There are people suffering much greater pain than I am, she said, and they don’t deserve theirs any more than I deserve mine. The day after my theology student, a 32-year-old mother of two, said this to me, her cancer cells finally defeated her.
Throughout her year-long struggle, she — may I call her “Susan?” — and I had many talks and prayers together — after class, in my office, then in ER’s, and finally in a hospital room, there with her husband holding her tenderly and the three of us humming together with her nurses a song of praise.
One thing that kept Susan going, while her cancer spread relentlessly and her pain increased exponentially, was the arguing she did with God. After all, she once teased, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do with my theological studies?
She argued well, against all the so-called answers she had received to her heart-felt questioning. Mine is a pretty simple question, really, she said: Why does God allow people suffer pain they don’t deserve to suffer? For a while, it angered Susan that the reasons she had been given seemed so far off-base.
It angered me, too. These were the “answers” we talked about together: Since God is a just God, all suffering has to be deserved. And: All suffering, especially the worst kinds of suffering, serves a greater good. And: There are evils that not even God can overcome. And even: Pain isn’t real; we only think it is.
Then, of course, there was the most outrageous answer of all: We have no right to question how God apportions or withholds his benefits.
Eventually, Susan came to a better “answer” to the question of undeserved pain than any of these, all on her own. The first part went this way: Undeserved pain is just that, undeserved, and because it is undeserved there can’t be any good reason for it.
But it was the second part of her answer that for Susan represented the answer of faith: God sees undeserved pain just as I do, as undeserved, and that is good enough for me.
It was indeed “good enough.” As the end drew near, Susan had already achieved inner peace with respect both to her condition and her faith. It came not from abandoning her struggle with faith’s logic, but by entering even more deeply into it.