Friday, August 03, 2007
"There is Only One Real Sadness: Not to be Saints"
Greek tragedies all address this thorny question: the best answer they could give is that the meaning of suffering is to teach foolish men wisdom. Ajax, driven by hubris declared boldly that "to succeed with the help of the gods is no great accomplishment." He wanted to succeed on his own without any aid. The gods punished him by madness.(Dr. Alice von Hildebrand)
In the Old Testament evil and suffering are clearly linked to sin: man's revolt against God. Throughout the Old Testament, the "chosen people" rebel against God's laws. He sent them prophets; many of them were murdered because man's rebellious heart did not savor their message. God punished them severely. Then they bowed their "stiff neck" for a while. But soon afterward the same scenario was repeated.
My claim is that it is through the supernatural, and through the supernatural alone that the excruciating question of evil and suffering can be satisfactorily enlightened. For it reveals to us a dimension of suffering inaccessible to natural man: suffering as expression of ultimate love. Indeed, "there is no greater love than to give one's life for one's friends."
The supernatural can only come from above. The song it sings cannot be perceived by man's fallen nature. It can only be received on one's knees--as an unmerited gift that man could never conquer by his own strength. Both my husband and Edith Stein discovered the supernatural by reading the lives of saints: Saint Francis of Assisi for him; Teresa of Avila for her. This discovery, which can be called a "Damascus experience," radically changed their lives: they discovered a world the beauty of which they had never suspected. They discovered the madness of divine love that leads God to sacrifice his only Son for our salvation. The supernatural unveils a new morality which does not cancel the natural moral law, but transcends and fulfills it. "Love your enemies"; "do good to those who persecute you"--a morality which combines justice and mercy; strength and weakness--features which cannot be reconciled in purely natural morality.
The message of Christ is a message of joy and peace: but the promise of Mount Tabor is preceded by Golgotha: "let him who wishes to be my disciple carry his cross and follow me." Even though it is the supernatural and the supernatural alone which can heal man's soul, the medicine is not to the taste of man's fallen nature. Humility is bitter to those who "preen" themselves with their accomplishments. When one craves for praise, it is bitter to discover that one is nothing but dust and ashes. It is bitter to acknowledge oneself to be a sinner desperately in need of redemption when one feels oneself to be "a just man" who is not in need of help.
He who, through God's grace, has adopted a supernatural stance will victoriously fight against these "illegitimate sufferings," i.e., the sufferings which are consequences of our false and sinful attitudes. God does not give his grace for such self-inflicted sufferings--this is why they are unbearable--but in his goodness--he does come to the help of those who carry a real cross--a cross that he has chosen for them for their sanctification, and for which they can count on his grace. This is why St. Paul writes that "God does not try us beyond our strength"--something that the natural man contests violently.
Links to this post: