"Indeed, all suffering, the smallest bit of hair that ever fell from your head that you didn't even notice – our Lord says, 'A single hair shall not go uncounted' (Mt 10:30) – never can suffering, be it ever so small, befall you that God has not noticed from eternity, loved, and intended it; and so it comes to you."
— These words from John Tauler (1300-1361) speak volumes in our contemporary day. Tauler lived through the European destruction of the 14th century and turned to the presence of God in the midst of suffering. He was a witness to warfare, natural disasters, the Black Death (that killed almost 50% of population centers in Europe), persecution of Jews, and even climate changes. Tauler saw suffering not as a curse from God, but as a necessary opportunity for God to form a person from the inside out. Tauler believed that suffering gave people a chance to detach from their clingings in order to be free to find God. In other words, even the severity of suffering can be a gift.
— I struggle with this concept when considering the worldly destruction of the 20th-21st century. Tsunamis and earthqaukes and nuclear fears. War and upheaval and genocides. Disparity and injustice and famine. Cancer and car accidents and death. I have to ask the question on my heart. Is suffering today really an opportunity for God to form people? Does suffering today really give us a chance to relinquish our dependencies and find God? Or does suffering just hurt? With deep conviction and deep comprehension and engagement of pain, Tauler would say that, yes, suffering just hurts… but suffering today can also be to our "eternal advantage".
– Does that make me feel better? Not really. Suffering still hurts. And I hurt for people in our world. And so I pray to my God, who suffered with and suffered for the world, that eternal advantage will come to those who hurt because he notices, he loves, and he intends.
– Source: McGinn, Bernard. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (New York: The Modern Library, 2006), 379-383
– p.s. my wife wrote this wonderful, heart-felt article about her deliberate embrace of suffering for the people of Japan.