Problem of suffering points to Jesus


As New Zealand loosens restrictions that applied during the lockdown initiated by the coronavirus pandemic, many questions are being asked.

What does the future hold? Will the economy recover? What does it mean for my family and my community? Was our response the right one?

There are many questions and many answers – but often those answers are not immediately available.

Even people of faith are among those asking questions. Underneath all of these is a fundamental question. Where is God in all of this?

It goes back to one of the great mysteries – the mystery of evil and suffering. Many answers have been proposed down the centuries – for instance, suffering is a test or a trial; suffering is punishment for sins. It is not a new problem.

As writer Mark Dowd pointed out in the Jesuit publication Thinking Faith earlier this month, many an ingenious solution has been proposed under the heading of “theodicy”.

While these questions certainly have their place, Dowd wrote, the answers to them are “condemned to fall short”.

Instead, one arrives back at the Book of Job, where “the haplessly virtuous but tormented figure asks God to make sense of all his trials and misfortunes”. God does not give Job an answer but points to the divine instigation of the great breadth and depth of creation, which is beyond human comprehension.

However, a key aspect that can be taken from the Book of Job is not that God explains suffering to Job, but rather God is with him in his suffering. This points to an even greater “being with” humanity by God that is yet to come.

Jesuit Father James Martin, writing in The New York Times earlier this year, explored similar problems and questions. Like Dowd, he found that the mystery of suffering is “unanswerable”, but if this is the case, where can the believer go in times like this?

“For the Christian, and perhaps even for others, the answer is Jesus,” Fr Martin wrote.

This is apt in many ways, even in the times of this pandemic. We look upon the image of a crucified and suffering God on the cross, who breaths his last and gives up his Spirit.

This is in a time when stories have been in media throughout the world about patients fighting for breath, oxygen levels, ventilators and the like. Fr Martin wrote that Jesus is divine, so knows all things, but he is human so has experienced human things – even being starved of oxygen.

And this reflection is most apt at Pentecost, where, as Benedict XVI preached in 2011, the Holy Spirit is portrayed in John 20:22 as the breath of the risen Jesus. At the same time, the Spirit is the one who makes us recognise the Lord God in Jesus.

The Spirit prompts us to speak the profession of the Church’s faith: “Jesus is Lord.”

“Lord”,” Benedict preached, “is the title attributed to God in the Old Testament, a title that in the interpretation of the Bible replaced his unpronounceable name. The Creed of the Church is nothing other than the development of what we say with this simple affirmation: “Jesus is Lord”.

The words “Jesus is Lord” can be interpreted in two ways, Benedict continued.

“They mean: Jesus is God, and, at the same time: God is Jesus. The Holy Spirit illuminates this reciprocity: Jesus has divine dignity and God has the human face of Jesus. God shows himself in Jesus and by doing so gives us the truth about ourselves. Letting ourselves be enlightened by this Word in the depths of our inmost being is the event of Pentecost.”

As Dowd wrote: “How very apt that, in these Covid-19 anxious times, we vouch faith in a God who does not ridicule us or abandon us in our suffering, but in a God who sends his son to die through asphyxiation on a cross.”

“A God who says – this is not the end of the tale. Put your hand in mine. Walk through the darkness of the tomb and prepare for the unexpected – the new life of resurrection.

“We look through a glass darkly. I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.”


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Michael Otto

Reader Interactions


  1. Mark Worsley says

    For. James Martin is a corrupt socialist who’s opinion is not worth considering.

    Why must the NZ Catholic idolise this heretic?

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