It sometimes bothers me, and I would be willing to bet it bothers most of you, that there seems to be no “divine” exceptions when it comes to pain and misery for nice people. Most nice people, if asked, would cast their vote for catching a break when suffering is involved. (Now that I think about it, most not-so-nice people would also vote that way – but good people are more deserving, right?)
My wife is one of the nicest people God ever put on earth. There is no one who knows her would disagree - even those who don’t know her personally but have heard of her kindnesses would agree. It would seem that if God were truly on the ball when it comes to dishing out fair treatment where pain and suffering are concerned, Mary would catch a break. That God would be nicer to her, if for no other reason, so she can keep doing for people the way she does. But no, that’s not the case. She battles neck pain, back pain, and really bad pain in her legs most every day. Then there’s the pain in her shoulders and the arthritis in her hands … well, you get my drift. She is just one of many good people who suffer the aches and pains of growing older.
But Mary does not blame God for the pain she suffers. Quite the contrary. She attributes the pain she doesn’t have to God. She’ll have a good day, one without much pain, and she thanks God for it. She also thanks God for being otherwise healthy. (In fact, at this very minute, she can’t wait for the grass to dry so she can mow.)
I only bring this up because, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s a way of looking at God that’s a bit different. Too many of us blame God for things that befall us‒a crippling injury, a terminal illness, the loss of a job, a financial setback, etc.‒but seem to forget about Him when perhaps a bit of praise is due. I often complain about my physical problems, but as painful as they are at times, they do not compare to cancer or Alsheimers or the many other serious maladies that afflict mankind. I always thank God for my lack of such illnesses (I often wonder why I bother. It would seem that if he can keep cancer away, he could fix a bad back, but He doesn’t bother).
Ever think what it would be like to live forever? Of course, as mortals living forever isn’t possible. But what if it was? Would people who suffer from pain suffer forever? Or would the pain go away at some point? Would people who suffer from cancer or Alsheimers be afflicted until the end of time? It would seem that would be a suitable punishment for really bad people.
Have you ever read Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels? Goes something like this: In Swift’s land of Luggnaggians, occasionally a child was born with a red spot on his forehead. This red spot was a sign that the child would never die. Gulliver, our traveler, believes these people to be the most fortunate people imaginable, being born exempt from that most fearsome of human maladies, death. But the longer Gulliver stays in Luggnaggia, he comes to realize the inhabitants are the most miserable of creatures. The immortals grow old and feeble; their friends die off. At the age of eighty, their property is confiscated and given to their children, who would never, otherwise, inherit from them. Their bodies acquire various ailments, they accumulate grudges and grievances, they grow weary of living, and they can never look forward to being released from the drudgery of life.
The reader of Gulliver’s Travels comes to pity the person who cannot die. A person who lives with pain might agree with that assessment. At some point, death would be agreeable.
If people lived forever the world would become impossibly crowded. The amassed throngs would likely not be allowed to have children. In fact, you and I may never have been born. The way things are, the way God designed the world(?), is an efficient way for the old to make way for the new. It is never good that the new make way for the new. The death of a child is a sad, sad affair.
Although there are instances when death is agreeable, it is something else again to try to tell a person who has lost a parent, a spouse, or a child that death is appropriate. We have seen instances of this, and it is a thoughtless practice to try to convince parents that their little boy who was run down in the street chasing a ball that the little fellow is in a better place. It’s a callus practice, still in use by many priests, in an effort to make us feel better.
Thing is, we can’t explain untimely death any more than we can explain life itself.
And nobody has been able to offer a satisfactory explanation for that.