The Problem of Suffering

Father Benson addresses human suffering, a problem that “stands in the heart of every attempt to solve the riddle of the Universe—the question as to why pain is, or seems to be, the inseparable accompaniment of life. . . . We see it, crying for a solution in every innocent child that suffers in his body, it may be, for the sins of his parents; in every anxious heart tormented by sympathy or by the result of crimes for which it is not responsible; and, above all, in every burdened and darkened soul that believes that she has mortally and irreparably offended a God whom she has always striven to serve. . . . It is when, let us say, a child who is incapable of learning a moral lesson, suffers for a sin which he cannot even understand; or when a naturally sweet character is, apparently, maddened and embittered by a pain which he cannot see that he has deserved—when sorrow is borne, over and over again, by souls who seem to have a claim on joy, while on the other hand we see ‘the wicked also highly exalted’ (Ps 37:35)—it is then that we are bewildered.”

“The chief reason why the intellect fails always to analyse satisfactorily this supreme problem, is because it was never intended to do so. It would be as foolish to attempt to put a mother’s love under a microscope, or to ‘search the universe with a telescope’ in the hope of finding God. For pain is one of those vast fundamental facts that must be scrutinized by the whole of man—his heart and his will and his experience—as well as by his head; or not at all.”

“Strictly speaking the intellect is only adequate to the ‘exact sciences,’ which is another name for intellectual abstractions from the realm of concrete fact. I can add two and two together infallibly, because ‘two and two’ is an abstraction which my intellect makes from the world around me. But I cannot place two persons together and calculate exactly the effect upon their future lives, or, it may be, upon myself. If the Problem of Pain is to be solved at all, it must be solved by man, not by a part of him.”

Quotations from Robert Hugh Benson, The Friendship of Christ (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912).

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