Suffering, Free Will, and Judgment

Predictably, Crossing the Threshold of Hope contains questions about why God allows evil and suffering in the world. I wonder which was asked first: “Why does God allow suffering in the world?” or the one about the chicken and egg. I have a better question: If God has given us free will, why on earth would He yank it away whenever we mess things up?

The answers Pope John Paul II offers go a bit further: “God created man as rational and free, thereby placing Himself under man’s judgment. The history of salvation is also the history of man’s continual judgment of God.” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it phrased in such a way, but YES! judging God is exactly what we do. Talk about pride. Who do we think we are to tell God how He should run things? Why on earth should we believe, even for a minute, that we know all there is to know about Him?

John Paul explains further:

God is not someone who remains only outside of the world, content to be Himself all-knowing and omnipotent. His wisdom and omnipotence are placed, by free choice, at the service of creation. If suffering is present in the history of humanity, one understands why His omnipotence was manifested in the omnipotence of humiliation on the Cross. The scandal of the Cross remains the key to the interpretation of the great mystery of suffering, which is so much a part of the history of mankind. …

God is always on the side of suffering. His omnipotence is manifested precisely in the fact that He freely accepted suffering. He could have chosen not to do so. He could have chosen to demonstrate His omnipotence even at the moment of the Crucifixion. In fact, it was proposed to Him: “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mk 15:32). But He did not accept that challenge. The fact that He stayed on the Cross until the end, the fact that on the Cross He could say, as do all who suffer: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34), has remained in human history the strongest argument. If the agony on the Cross had not happened, the truth that God is Love would have been unfounded. …

The difficulty and challenge of understanding the meaning of Calvary is so great that God Himself wanted to warn the apostles of all that would have to happen between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

This is the definitive meaning of Good Friday: Man, you who judge God, who order Him to justify Himself before you tribunal, think about yourself, if you are not responsible for the death of this condemned man, if the judgment of God is not actually a judgment upon yourself. Consider if this judgment and its result—the Cross and then the Resurrection—are not your only way to salvation. …

Christianity is a religion of salvation—a soteriological religion, to use the theological term. Christian soteriology focuses on the Paschal Mystery. In order to hope for salvation from God, man must stop beneath Christ’s cross. Then, the Sunday after the Holy Sabbath, he must stand in front of the empty tomb and listen, like the women of Jerusalem: “He is not here, for he has been raised” (Mt 28:6). Contained within the Cross and the Resurrection is the certainty that God saves man, that He saves him through Christ, through His Cross and His Resurrection.

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