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Why Does God Allow Suffering? Examining Faith and Hardship with Dr. Mark Giszczak

Lent is a fitting time to reflect on life’s struggles, and Father Dave welcomes Dr. Mark Giszczak to discuss his new book Suffering: What Every Catholic Should Know.” Dr. Giszczak is a professor of Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology.

They discuss how suffering is universal, but people would prefer to avoid it. “Everyone has experienced loss in their life; grief, challenges, trials, sickness, and all kinds of things that really challenge us to our core,”  Dr. Giszczak says. “Suffering tests us; it’s like a test for the soul. We all have this perfect script running in our minds all the time, like ‘I’m going to live to be 100, all of my friends will live to be 102, and no one is ever going to have any problems’…and yet, you realize that you’re mortal, right? There’s a period at the end of the sentence. There is no escaping suffering, it’s just part of human existence on planet Earth.”

“The longer we live, [we encounter] more grief, suffering, and challenges, and we need to have the intellectual and theological equipment to deal with it,” he continues. “Without the teaching of the Church, we’re lost at sea. With the teaching of the Church and with Scripture, there’s so much light that can be shed on this very dark topic that can really help us. I really feel like a little bit of theological thinking about suffering goes a long way in the spiritual life.”

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Dr. Giszczak compares suffering to sports training when it comes to preparing to work through struggles. “If you’re going to be an elite athlete, you have to put in the work and the time…the same thing is true of the soul. If we want to live a successful life and spiritual journey toward God, we need to actually be prepared for suffering,” he says. 

“I feel like one of the greatest ways to be prepared for inevitable challenges in our lives is to suffer on purpose,” Dr. Giszczak continues. “That might sound really weird, but [it’s] just like when you lift weights in order to be prepared for a big challenge. In a time like Lent, we pray, we give up our time, we fast by giving up food to eat, and we give up money all in order to voluntarily suffer and draw closer to God through that. When the deeper and more profound suffering strikes, we’re actually prepared for it. We’ve done some reps, and we’re ready for that challenge.”

They discuss the theological concept of redemptive suffering and how our faith gives us hope. “We know that the suffering of Jesus saves us from our sins; his death on the cross saves us,” Dr. Giszczak begins. “There’s this one really mysterious passage in Colossians 1:24, where St. Paul says, ‘I’m making up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.’ You’re like, ‘St. Paul, what are you talking about? How could Christ’s sufferings possibly be lacking?’” 

“Jesus saves the world, but he doesn’t close the door after him and say, ‘That’s it, it’s over.’ Instead, he actually invites us [saying] ‘If anyone wants to follow me, let him take up his cross and come after me,’” Dr. Giszczak continues. “What he’s asking us to do is to join our sufferings as a spiritual sacrifice with his suffering. By doing that, we can actually participate in the redemption of the world.”

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Father Dave notes how many people wonder why God allows suffering and chose to have Jesus die on a cross. Dr. Giszczak says, “God could have done it a different way, but he didn’t. That’s part of the mystery, right? We have to think about why.”

“We pray and we ask God, ‘Please come take away all of my sufferings.’ [God says,] ‘I’m actually going to do something else. I’m going to come down there, and I’m going to suffer with you.’ We’re like, ‘Lord, that’s not what I wanted.’ Yet, by doing that, he’s teaching us something about what it means to be human that we didn’t fully grasp.”