Because We Said So. The Catholic Church’s Take on Suffering

A friend of mine responded to my last post, How Can a Merciful God Let This Happen?, by suggesting that I read encyclical by Pope John Paul 2 – Salvifici Doloris, or On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering.

So I read it.

Before I get into this, I have to say that I’ve tried hard not to come off too dismissive of other’s beliefs and to be professional and respectful in my writings. But after reading this, the gloves are off. I think the fact that I was raised Catholic makes me even more upset. I haven’t considered myself a Catholic for at least 25 years and reading this made me ashamed that I ever was a Catholic!

Almost nowhere in this long, theologically densely packed, mind-bending, logic mangling encyclical is there expressed concern for the actual, real suffering of real human begins. Instead we are continuously bashed about the head with the great gift of Christ’s suffering. This is not about human suffering at all, it is about Christ’s suffering and how thankful and awestruck we should all be that he gave his life so we could continue to suffer, and suffer and suffer here on earth, happy in the knowledge that someday we will all dance in heaven together.


I did a lot of cutting and pasting because I certainly don’t expect most people to manage to get through this piece of…reading, without their heads exploding. Also, if I don’t actually quote it, most of you would accuse me of making it up, because it is just so far beyond belief that this could in anyway serve as an answer to the question, “Why does a merciful God allow suffering in the world?”.

So let’s get rolling and I’ll try to let the words of the Pope speak for themselves, although I will be commenting on it because to throw it out there and not comment on it would be irresponsible.

“The theme of suffering in a special way demands to be faced in the context of the Holy Year of the Redemption, and this is so, in the first place, because the Redemption was accomplished through the Cross of Christ, that is, through his suffering. And at the same time, during the Holy Year of the Redemption we recall the truth expressed in the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis: in Christ “every man becomes the way for the Church”(4). It can be said that man in a special fashion becomes the way for the Church when suffering enters his life.“

So does this mean that it’s the church’s fault that we suffer?

“Christianity proclaims the essential good of existence and the good of that which exists, acknowledges the goodness of the Creator and proclaims the good of creatures. Man suffers on account of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation or distortion of good. We could say that man suffers because of a good in which he does not share, from which in a certain sense he is cut off, or of which he has deprived himself. He particularly suffers when he a ought”—in the normal order of things—to have a share in this good and does not have it “

So now we suffer because we don’t have good on our lives. Wow, what a surprise!

“Thus, in the Christian view, the reality of suffering is explained through evil, which always, in some way, refers to a good.”

So, good refers to evil and the world and all of us are basically good, but for some reason, still not explained, we don’t have good so we suffer. Huh?

“God is a just judge, who rewards good and punishes evil: “For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true and thy ways right, and all thy judgments are truth. Thou hast executed true judgments in all that thou hast brought upon us… for in truth and justice thou hast brought all this upon us because of our sins”

Ok, so now it’s not that evil refers to good, it’s that we have sinned? Tell that to the two year old sifting through a garbage heap in Brazil. Go ahead, tell her that the reason she suffers is that she somehow sinned. I dare you!

“Job however challenges the truth of the principle that identifies suffering with punishment for sin. And he does this on the basis of his own opinion. For he is aware that he has not deserved such punishment, and in fact he speaks of the good that he has done during his life. In the end, God himself reproves Job’s friends for their accusations and recognizes that Job is not guilty. His suffering is the suffering of someone who is innocent and it must be accepted as a mystery, which the individual is unable to penetrate completely by his own intelligence.”

Um, a mystery? I thought this was supposed to be explaining innocent human suffering. Saying that it must be accepted “as a mystery” is basically saying, “Because we said so.”

“While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment.”

Right, it’s a “mystery” (I’m doing air quotes and saying mystery in a sarcastic tone of voice).

“From the introduction of the Book it is apparent that God permitted this testing as a result of Satan’s provocation. For Satan had challenged before the Lord the righteousness of Job: “Does Job fear God for nought? … Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face”. And if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering, he does it to demonstrate the latter’s righteousness. The suffering has the nature of a test.”

So, now God is allowing an innocent person to suffer just because satan dared him to?! If God is all powerful then why doesn’t he just fry satan’s ass and leave it at that? God is no better here than some kid on a playground pushing a littler kid down because another kid dared him to.

“Thus in the sufferings inflicted by God upon the Chosen People there is included an invitation of his mercy, which corrects in order to lead to conversion: “… these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people.”

Ok, so then now you are saying that suffering is a form of discipline. What, like push ups in the Army, or extra chores around the house, but with pain, sickness and death added in?

“Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God.”

Now we are told that we suffer in order to make us better. But I thought a little while ago, you said that we were all basically good? Let’s see if I got this right. God created us imperfect and is now making us suffer so that we can be better than what he made us in the first place.

“But in order to perceive the true answer to the “why” of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the “why” of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.”

So, God makes us suffer because he loves us. I thought we suffered because of evil. And you didn’t really explain the real “why”, once again, it’s a “mystery”.

“Love is: also the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This answer has been given by God to man in the Cross of Jesus Christ.”

Huh? (I honestly can’t think of anything else to say to this.)

“God gives his Son to “the world” to free man from evil, which bears within itself the definitive and absolute perspective on suffering.”

Again, Huh? And, if his Son freed us from evil, and evil is the source of suffering, then why are thousands of innocent children dying each day all around the world because they don’t have access to food, clean water or medical care? Haven’t they been freed from the evil that causes suffering?

“Suffering cannot be divorced from the sin of the beginnings, from what Saint John calls “the sin of the world”, from the sinful background of the personal actions and social processes in human history”

Ah, original sin! When you can’t think of any other reason for suffering, just trot out Jesus on the old ass of original sin.

“…even if death is not a form of suffering in the temporal sense of the word, even if in a certain way it is beyond all forms of suffering, at the same time the evil which the human being experiences in death has a definitive and total character. By his salvific work, the only-begotten Son liberates man from sin and death. First of all he blots out from human history the dominion of sin, which took root under the influence of the evil Spirit, beginning with Original Sin”

Um, I see quite a bit of evil out there in the world, so I think “blots out” is a bit of an overstatement.

“And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation…”For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”. This truth radically changes the picture of man’s history and his earthly situation”

Ah, Jesus’ dying for our sins didn’t really abolish suffering! So what was all that bullshit about blotting out sin and redemption?

Most of the next dozen or two paragraphs consist of the following: Christ died for our sins. Christ died for our sins. Christ died for our sins. Ad infinitum.

“One can say that with the Passion of Christ all human suffering has found itself in a new situation.”

And in what kind of situation would that be? Like, in a better situation? Like in a situation where suffering has the upper hand? Considering that human suffering has tended to grow as time goes by, I’d say that about sums it up.

“The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”

Now, even though Christ suffered and died for you, you must share in his suffering. So what was the whole point of his dying for our sins again?

“For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh”

Wait, I thought he died for us, now we have to die for him?! Yikes!

The next couple dozen paragraphs went on about the Virgin Mary, mystical sacred motherhood and more “Jesus died for our sins” stuff.

“the glory that is hidden in the very suffering of Christ and which has been and is often mirrored in human suffering, as an expression of man’s spiritual greatness.”

Ah, glory in suffering. And who’s glory would that be? God’s or ours?

“Suffering as it were contains a special call to the virtue which man must exercise on his own part. And this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, that it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity linked to awareness of the meaning of life.”

Suffering give us dignity? “How dignified it is to die in a puddle of your own vomit and excrement?”, the little boy asked.

“…the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering.”

So, God expresses his love through human suffering? Well, all I can say to that is that he’s no god of mine!

No wonder the Catholic church is imploding under it’s own vile, degenerate weight. Any organization who could not only rationalize away human suffering, but also turn it around on us and tell us that we suffer because Jesus died for our sins and now we owe him, deserves to go to the deepest bowels of whatever hell they believe in.

For all of you believers out there who buy into this kind of stuff, if evil exists in this world, it is only because your god is a malevolent, sadistic jerk who created evil for his own amusement. While you are down on your knees worshiping him, the rest of use will be out here in the world trying to clean up the mess he made.


4 thoughts on “Because We Said So. The Catholic Church’s Take on Suffering

  1. As a non-theist Buddhist I have a great sympathy for those in the world who suffer such angst and guilt in the name of their religion.
    “The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.”

  2. Throughout your entire existence, and throughout the 25 years that you have renounced the Catholic faith you still maintain a level of ignorance that is bewildering. Even though I am a naive and ignorant teenager with no claims to knowing anything about theology or philosophy, I at least know what the Church teaches with regards to suffering and it is very rational. Suffering has the potenciality of being very beautiful; it only has to be endured and you become stronger and increase exponentially in grace. Salvifici Doloris emphasizes the fact that Christ suffered not only on the cross, but he continuously suffers for the sins of the whole world. He dies on the cross because he loves Man so much that he would give everything that his mortal body and soul could give for the redemption of all souls. He sufferd perfectly even though it was not his burden to suffer and it is undeniably a good thing and it is just that it is at the center of our late and long suffering Pope’s treatise. God in his supreme wisdom does not allow anything to happen that is not for our better interest, and suffering is the greatest example of this because (if used properly) it has the ability to make us more resilient and it brings us closer to God. Ah, but you may ask, “What about all of the terrible things that happen to others in this world (ie: war, famine, disease, etc)?” Then if such a question were asked then I would challenge you to read the lives of the saints and how they were able to help others. Because in suffering and helping those that suffer we become more like Christ and more beautiful and more perfect. May God be with You- forgive me if I sounded harsh.

  3. I am more emboldened and impressed with the comments given by Chad, who identifies himself as a teenager than most professors I’ve had while attending a Jesuit University.
    Should the web-site holder really be interested in knowing about “Redemptive Suffering” perhaps he should first 1) approach it with an open mind and 2) consult with some Christological experts on the nature and being of Jesus Christ, His Father and the Holy Spirit. Should you have really been fully open to learning about this subject perhaps you can even go back so far as to the Jewish Testament. The beauty of Christ’s redemptive suffering actualizes the very essence of the prophetic writings within the Old Testament.
    I’m sorry that you are so closed to the beauty of what the Church has to offer (Roman Catholic). But as a survivor of the mixed-up era following John XXIII’s Second Vatican Council it’s no wonder there are so many that have been part of Christ’s church but no longer; through no fault of their own and I include you in that….Chad, you are going to be a great apologist; keep up the great work. jkm

  4. Why create only to torment with evil lurking?

    I did not ask to be born into this world. He can take it back now. I want no part in his drama.

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