So, last time I went to Spiritual Direction, I told Mary (not the BVM; my Spiritual director's name is Mary) that I was frustrated by the whole "why does God let bad things happen to people?" issue. I told her that I knew I'd never understand it, and that it wasn't really mine to understand. She said "well, it sounds like you've already decided the answers without ever even asking God the questions." (How about that!)
So, I decided to ask (of course still not really believing I'd get an answer) and see what God would tell me. Mary gave me a printed Catholic Update about suffering. It was interesting- it talked about letting go of ideas that God was trying to punish us, or trying to teach us... but, you know, although it made some good points, it still fell short of answering my question.
Coincidentally, the chapter I turned to this week in my book (Is Your Lord Large Enough) was about suffering. It seems CS Lewis wrote about The Problem of Pain early in his career, and then wrote, journal-style, A Grief Observed much later, upon the death of his wife. The first was theoretical, the second was experiential- so you can imagine the differences.
Anyway- the author of IYLLE makes some great points, the best of which, I thought, were these:
"Pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving." The fact that we struggle with pain is a sign of our faith in the Goodness of God! If we didn't have a belief that God is good, we'd expect pain, and not need to look for the meaning of it. Huh.
"'Love is a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.' This is not a wish for the loved person's happiness, but for his or her good, even if suffering or unhappiness is necessary to attain that good." Here's that parent image again- a good parent understands this, I bet.
"God may (even, I think, does) share and feel the pain when human beings suffer, but cannot eliminate the pain without changing the nature of the universe and eliminating human freedom." I've heard this argument before, but it never really worked for me- I couldn't see why freedom would be preferable to God than making our lives happy and safe and good. Why bother with pain when He could change things? I get that good comes out of pain in many ways, but why go to the trouble? But then I read this:
Our vision is limited. God's knowledge of what ultimate good consists of, for individuals and for all humankind, goes far beyond what we can possibly comprehend. We do not have enough informaiton to build a case that God could or should have saved an individual or a community from a pain or grief. In the end, we must trust in what we know about the character of God, though in the midst of suffering or grief, such trust may be difficult." Of course!
This answer satisfies me more here than it has before. I've been told "all you can do is trust that God has a plan" a million times- and it always made me a bit mad. But the difference is, I was looking at it though my own lenses again- my own judgment of what GOOD is and what BAD is. God, of course, sees through different eyes. I can trust that God knows better than I do about what is good, and that makes all the difference to me. And just as it always seems to be, the reason I'm not getting the answers I expect from God is that I don't even know how to ask the question.