It’s probably the toughest question we face in our faith life, and at some point, we all confront it in a personal way. And Lent posits the question in a way we can’t ignore: Why would Jesus, who healed the sick, stood up for the underdog, and introduced a new law of love, have to suffer such a death?
That question is at the heart of everything, and yet it’s tough to answer.
In the past few months, the question of suffering has been brought home to me by two funerals in my little rural hometown.
One, in the midst of a brutal Midwestern winter, the wind chill hovering below zero, was held just the other day in the parish church where I was married years ago. Maria Menjivar lost her life in an automobile accident in which her three lively young sons were also killed. She was eight months pregnant with her first daughter, Luna.
My hometown reacted in abject grief. The school was full of little kids who knew the boys and must now ask dark questions, the kind every parent dreads, about death. The large Hispanic population, as well as the old-timers who grew up in the town when it was predominantly Irish and Bohemian, grieved together.
When I heard about the accident, which was not Maria’s fault, I was almost physically ill even though I didn’t know her.
Why did God let this happen?
The other funeral was several months ago, again a car accident claiming the life of a young woman, leaving behind a husband, teenage children, parents. Karrie was alone, making her way on an early Halloween morning to her job at a preschool.
I could imagine her thoughts that morning. Costumes, maybe a party later. Special treats. Children anxious to share their plans.
And then, all of it over in seconds.
I attended this funeral because both her husband and her parents were childhood friends of mine. Like Maria’s funeral, Karrie’s funeral was celebrated by the same priest. And both funerals used the same reading from Job, a book that confronts the question of human suffering and God’s justice, and despite exhorting us to trust God, leaves us still with that nagging question: But, why this suffering?
I have often felt called to the words of Julian of Norwich, the anchoress who spent her life in a hermit’s enclosure attached to an English church.
“All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well,” said Julian, who assured us of this certainty after pleading with God to bring her to death’s door so that she might better understand God. She was granted this grace, and then went on to live many more years. Her subsequent writings, based on the “showings” she experienced from God, were called “The Revelation of Divine Love.”
She came to the conclusion offered us by all Christian mystics, and taught to us by our faith: all things will ultimately be resolved in Christ.
Sometimes, it’s hard to make sense of life. But without this faith, life doesn’t make sense at all.
Saint Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (1 Cor: 14)
This is the challenge Lent presents — despite our doubts — to place our trust in this Lord who promises to reconcile all things to himself. To believe, in the midst of a hard world, that all will be well.