Sometimes it can seem like things happen in our life for no reason. Sometimes it can seem that the only reason for certain things is to punish us or to deliberately make us suffer. But we know that God, who makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike, desires our good. He does not wish for any of us to perish. Therefore, we can take some comfort during our sufferings in the fact that it is either for our good or the good of someone else – it is not merely meant for harm.
There are many cases where bad things have happened for what seems like no good reason, but they tend to break down into the following categories:
- A bad thing happens as the result of something bad that we did, i.e., it is a punishment as a form of discipline. This is probably the most basic and most easily understand form of suffering, but it is all too often seen as the only reason for suffering. We sometimes refer to this as "reaping what you sow – other religions call this karma. But there’s more reasons for suffering than mere rebuke.
- A bad thing happens so that it can be a lesson to others. This is often the case when the punishment fails to teach the one inflicted. "Sometimes I feel like my purpose in life is to be a bad example for others to learn from." This is the most low-esteem "reason" for suffering, and it is a misinterpretation. However, if someone does give up on themselves, their circumstances can serve as a warning to others. (Compare Sodom and Gemorrah to Nineveh – Sodom & Gemorrah are the bad example; Nineveh learned from their mistake.)
- A bad thing happens so that a worse thing may be prevented. Sometimes this is as simple as forgetting your wallet at home and having to go all the way back home, but then realizing that if you didn’t head back you might have gotten caught for speeding or been involved in the accident up ahead in the road. Sometimes it can be like the case of my friend who got into an accident and totaled his car. He was hit so badly that he started getting headaches. The doctors performed some scans and detected something in his brain. If it were not for the accident, he might never have known about the whatever in his brain until it was too late. (We are still waiting to find out if the whatever is benign or malignant, so if you are reading this, please pray for my friend.)
- The most heroic reason for suffering in the world, as well as on a personal level, is the answer to the question: why do bad things happen to good people? Sometimes the reason is so that good people might do great and heroic things. The best example of this is WWII and the Holocaust. One of the end results of WWII was that many people, men and women, young and old, were given the opportunity to prove their bravery and do bold heroic things. If not for the horrors of Nazism, fascism (and even communism), many of those heroes would have led fairly mediocre lives. Instead, they were blessed to be called "The Greatest Generation".
- The most mystical of the reasons for suffering is the redemptive and vicarious nature of suffering for your fellow man. The most blatant example of this is Christ on the Cross – he redeemed us all by taking onto himself the sufferings that were meant for us. This also happens with victim souls and stigmatists, such as St. Padre Pio, who bore the wounds of Christ as a daily offering of his own sufferings for the sake of others. We who are not given the charism of victimhood can still take on the sufferings of others by praying for the release of souls from Purgatory, as well as offering fasts and alms for the sake of our fellow man who is still alive among us.
Ask God to show you the blessings He is pouring out to you the next time you feel any pain – physical, mental, or spiritual – and offer it up as part of God’s perfect, loving will for all His people, yourself included.