Providence and Our Response to Suffering
by Father Paul K. Raftery, O.P.
As we continue to look at the Cross and the Divine
Artistry at work in Manipulating the Tragedy of Life to Prosper
Good, we come to the Difficult Issue of the
Human Response to Suffering. It is one thing to speak of the
Spiritual Benefits of Trials in the Abstract,
and quite another to Deal with Suffering when it draws near. Then, all
Reasoning loses its Appeal, as Pain Saps-away all
Peace and Consolation. Our Reflections here will undoubtedly offer Small
Consolation for those in the Midst of Grave Suffering.
But, that the Rest of us might have Strength when Suffering comes our way, these
Reflections are presented as a Training for the Mind and
Heart. It is upon the Goodness of God in
Lovingly Guiding us through Suffering that we must learn to Fix-our-Attention.
The Reality of Gods Goodness needs to be Firmly Grasped in Preparation-for that day
when all the Inclinations Arising from Weak Human Nature will be to
Deny that Goodness. Then only Faith
will Triumph. So it is to Strengthen Faith through
Reason that we now turn. Below we will Explore the Great Kindness of God
revealed in His Providential Care for all Creation, especially Man Created in
His Image and Likeness.
Angels and Man are both Created in the Image and Likeness of God; i.e. Rational
(Intellect + Will) Beings
God - Unity (1)
of Three (3)
Man - Unity (1) of Body +
Soul - Grace resides
within the Soul's Essence
God's Will by
Divine Love and Wisdom
We know that what has been Constant in God's Dealings with Creation has been
Love and Wisdom. His
Love is the Motivation for bringing every Creature into Existence, and
His Wisdom is behind the Making and Maintenance, with Utmost Care, of all that
He has Created. In fact, the word "Universe" we use
for the 'Visible Creation', implies something Carefully Done, with the Greatest Wisdom. It derives
from the Latin for "One" (unus) and
"Together" (Versus). At its most Basic-level it means
"Combined into a Whole", and "Many Things brought together into
One". It points to the astounding Unity and Harmony that has been established in a Visible Creation of Incomprehensible Complexity.
Incompatible with Love and Wisdom would be
Haphazard Acts of Creation, a Rough-bringing things into Existence and then Forcing them into an Unhappy
Union. Only a Loving and Wise
Creator would produce the Vast-array of Creatures that we find in the World,
United in such a Sublime Degree of Harmony and Coordination.
Examples abound. The tremendous Explosion of Life on our Planet has been made possible by a very Precise Position of Earth with respect to
the Sun, including its Rotation and the Variation in the Exposure it gets to the
Sun during the Course of the Year. One of the most Basic Life-requirements of Plants and
Animals is Air, for which each supports the other, Plants breathing-in Carbon-Dioxide and exhaling Oxygen, Animals breathing-out Carbon-Dioxide
and taking in Oxygen. (Refer to Eco-Cycle Diagram above)
"The Seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter give place to one another in Peace. The Stations
of the Winds fulfill their service without Hindrance at the Proper Time. The Everlasting Rprings, created for Enjoyment and Health,
supply Sustenance for the Life of Man without fail; and the smallest of animals meet together in Concord and Peace. All these things
did the Creator and Master of the Universe ordain to be in Peace and Concord..." (First Epistle of Clement to the
God in the Details
What this speaks of is the Presence of the Creators Wisdom in even the most Minute
Details of Creation. Chance, Saint Thomas tells us, is present in Creation. But
nothing is left to Chance. Order Prevails over all (Compendium of Theology, 137). The Vast Spectrum of
Secondary Causes we spoke of in the previous issue are capable of producing some Effect only through the
Creators Involvement. When we think of Man as a
Secondary Cause, able to form through his Innate Powers a magnificent Space Station, we still have a Work with which the
Creator is thoroughly involved. "All Intermediate Causes
operate in virtue of the First Cause, so that in a certain way He Himself appears to Act in them all". What could Man do
without the very Existence and Innate Abilities given him by God? What could Man do without
God, each moment, Sustaining his Existence? "Thus all the
Achievements of Secondary Causes can be Attributed to Him, as the Effect Produced by a Tool is Ascribed to the Artisan: when we say that
a Smith makes a Knife, we are more correct than when we say that a Hammer did it". Though the Hammer was there forming the
Blade, no Blade would have Resulted without the Action of the Smith. So it is for all in the World. No Light would come from the
Stars, no Trees would Produce Fruit, no Man would Propel himself beyond Earth's Surface, were it not for the Action of
God. He is the
Supreme Cause for all that takes place that is Good.
What then of Evil? Here we enter the Realm of the
Accidental, which is not Intended by God. As was mentioned in the last
issue, Created Things are not Completely Stable in Perfection, as is God.
"God Himself is the only Being in whom no Defect can arise". By their very Nature,
things from time-to-time Fall Away from their Intended
Perfection. Forests are devastated by Fire, Living Things Die and
Decay, and Colorful Works of Art Fade with Time. None of this can be Attributed to
God's doing. Nor can Man's Wickedness be
Traced to Him. Evil on the Part of Man can
only be Traced-back to its Origins - the Will of Man (Refer to the above Table). We can
through Free Will set ourselves on a Course of Action that is not
Willed by God. "Accordingly, although
God is the Universal Cause of all things, He is not the Cause of Evil as Evil".
Nothing Outside of Providence
We have then the Question of whether Events can Take-place in our World, not Guided by Gods
Hand. And the Answer to this is Negative. An Imperfect Example that Comes to Mind is that of a Toddler being Carefully
Watched by his Mother. All Created things can, so-to-speak, Bolt-off in some Direction that God
did not desire them to go, doing so under the Innate Powers God gave them. But the
Divine Control over Creation never Fails. Creation never Gets-away from
God, Acting in a Way that He cannot Direct it where
He Wants it to go. And what makes this all the more possible for
God is His Knowledge that Comprehends all-things. Not only does
He have the Power to Draw-back a Creature heading in a Direction
He does not Intend, even before the Creature begins its Departure,
He has Complete Knowledge of what will Take-place. In fact, since His Knowledge
is Eternal, already He sees all the
Tragic Events that will Conspire in the World. They
are now present before Him. And already He
has Planned His Corrective Measures. Such is His Wisdom
and Love that He would never be Slow to Steer some
Evil in the Direction of the Good Result
He desires. He does not let
Evil Spiral-out-of-Control. Evil is always a
Controlled-Occurrence. When something has gone Awry, we can be sure that
God is there, Redirecting it to Good.
Men do this on their Own Level. The Medical Profession routinely Manages the Harmful Effects of Treatment, Directing a Deliberate
Wounding of the Body through Surgery, to produce
Healing. The Auto Manufacturer provides Protection in case of
Accident with Seat Belts and Air Bags. All the more then, does Divine Wisdom do
the same on His Universal Level. We Acknowledge the Wisdom of Men in Foreseeing
Evil and Steering it in a way that is Beneficial, or, at least Less Harmful. Why should we
not Acknowledge the Wisdom of the Creator,
Whose Power is Limitless, and
Who can direct even the Worst Tragedies with
the Greatest of Ease? And should we not remember here especially the Worlds most Astounding and Monstrous of
Tragedies, the Brutal Execution of the very
Son of God made Man, Who came in
Love to Save Mankind? Has there been any Act in the Course of Time that has been more
Disastrous? Has there been any Act in the Course of Time that has been Turned to such
The Goal of Providence
All that has been said so far indicates how important it is for us to Trust in Gods Providential
Guidance. His Control of even the most Insignificant of Events is not
something that can be denied. We have the Need of Seeing all that takes Place in our Lives as Permitted Ultimately from
Even the Worst of Trials, those that come to us through
Evil-Intentioned Men, cannot be Rejected as, Beyond the Reach of Providence.
This Reflects the very Words of our Blessed Lord in the Gospels: "You
will be Delivered up even by Parents and Brothers and Kinsmen and Friends, and some of you they will Put to Death; you will be Hated by all for
My Names Sake. But not a Hair of your Head will Perish" (Luke 21:16-18).
Our Lord is here Revealing His Divine Knowledge of all that will take place in
the Course of History. All of the Attacks on Christians stretching up to our own day, were
Clearly Known by Him. It is all present to Him
through Direct Vision, and there is nothing lacking in what He sees in each instance of
Persecution and Trial.
Jesus saw directly what would one day happen to Maximillian Kolbe and to the Missionaries of Charity
recently Slain in Sierra Lione. The Sufferings that
each of us will have to endure, whether through Persecution for the
Faith or the more typical Crosses that come our way, were seen by
Him with utmost clarity. Were He to see fit,
He could Describe to us in Detail what we will one day face. Thankfully, He
keeps it to Himself! Better not to have that Concern
on our Minds until the Moment comes!
What is more, He is Fully Capable of Intervening in each of these
Tragic Situations on behalf of His Faithful. And this
He in fact does. His Promise is to Protect them from
Harm. His Statement, however, that "not a Hair of your
Head will perish", mentioned with respect to Violent Persecution, clearly demonstrates
that Preserving our Lives in this World is NOT the Goal of His Providence.
What is being Preserved without Harm is the Life of the Individual for
Eternity. Our Lords Words to Saint Catherine of Siena
carry a similar theme:
"Sometimes I let the Whole World be against the Just, and in the End they Die a Death that leaves
Worldly People stunned in Wonder. It seems to them Unjust to see the Just Perishing now at Sea, now in Fire, now Mangled by Beasts,
now Physically Killed when their Houses Collapse on top of them. How unreasonable these things seem to the Eye Unenlightened by most
Holy Faith! But not so the Faithful, for through Love they have Found and Experienced my Providence in all those Great Things. Thus
they see and grasp that I do what I do Providentially, only to Bring-about your Salvation".
Divine Providence that comes in the Form of
Trial will thus make no Sense to us at all if there is no Acceptance of the Goal to which
God is Working. Clinging to Life-in-this-World will always make
Providence Problematic. Wanting little more than a Happy Life in
our Present State will cause a Soul to Ultimately consider
Gods Providence a Failure. The Goal of
Eternal Life is the Key to all that happens in Life.
Danger of Rejecting Providence
The Events of our Lives become Filled with Meaning, often Difficult to Discern, but always
providing Food-for-Thought, when we Accept our Heavenly Calling. But all eventually becomes
Dark and Absurd when that calling is either
Rejected or placed Far-back in the Deep Recesses of the Mind.
Our Lord speaks to Saint Catherine about
Souls that fall into this Latter Category by saying:
"So these Souls certainly Receive of My Providence, but they do not understand it because they do not
Know it, and not Knowing it they do not Love it, and therefore they receive no Fruit of Grace from it. Though everything is Upright,
they see it all Distorted. Blind as they are they see Light as Darkness and Darkness as Light. So, because their Service and Trust are
set on Darkness, they fall to Complaining and Impatience".
Here all Complaining and Impatience in our lives can be Viewed in its Proper Light. But we must make a Distinction. Evaluating a
Painful Trial is only Natural. We can make Assessments of what is Taking-place. In this
there can be no Harm. Creatures are Fallible. They can be Acknowledged as such. A Nasty Driver on the Freeway can be identified
for what he is. This is not the Complaining and Impatience Saint Catherine speaks of. That we are
Unhappy about being Subjected-to the Nasty Driver - this is the Issue. That we are
Angry and Resentful about having to Face a
Trying Situation is where the Problem lies. A
Complaining Spirit arises in us when we have left the Act of Assessing of an Imperfect Creature or some
Difficult Trial, and gone into what is Essentially a
Rebellion Against the Good Providence of God.
Such Rebellion would not be the case, of course, if there were somehow Events that
Escape the Control of God. But this is impossible. As has been pointed out,
nothing is Outside of His Providence. This
Illness that we have come down with has not somehow Slipped-through the Cracks in the
Divine Plan without His Notice. This
Difficult Family Situation we are in has not somehow happened without His
Assent. Whenever we Complain about the way our Lives are Progressing, about the Trying Situations
we find ourselves in, we should not Imagine that this is Directed to any other Source. There is no other Ultimate Explanation
for why we find ourselves in some Trial than Divine
Wisdom. And this includes our own Imperfections. All that we are and all that
we will Face has been Worked-out with the Greatest Care. All is Guided by the Hand of God
for that One (1), Crucial Goal, that One (1)
All-encompassing Objective of Eternal Life.
Surrender to Providence
What is at-stake for Surrender to the Providence of God, then is Accepting
Eternal Life as the only Goal there
Ultimately is for us, Seeking it at all Cost, and being Willing to Pay
any Price for it. This is the Message of Jesus
Parables about Eternal Life in the Gospels.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Treasure
that a Man found Hidden in a Field. He sold all that he had to Purchase that Field. The Kingdom of
Heaven is like a Pearl of Immense Beauty and Value discovered by a Merchant.
He went and exchanged all that he had to buy it (Matthew 13:44-45). No Price
is Too High to Pay for this Treasure. No Trial
is Too Great to go through. No Frustrations are Too Much to Endure.
What of our Weak Natures, that can only take so much? What of our
Weak Wills that draw-back from
Pain? If we were giving ourselves over to Random Experiences of Suffering
to gain Heaven, then we would have something to
Worry about. But our Grasp of the Truth about
Providence dispels such Fears. We, in fact, do not Subject ourselves
to Random Occurrences of Trial. We will never have to Face them.
God, through His Grace, is Reinforcing in us what is
Weak. And, in His Absolute Mastery over all
Creation, He is Filtering out all that we cannot Bear, and all that would be
Detrimental to our Heavenly Goal. We are left
with a completely Unique Blend of Grace, Trial,
and Consolation that He prepares for us
Individually with the most Meticulous and Loving Care. To this we are Surrendering
ourselves. And so we find Our Lord Pleading to Saint Catherine:
"How can People see me Feeding and Nurturing the Worm within the Dry Wood, Pasturing the Brute Beasts,
Nourishing the Fish in the Sea, all the Animals on the Earth and the Birds in the Air, Commanding the Sun to shine on the Plants and the
Dew to Fertilize the Soil, and not believe that I Nourish Them as well, My Creatures made in My Image and Likeness? As a matter of fact,
all this is done by My Goodness to Serve them. No matter where they turn, Spiritually and Materially they will find nothing but My Deep
Burning Charity and the Greatest, Gentle, True, Perfect Providence".
Prayer to Divine Providence
O Sweet and Tender Providence of God, into Thy Hands I commend my Spirit, to Thee I
abandon myself, my Hopes, my Fears, my Desires, my Repugnance's, my Temporal and Eternal Prospects. To Thee I commit the Wants of my
Perishable Body, to Thee I commit the far more Precious Interests of my Immortal Soul, for whose interests I have Nothing to Fear while
I withdraw it not from Thy Bosom. Though my Faults are many, my Misery Great, my Spiritual Poverty Extreme, my Hope in Thee surpasses all.
It is Greater than my Difficulties, Stronger than Death. Though Temptations should Assail me, I will Hope in Thee, though I should Sink
beneath my Weakness, I will Hope in Thee still, though I should Break my Resolutions a Thousand Times, I will look to Thee Confidently
for Grace to keep them at last; though Thou shouldst Slay me, even then will I Trust Thee, for Thou art my God, my Father and my Friend.
Thou art my Kind, my Tender, my Indulgent Parent, and I am Thy Loving Child, who cast myself into Thy Arms and beg Thy Blessing, who put
my Trust in Thee, and so Trusting, shall Never be Confounded.
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