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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

Why is life unfair?

Why life is so unfair when innocent children born with heavy diseases and kind people suffer from them as well while murderers, killers, terrorists, and child
molesters are living normally without any payment for their
sins?

     This question is very timely – especially with the nationally reported acts of violence that have been committed in recent days. While I could seek an answer to this question through an appeal to theological distinctions regarding such topics as “the problem of evil,” might I attempt to answer this question less by theology per se and more by applying the truth of faith as rooted in the cross and resurrection of Christ Himself to help us understand where justice and “fairness” are fully accomplished.

     Let me begin with two absolute statements. First: the world we live in lacks perfection as it is fallen due to sin. As much as we may want to ignore the presence of sin, it is due to sin (rooted in the “original sin”) that all God’s perfect creation is lacking in the perfection with which it was made and intended to be.  Accordingly, we must keep in mind Paul’s words in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and acknowledge that as those who have sinned we are all subject to the consequences of our sins – which includes suffering. A second absolute is this: every one of us experiences trials and times of suffering, no matter who we are or what our “worldly” status may be. For some individuals these trials may be more openly known and observable than they are for others; some may be tried in severe ways, while others in less severe ways.  No matter to what extent each suffer trials, all have their difficulties and times of suffering. Given that we have trials and sufferings, what is frequently very different among us is the individual way we each handle our trials – do we loathe them and curse them, or do we accept them as part of “life in a fallen world,” so to speak?  Do we pretend they are not there by covering them with other worldly vices, or do we see them for what they really are and confront them?  The issue of how we handle suffering is where we look to Jesus Himself.

     In order to consider Jesus’ manner of handling suffering, we must begin with “who Jesus is.” Above all, Jesus is God – the second person of the Blessed Trinity. He
willingly accepted our humanity in order to reveal the fullness of the life of God and to accomplish the work of salvation. In so doing, He lowered Himself from His true state of glory in Heaven to share in the non-glorious and often “unfair” human life on earth, including the experiencing of the consequences of sin (pain and suffering). If ever there was one who should not suffer, it is Jesus, who was without sin. And yet His sufferings are beyond our comprehension – as His death on the cross is only part of what He suffered. If we are fully honest with ourselves, not one of us undergoes anything that compares to the suffering of Christ, which included more than physical pain, but rejection, isolation, severe temptation, and flat out hatred at the hands of others. Where is the repayment? Where is the justice for Jesus?

     As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (cf. John 18:36), so to, perfect justice is not to be found in this world. While we may have the tendency to place finality upon this world and its experiences, Jesus shows us that no matter what happens to us in this life, all is made just in eternity. His resurrection from the dead is the beginning of this repayment of justice, as in the realm of eternity, all that is hidden will be clear and all will be accorded life (or eternal loss) according to God’s own justice. Keeping in mind that it is not our place to judge one’s eternal destiny, what is very true is that our individual embrace of the way of Christ in this world, including our embrace of whatever “unjust” trials and sufferings we may experience will lead to true justice in His Eternal Kingdom. 

     Thus, might I challenge all of us who sometimes ask this question of fairness (though I wish to do so delicately): rather than worry about worldly standards of
fairness – based in human and “worldly” categories of what is “fair,” might we let Jesus, who willingly embraced suffering, embrace us today and be our true strength in whatever we may be made to suffer. Might Jesus’ example, and even more, Jesus’ own life that is given to us in the sacraments, strengthen us to bear our hardships well so as to share the crown of glory in Heaven, where justice will forever reign.

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