Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Redemptive Suffering (part 1)

Pope John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter in 1984 entitled Salvifici Doloris, on the Christian meaning of human suffering.  Next Wednesday, I will be leading a discussion at Princeton University on the first half of this Letter (paragraphs 1-18).  The John Paul II Reading Group meets once a month at Murray-Dodge Hall from 7:30 - 9:00pm.

Below (or click here) is my summary with excerpts from the first half of the document.  The late pontiff could be a bit verbose and repetitive (at least, that's how I perceive it), so I've produced a "kernel" version of this masterpiece.  I recommend you read the real thing, but I think my summary is adequate to gain familiarity with the subject matter.

I. Introduction (nn. 1-4)
  • Suffering, like all human things, finds its true meaning in Jesus Christ.  It is both a burden and a joy.  Why it is a burden is evident; why it is a joy requires reflection into the mystery of redemption in Jesus Christ. (1)
  • Suffering is a constant theme throughout human existence.  Human suffering is deeper than animal pain, because suffering is transcendent and involves a sense of injustice. (2)
  • Redemption came through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross:  it came through suffering.  Thus, our redemption is directly related to Christ’s suffering, and our suffering is linked somehow to our redemption. (3)
  • Suffering leads to compassion (“suffering” passio “with” com-), respect, and intimidation. (4)
  • Declaring the power of salvific suffering, the Apostle Paul says: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church”. … These words [are] accompanied by joy. For this reason Saint Paul writes: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake”. (1)
  • The theme of suffering … is a universal theme that accompanies man at every point on earth. (2)
  • [E]ven though man knows and is close to the sufferings of the animal world, nevertheless what we express by the word “suffering” seems to be particularly essential to the nature of man. (2)
  • Suffering … belong[s] to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself. (2)
  • Redemption was accomplished through the Cross of Christ, that is, through his suffering. (3)
  • [S]uffering [is] almost inseparable from man’s earthly existence. (3)
  • Human suffering evokes compassion; it also evokes respect, and in its own way it intimidates. (4)
II. The World of Human Suffering (nn. 5-8)
  • Man suffers in many different ways, including physical, mental, emotional, and moral.  While medicine can seek to ease physical, mental, and emotional suffering, it cannot approach moral suffering.  We all suffer in different ways and to different degrees. (5)
  • The Bible is largely about suffering.  People suffer in spite of their “election” by God, and people suffer when they stray from God’s “election” of them.  Moral suffering is often described in physiological terms in the Bible. (6)
  • We suffer when we experience evil.  In the Old Testament, the vocabulary implied that suffering is evil; with Greek (and the New Testament), language emerges that inverts the relationship:  evil leads to suffering.  What is evil?  Christianity sees the Creator and creation as good, and sees evil as a lack, limit, or distortion of good.  Man suffers because of a good in which he does not share. (7)
  • Suffering is a widespread phenomenon:  we all suffer “in dispersion” throughout the world and throughout time.  Suffering is an exile of sorts, a world of its own.  Every personal instance of suffering is a small part of that greater world of suffering, but that whole world is present in each person’s suffering.  Suffering also leads to solidarity and communion among those who suffer.  In certain times in our history, suffering seems to be greatly concentrated, such as during famines or wars.  During this era of nuclear weapons and possible mutual destruction, the amount of suffering appears proportional to the sins of our age. (8)
  • [I]n its subjective dimension … suffering seems almost inexpressible and not transferable. (5)
  • Man suffers in different ways, ways not always considered by medicine. … [P]hysical suffering is present when “the body is hurting” in some way, whereas moral suffering is “pain of the soul”. … [M]oral suffering seems … less identified and less reachable by therapy. (5)
  • Sacred Scripture is a great book about suffering. … [T]he Old Testament often links “moral” sufferings with the pain of specific parts of the body: the bones, kidneys, liver, viscera, heart. (6)
  • [M]an suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil. (7)
  • In the vocabulary of the Old Testament, suffering and evil are identified with each other. In fact, that vocabulary did not have a specific word to indicate “suffering”. Thus it defined as “evil” everything that was suffering. Only the Greek language … use[s] the verb pascho [and] thanks to this verb, suffering is no longer directly identifiable with (objective) evil, but expresses a situation in which man experiences evil and in doing so becomes the subject of suffering. (7)
  • [W]hat is evil? This question [is] inseparable from the theme of suffering. … 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. (7)
  • Man suffers on account of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation or distortion of good. … [M]an 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. (7)
  • [I]n the Christian view, the reality of suffering is explained through evil, which always, in some way, refers to a good. (7)
  • [The] world of suffering, divided into many, very many subjects, exists as it were “in dispersion”. Every individual, through personal suffering, constitutes not only a small part of that “world”, but at the same time “that world” is present in him as a finite and unrepeatable entity. (8)
  • The world of suffering possesses as it were its own solidarity. People who suffer become similar to one another through the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering. (8)
  • Thus, although the world of suffering exists “in dispersion”, at the same time it contains within itself a singular challenge to communion and solidarity. (8)
  • [S]uffering … at some periods of time and in some eras of human existence … becomes particularly concentrated. This happens, for example, in cases of natural disasters, epidemica, catastrophes, upheavals … [and] war. (8)
  • The second half of our century, in its turn, brings with it—as though in proportion to the mistakes and transgressions of our contemporary civilization—such a horrible threat of nuclear war that we cannot think of this period except in terms of an incomparable accumulation of sufferings, even to the possible self-destruction of humanity. (8)
III. The Quest for an Answer to the Question of the Meaning of Suffering (nn. 9-13)
  • Why do we suffer?  Why is there evil?  Man suffers and wonders why, and often suffers more deeply when he cannot find a satisfactory answer.  Evil obscures our vision of God, sometimes to the point of atheism, as if to say, “an almighty and benevolent God wouldn’t allow this to happen, thus God is either not almighty or not good, which means He’s not God.”  This confusion is often a reaction to so much undeserved suffering and unpunished evil. (9)
  • The Book of Job poses this question of suffering.  Job’s friends think suffering is simply retribution for wrong-doing, a just punishment for sin.  The Old Testament strongly supports that line of thinking:  the existence of moral evil (sin) justifies the existence of suffering as punishment.  To sin is to break the divine Law, it is to transgress against the divine Law-giver, God; it is an objective necessity that a just Law-giver should punish evil and reward good. (10)
  • Job challenges the principle that all suffering is the result of sin.  God acknowledges that Job is innocent in the matter, but the suffering of the innocent remains a mystery which God does not reveal.  While some suffering is punishment for sin, not all suffering is:  it can be a test of righteousness.  This all points to the suffering (Passion) of Christ in the New Testament. (11)
  • While the question is “answered,” it remains without a solution in the Old Testament, but there are indicators of a deeper meaning.  Suffering as punishment (such as Israel endured when it strayed from her covenant with God) had an educational value as well.  Punishment repays evil, but it also provides an opportunity to rebuild the good that was missing.  Punishment is ordered towards penalty, but also conversion, mercy, and rehabilitation. (12)
  • The “why” of suffering is answered truly in the revelation of divine love:  God gives the definitive answer and solution to the problem of suffering through the cross of His Son Jesus Christ. (13)
  • [W]hy? It is a question about the cause, the reason, and equally, about the purpose of suffering. (9)
  • [P]ain … is widespread in the animal world. But only the suffering human being knows that he is suffering and wonders why; and he suffers in a humanly speaking still deeper way if he does not find a satisfactory answer. (9)
  • Why does evil exist? … [This] question [is] a question about suffering too. (9)
  • [C]oncerning this question … [some] people reach the point of actually denying God. [T]he existence of the world opens … the eyes of the human soul to the existence of God … [but] evil and suffering seem to obscure this image … especially in the daily drama of so many cases of undeserved suffering and of so many faults without proper punishment. (9)
  • [T]his circumstance shows … the importance of the question of the meaning of suffering; it also shows how much care must be taken both in dealing with the question itself and with all possible answers to it. (9)
  • In the Book of Job the question has found its most vivid expression. (10)
  • [Job is a] just man, who without any fault of his own is tried by innumerable sufferings. … [Three friends try] to convince him that since he has been struck down by such varied and terrible sufferings, he must have done something seriously wrong. For suffering—they say—always strikes a man as punishment for a crime; it is sent by the absolutely just God and finds its reason in the order of justice. In their eyes suffering can have a meaning only as a punishment for sin, therefore only on the level of God’s justice, who repays good with good and evil with evil. (10)
  • The opinion expressed by Job’s friends manifests a conviction also found in the moral conscience of humanity: the objective moral order demands punishment for transgression, sin and crime. From this point of view, suffering appears as a “justified evil”. (10)
  • Job however challenges the truth of the principle that identifies suffering with punishment for sin. … God … recognizes that Job is not guilty. His suffering is the suffering of someone who is innocent and it must be accepted as a mystery. (11)
  • 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. … [S]uffering has the nature of a test. (11)
  • The Book of Job … is a foretelling of the Passion of Christ. … [The Book of Job] is sufficient argument why the answer to the question about the meaning of suffering is not to be unreservedly linked to the moral order, based on justice alone. (11)
  • The Book of Jobdoes not yet give the solution to the problem. (12)
  • [T]he Old Testament … emphasizes … the educational value of suffering as a punishment. 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” .
  • [P]unishment has a meaning not only because it serves to repay the objective evil of the transgression with another evil, but first and foremost because it creates the possibility of rebuilding goodness in the subject who suffers. … 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. (12)
  • [T]o 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. (13)
  • Love is … 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. (13)
IV. Jesus Christ:  Suffering Conquered by Love (nn. 14-18)
  • God “gave” His Son so that man might have eternal life and not perish.  This “giving” implies a suffering:  God did not just send His Son, He gave His Son.  Jesus came to give us eternal life, which is the opposite of “perishing”:  redemption, then, is about being saved from the eternal and definitive suffering of being separated from God for eternity. (14)
  • Christ does not just address this eternal, definitive suffering, but also our temporal suffering, both of which are rooted in an experience of evil.  Jesus comes to save us from sin and death.  Because of sin (ours or others’) we experience suffering.  Death is a final destructive blow to our persons, soul and body:  the soul survives, though separated from the body, and the body decays.  It is the final experience of suffering in this world.  Jesus saves us from sin by offering us Sanctifying Grace, and He saves us from death by His Resurrection which is a pledge of our future rising from the dead.  In Heaven, there will be no suffering at all.  Christ’s redemptive work does not abolish temporal suffering for us, but shines a redemptive light on it. (15)
  • Christ was well-acquainted with suffering in His Messianic work:  He was around the suffering and the sick, and He became more and more isolated and the target of hostility as He approached the culmination of His work on earth.  He spoke of this suffering to His Apostles many times, and rebuked Peter when he tried to prevent Him from facing His destiny:  the Cross.  He was fully aware of His mission and what it would entail, and the Scriptures prophesied the suffering He would have to face, as Jesus affirms several times.  Jesus faced this suffering with full knowledge, in full obedience to His Father. (16)
  • The fourth Song of the Suffering Servant (in Isaiah 53) is a powerful prophecy of the One chosen by God to suffer for His people.  It accurately depicts the events of His Passion and the depth of His sacrifice.  In it, the Servant suffers for His people, to redeem and restore them.  Only Jesus Christ, Who is true God and true Man, can take all the sins of humanity upon Himself in a complete and redemptive way.  Jesus’ sufferings are truly human, but with a depth unmatchable by any other man, because He is Man and God. (17)
  • The Song continues, showing that the Servants suffers voluntarily and innocently.  Jesus proves His love for the Father through His obedience to Him, going to the cross freely and innocently.  He proves the truth of love through the truth of suffering.  When Jesus says “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” from the cross, it is not because He (God the Son) is separated from or abandoned by God the Father; the Son and the Father are inseparably united.  Rather, by taking the weight of all sin upon Himself, Christ perceived – in a way inexpressible by man (who can only perceive it by experiencing it himself) – the evil of turning away from God:  the suffering of man’s separation, rejection, and estrangement from God.  Christ’s Passion is the culmination of human suffering, but suffering has now been linked to love which can draw good from the suffering. (18)
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. These words … express the very essence of Christian soteriology, that is, of the theology of salvation. Salvation means liberation from evil, and for this reason it is closely bound up with the problem of suffering. (14)
  • [T]he very word “gives” (“gave”) indicates that this liberation must be achieved by the only-begotten Son through his own suffering. (14)
  • We here find … a completely new dimension of our theme … the dimension of Redemption, to which in the Old Testament, at least in the Vulgate text, the words of the just man Job already seem to refer: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last... I shall see God...”. (14)
  • [T]he words quoted above from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus refer to suffering in its fundamental and definitive meaning. … Man “perishes” when he loses “eternal life”. The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering … but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering. (14)
  • Christ by his mission strikes at evil at its very roots … not only evil and definitive, eschatological suffering … but also at least indirectly toil and suffering in their temporal and historical dimension. (15)
  • [O]ne cannot reject the criterion that, at the basis of human suffering, there is a complex involvement with sin. It is the same when we deal with death. (15)
  • [Death is] a definitive summing-up of the destructive work both in the bodily organism and in the psyche. But death primarily involves the dissolution of … man. The soul survives and subsists separated from the body, while the body is subjected to gradual decomposition… (15)
  • 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 … and then he gives man the possibility of living in Sanctifying Grace. In the wake of his victory over sin, he also takes away the dominion of death, by his Resurrection beginning the process of the future resurrection of the body. (15)
  • [I]n the eschatological perspective suffering is totally blotted out. (15)
  • As a result of Christ’s salvific work, man exists on earth with the hope of eternal life and holiness. (15)
  • [E]ven though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life [it] throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation. (15)
  • Christ drew increasingly closer to the world of human suffering … concerned primarily [with] those who were suffering and seeking help. … He was sensitive to every human suffering, whether of the body or of the soul. And at the same time he taught, and at the heart of his teaching there are the eight beatitudes, which are addressed to people tried by various sufferings in their temporal life. (16)
  • Christ drew close above all to the world of human suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon his very self [becoming] more and more isolated and encircled by hostility and the preparations for putting him to death. (16)
  • Christ goes towards his Passion and death with full awareness of the mission that he has to fulfil precisely in this way. … [T]herefore Christ severely reproves Peter when the latter wants to make him abandon the thoughts of suffering and of death on the Cross. … Christ goes toward his own suffering, aware of its saving power; he goes forward in obedience to the Father… (16)
  • There were many messianic texts in the Old Testament which foreshadowed the sufferings of the future Anointed One of God [especially] the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant, in the Book of Isaiah. (17)
  • The Song of the Suffering Servant contains a description in which it is possible … to identify the stages of Christ’s Passion in their various details. (17)
  • Even more than this description of the Passion, what strikes us in the words of the Prophet is the depth of Christ’s sacrifice. Behold, He, though innocent, takes upon himself the sufferings of all people, because he takes upon himself the sins of all. (17)
  • [This suffering] is “redemptive”. The Man of Sorrows of that prophecy is truly that “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. (17)
  • [T]his Son who is consubstantial with the Father suffers as a man. His suffering has human dimensions … an incomparable depth and intensity of suffering, insofar as [he is] “God from God”. Therefore, only he … is capable of embracing the measure of evil contained in the sin of man. (17)
  • The Suffering Servanttakes on himself those sufferings which were spoken of, in a totally voluntary way. … Christ suffers voluntarily and suffers innocently. With his suffering he accepts that question [posed in] the Book of Job. Christ … also carries the greatest possible answer to this question. (18)
  • The words of that prayer of Christ in Gethsemane prove the truth of love through the truth of suffering. (18)
  • When Christ says: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”, his words are not only an expression of that abandonment which many times found expression in the Old Testament, especially in … Psalm 22. … [T]hese words on abandonment are born at the level of that inseparable union of the Son with the Father. (18)
  • [E]ncompassing the “entire” evil of the turning away from God which is contained in sin, Christperceives in a humanly inexpressible way this suffering which is the separation, the rejection by the Father, the estrangement from God. (18)
  • Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time … it has been linked to lovewhich creates good, drawing it out by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from the Cross of Christ. (18)

No comments: