Continuing our discussion on action and suffering we turn to the latter.
36. Like action, suffering is a part of our human existence. Suffering stems partly from our finitude, and partly from the mass of sin which has accumulated over the course of history, and continues to grow unabated today. Certainly we must do whatever we can to reduce suffering: to avoid as far as possible the suffering of the innocent; to soothe pain; to give assistance in overcoming mental suffering. These are obligations both in justice and in love, and they are included among the fundamental requirements of the Christian life and every truly human life.
Definitely so. Whether sin continues to accumulate with or without the ameliorating grace of God is beyond our control. The Christian response must be like the Bob Dylan one: get out of the road if you can’t lend a hand.
Great progress has been made in the battle against physical pain; yet the sufferings of the innocent and mental suffering have, if anything, increased in recent decades. Indeed, we must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world altogether is not in our power. This is simply because we are unable to shake off our finitude and because none of us is capable of eliminating the power of evil, of sin which, as we plainly see, is a constant source of suffering.
Still, the laboring as if it would be possible with the help of God is something laudable. A total accomplishment would be, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds, a fulfillment, not a hope:
Only God is able to do this: only a God who personally enters history by making himself man and suffering within history. We know that this God exists, and hence that this power to “take away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) is present in the world. Through faith in the existence of this power, hope for the world’s healing has emerged in history. It is, however, hope—not yet fulfilment; hope that gives us the courage to place ourselves on the side of good even in seemingly hopeless situations, aware that, as far as the external course of history is concerned, the power of sin will continue to be a terrible presence.
For Easter last year, I borrowed the intercessory texts from Praise God in Song, “That our Risen Savior may crush beneath his feet all evil powers, that by his power he may brush aside all war, injustice, and other offenses against human dignity, that he will crack open all stony hearts that frustrate the efforts of those who feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and welcome the stranger, that by his healing touch sickness and disease will cease,” that struck me as appropriately direct yet harsh toward the evil and darkness in the world. I think a certain self-satisfaction with the reality of the power of sin is a dangerously passive approach to the ills of the world. We can be praying, and even acting under the expectation of God’s triumph. Besides: working with the expectation to see evil eradicated? Nothing is more hopeless than that.
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