in reality only one gospel running through all of the Christian scriptures, the gospel of and about Jesus Christ. Our English "while the word “gospel” translates the Greek term euangelion, meaning “good news.” Usccb

The gospels are stories of faith. The gospels are stories of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of Mary, ministered to people, preached the love of God, performed miracles to show Gods love for one person at a time, suffered, died, was buried and rose again to proclaim the glory of God.
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"Today, we’re used to history as a genre that prioritizes supposed agendaless chronicle. But the gospels have an agenda. This may come as a shock. The main objective of the gospels is not to convince us that the gospels are correct. Instead, the main objective of the gospels is to convince us that Jesus is worth following.

We Moderns may have expectations about how we would most easily be convinced, which may intersect with historical reliability. Still, we need to leave these expectations at the door when dealing with premodern texts... they aren’t trying to persuade readers that the events were historically accurate as we think of that concept today. They want to persuade readers that the message and person being conveyed is worth following. This doesn’t mean they ‘made things up’ or were unconcerned with accurate representation. They just weren’t concerned with it in the same way..." Nt wright.

Oral tradition was the common and reliable method of recording and sharing everything that happened in ancient times, across the world.

"The Judeo-Christian Bible reveals its oral traditional roots; medieval European manuscripts are penned by performing scribes; geometric vases from archaic Greece mirror Homer's oral style. (...) Indeed, if these final decades of the millennium have taught us anything, it must be that oral tradition never was the other we accused it of being; it never was the primitive, preliminary technology of communication we thought it to be. Rather, if the whole truth is told, oral tradition stands out as the single most dominant communicative technology of our species as both a historical fact and, in many areas still, a contemporary reality."

— John Foley, Signs of Orality

It doesn't matter that there was a delay in writing down the ministry of Jesus. How we relate to events and record history today is very different from how it was done 2000 years ago.
I guess dedicated believers will have/find their answers somewhere in their Christian beliefs and
100s years old writings, deflect any differing concerns/opinions. Something we often strongly
criticize other religions of.

Peace. Again, I am glad that your unwavering faith brings you comfort, enjoyment and peace.

I'll just stand by what I wrote as you can stand by your long defending replies.

Again, finally on my part in this subject going round and round... peace. That will probably
make some happy, comforting and relieved. Carry on Christian Warriors.
They just changed the rules of baseball again.
Is it still the same game?

This thread was started to help us sort out, ponder and pray about our suffering in life. Its not about who wrote what and when.

My nephew is 4 years old. He has a rare terminal illness. He cannot walk or talk or eat. But he can think and love. He brings joy every day to his family. He laughs and loves Mickey Mouse. He has been in the hospital many times in his four years. He sometimes is suffering. His parents and sisters suffer with him when he has episodes. Some how, some way his parents care for him every day. His sisters play with him. His parents say that he has brought love into their lives and has enriched their lives. His being here is a mystery, not a mistake. May the Lord Jesus hold him close every day.
Faith. Hope. Love.

"Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair." chesterton
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Sermon from a Poor Christian

Ya know, one needs to believe in something or they will fall for anything! In what? I would recommend the Bible, Jesus Christ as the in-the-flesh Son of God. (Sorry, I am biased)

SCIENCE Human beings are the ONLY creature on the face of the earth that lose weight at the moment of death. Many observers who have witnessed someone who died, tell of a vapor that leaves the body shortly after death. This does not happen to any other creature on earth.
So, do humans have a spirit? I think so. Also, humans have a DNA that no other creature on earth has. That DNA has not been found in anything other that humans. I have seen professors who try to explain the many wonders of the universe - and some of them fall flat on their PhD at some point because they have no answer other than some vague thought that they can't clearly convey.

I used to watch a bunch of those TV series based on oddities fund in nature. human endeavor, events or even aliens from outter space. They reinforce my faith in Jesus and God the Father. I have been asked how I can accept something like aliens from outter space in that man was created in the image of God. I AM A DUMMY : Clearly, I have no answer for why I believe that there is something to a story. I know I do not know all the wonders that God has done or can do, Think about it this way. The Bible tells us God created the world in 7 days but scientists tell us the world is billions of years old. Someone is lying! I rather think God can set it up in 7 days and the stuff to keep a man occupied for his lifetime - of each and every generation going forward,

My ALS (comforting?) story. I was a military Reservist going to college (couldn't be drafted - and they tried). I fell head over heals for a student at another nearby college. While I was gone for 2 weeks (training) she had found a new love for her life. Being 21, I resorted to drink. My grades went South. At some point I looked into a glass and realized I was falling into a trap - some place I did not want to go. I went to ALL the recruiters who asked what do you want (expensive health clubs were out of the question) and I knew I needed a life changing event after the last life changing event . I told them "out of town". Each branch had their own sales pitch (I was already in!) and any where from 4 to 6 months before I went to training was their answer, Then the day came and I walked into the Marine office. I started to get the sales pitch. I stated I am not here to hear a sales pitch, I just want out of town yesterday! 4 days counting the day I went in to the office, I was standing on the yellow footprints at a Marine Corps Recruiting Depot. Life in the Corps was never easy. (Viet Nam was going on and Marines were making headlines almost daily - and not in a good way) The Easy day was yesterday. Why the Lord threw the stuff at me that came my way I have no idea but - it made a more focused me to try and read people, better understand things, places and people to include their faith, and gave me sharp edges. About my second year in the Corps I met the woman who would become my wife. That series of events can easily be laid out as "that is natural" The tough life in the Corps can be stated "that is normal". In retrospect. I think God put us together even though we do not agree on much of anything. All the stuff I put up with in the Corps has put some sharp creases in my being leaving nothing untouched. I find something in my past that I draw on for caring for my PALS of 54 years.

As humans, God gave us the power to make choices. You can pick and choose what faith you want to follow. Understand that the most Blessed nation in the world is a Christian based, God fearing America. God is not mentioned in the Constitution. HOWEVER, GOD is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence - more than once! One can not create a rule set (Bylaws - Constitution) for something that does not exist or has no form or boundaries. The Declaration of Independence sets forth who we are (were), what when and where is now independent. God has blessed this country with many miracles that many define today as only happenstance. I find it beyond the pale that our own government treats Christians terribly yet buckles to other faiths as if they are part and parcel of the new government supported faith when Christianity in all its forms is what formed this country - and public officials deny or lie about that.

Death stalks us all. Death is like an actor exiting a stage (we do have an energy that goes somewhere else) after playing one's self in a play and not realizing the show manager is upset or happy with our performance. So, again, I would recommend the Christian faith. Again, I have never been to Heaven but if Hell is as bad as ALS, I certainly do not want to go there. If there is nothing - then maybe I can catch up on my sleep. However, I pray daily for God's help and sometimes it seems to help a lot! Watch out for those that pretend or would distract you with other false choices! Again, it is Your choice.

Sorry this is so poorly written.
Seagunny. Beautifully written. Thank you for writing this.

One of my favorites:

"Why the Lord threw the stuff at me that came my way I have no idea but - it made a more focused me to try and read people, better understand things, places and people to include their faith, and gave me sharp edges."

Genesis 1:1 says...the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Genesis 1:26 "let us make mankind in our image".

In Our image. God is triune: father, son, spirit.

Our spirit is of God from God and returns to God when our body returns to dust.

My PALS Tom and I have been married almost 48 years. He has accepted and also fought against this terrible thief, ALS. He has never complained. And our hearts break for the young men and women who get this diagnosis. Praying for a cure, now.
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