|Michaelangelo's 'Pieta' , Rome|
One of the hardest things for any of us to face and understand is suffering. The question that always comes up is, ‘If God is good and all-powerful, why is there suffering and evil in the world?’ Why doesn’t God stop it? No good ever seems to come from suffering, so why does God allow it? The answer is free will. God gave us free will, but with freedom comes responsibility.
Today there is a lot of talk about freedom, protecting our freedom at all costs. What is freedom? Real freedom is living in God’s kingdom, living by the teachings of God. Doing whatever you want, regardless of the consequences, does not lead to freedom, it leads to chaos and to evil. Go back to the story of Adam and Eve. God told them they could eat of any tree in the garden, except for the tree of good and evil. He was telling them not to step beyond their limitations—the tree of good and evil. Recognize and respect your limitations. They experienced fulfillment and happiness because they were living in the realm of God, as He asked them to. As long as they didn’t ‘play God’ they were fine. But they were tempted to disobey God and they gave in to the temptation. They didn’t listen to what God told them. They gave in to the temptation that ‘they could be like gods’, in other words, to do whatever they wanted, respecting no limitations and look at what happened. They brought chaos into the world. Sin.
In interviews I have often heard drug dealers and traffickers say, ‘I just bring the drug, it’s up to the people to do whatever they want.’ In other words, I take no responsibility for my actions. We tell our young women that they can dress whatever way want, no matter how disrespectful and if it causes men to sin, that is their problem. I take no responsibility for my actions. Our society tells us that it is ok to sleep around and you don’t have to take responsibility for the consequences. If a young woman gets pregnant, we tell her that she can just destroy the fetus. I take no responsibility for my actions. That was what Adam and Eve did. They were told by the devil that it was freedom, but it wasn’t. God showed them what true freedom was, but they rejected it.
Look at what is happening in our world today. So many people have abandoned the ways of God, refuse to listen to God, even deny God and sin continues to multiply. We see more and more evil. What is good is often called evil—everyone should be able to do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences—and evil is called good: abortion, euthanasia, telling children to choose their own gender. It is against God’s commandments, and they lead to destruction and death.
Throughout history God continually offered the Jewish people the chance to enjoy true freedom, by living his Commandments, but they continually rejected it. Moses said to the people:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. (Deut 30:15-16)
That is true freedom, but it comes with responsibility. We have free will but we have to take responsibility for our actions. So God points out specifically what we need to do and avoid, by giving us the Commandments. This is the path for us to find freedom.
In the Gospel today when the two disciples are downcast and can only see what has gone wrong, Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. Only in God everything makes sense. He showed them that despite the human evil that led to the betrayal and death of an innocent man, God brought the greatest good imaginable out of it; not only a man rising from the dead, but opening the way for us to return to the original happiness we had lost through disobedience. Even though we sin and cause suffering, God can still bring great good out of any situation, but we will only recognize that in God. That is why it is so important that we keep going back to listen to what God is saying to us in the Scriptures, so that we can see things from God’s perspective and not just from human perspectives. Our life on earth, only makes sense in God.
The two disciples were thinking only in human terms and could only see what had gone wrong and that it hadn’t turned out as they had hoped. ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to free Israel…’ ‘We are so disappointed.’ But Jesus helped them to see that God has a much higher purpose that goes way beyond what we can see. His plan for us is happiness and freedom, but not in the way we think. He shows us what we need to do—follow his teaching; be responsible for our actions—and that will lead to the greatest freedom imaginable, but we must listen to what He says. He began to show them how everything fits together in God’s plan. The death of Jesus was meant to happen, so that the resurrection would happen, so that the pathway to heaven could be reopened. But that only makes sense if you see it through God’s eyes. We would never say that good could come out of the terrible injustice of an innocent man being tortured and killed and yet look what happened.
When we are faced with situations of injustice and suffering, try and think of this. From a human point of view, the suffering and death of Jesus makes no sense. ‘Our own hope had been…’ But in God’s plan, the most wonderful thing imaginable happened, but they could only see that once God showed them the bigger picture.
If we hope to not be overwhelmed by the evil that is around us, we must stay focused on God, focused on his teachings. It will always be difficult and it will never fully make sense of it, but if we stay focused on God, we will remember that there is something much greater going on, which will make sense in the end. That is why the Apostles were so zealous in preaching what they had learned, because it made sense of everything and that is why the Lord told them to make it known. Only in God does our life make sense and only in God do we have true freedom.
“Oh, how foolish you are!
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?”