So why do bad things happen to good people? Didn’t Jesus suffer for us on the cross? Wasn’t his suffering a total and complete sacrifice for our sins? Do we need to unite our sufferings with Jesus to be saved, or is suffering just some random event that happens here on earth with no afterlife consequences?
The bible has the answers.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”
That statement packs a lot of theology. Pope John Paul II said that Christ's sufferings were lacking nothing. What this verse means is that Christ expects us to unite our sufferings with His. Peter talks about this in 1 Peter 4:13:But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
And why is this? For the sake of The Church, which is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23):
“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”
Christ’s sufferings overcame the original sin of Adam (1 Corinthians 15:21-22):
“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Paul’s sufferings are somewhat different than the sufferings of Jesus, as they are for the benefit of the Church, the bride of Christ. The Church, established by Christ, (Matthew 16:18):
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”
will suffer along with Christ until the end of time (John 15:20):
“Remember the word that I said to you, `A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you”
Some of these sufferings will be self inflicted wounds, like the priest and preacher scandals concerning sex, power, and money. Other sufferings will come from “the world”, like church desecrations, condemnations by politicians and “the media”, and ridicule by non-believers. Maybe even arrests and executions of believers one day, which will be come full circle from the days of the early Christians and the Romans. It happens in Communist countries like
So what do we do with our sufferings? Jesus said to rejoice in them, in Matthew 5:11-12:
"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So we see here that instead of cursing our Christian enemies, we should rejoice that we are being hated for the sake of Jesus.
“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”
OK, so we suffer for the sake of the Church, and rejoice in it, because our reward in heaven is great. What else is needed? In the old days, we were told to “offer it up” to God. Where does this come from? It comes from Romans 8:17:
“and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him”
We can claim our inheritance, Heaven, from God if we unite our sufferings with his. Apparently, when Jesus said in Luke 9:23:
“And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
he meant that we had to also suffer (take up his cross) with him. So the suffering that we all abhor and try to escape in this life can actually be heavenly medicine for us, if used in the right way. After all, when things are going well in our lives, with lots of money, ease, and pleasure, we tend to think we have it made in this world. And that is just the problem…We do have it made in this world. Why is this bad? Isn’t it a good thing to have it made in this world? The Bible says no:
James 4:4: Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
2 Peter 1:4: by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.
1 John 2:15-17: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. or all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.
1 John 5:19: We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one.
Heaven is our real home, and it should be the total thrust of our life. Christians are aliens in this world, not natives. Making your life the pursuit of money, sex, power, pleasure, drugs, the occult, etc., like so many people spend their lives doing, is a surefire ticket to hell. Suffering is one way to realize that one day we will die, and to start preparing to meet God. The real reason that God allows suffering to come into the world is for the greater good of us all. We can't see this now, because we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), but we will see it all in the afterlife. Jesus' suffering on the cross is the greatest example of horrible suffering bringing about the greater good for humanity. It is just like our suffering, although the magnitude of the suffering and the resultant benefit are different.
From "The Autobiography of St. Gemma Galgani"
:...but my greatest affliction was not being able to love Jesus as I wished. I tried eagerly not to offend Him, but my bad inclination to evil was so strong that without a special grace from God I would have fallen into hell. Not knowing how to love Jesus caused me much concern, but He, in His infinite goodness, was never ashamed to humiliate me in order that He might become my Master. One evening when I was at prayer, He came to bring peace to my soul. I felt myself entirely recollected and I found myself for a second time before Jesus Crucified. He said to me "Look Daughter, and learn how to love" and He showed me His five open wounds. "Do you see this cross, these thorns, these nails, these bruises, these tears, these wounds, this blood? They are all works of love; of infinite love. Do you see how much I have loved you? Do you really want to love Me? Then first learn how to suffer. It is by suffering that one learns how to love". On seeing this, I experienced a new sorrow, and thinking of the infinite love of Jesus for us, and all the sufferings that He had undergone for our salvation, I fainted and fell to the floor, and I remained thus for several hours. All that happened to me during these times of prayer brought me such great consolation, that although they (ecstasies -editor) were prolonged for several hours, I was not at all tired. Ecstasies I continued to make a Holy Hour every Thursday, but sometimes it happened that it lasted until around 2:00am, because I was with Jesus, and almost always He would give me a share in the grief that He suffered in the Garden at the sight of my many sins, and those of the entire world. It was such a deep sorrow that it could well be compared to the agony of death. After all this I would experience so sweet a calm and consolation that I had to give vent to it in tears. And these tears made me taste an incomprehensible love, and increased in me the desire to love Jesus, and to suffer for Him."
More from St. Gemma here.