Fr. Tshiamo S Takongwa
Since the coming of this deadly virus Covid-19, sickness and suffering looks like something new to humanity. With death humanity will never get used to it. Sickness and suffering often times disrupt our lives and even our relationships with our families, community and society at large. These relationships are affected in a negative manner as we feel cut-off from people as we ask for assistance and take our own responsibilities like we used to do. “Previously we were able to look after people, even be the bread-winner of the family, all of a sudden we feel so dependent on others and incapable of looking after ourselves!” When such things happens life becomes meaningless. Even though medicine has been advanced, still we come to realization that indeed we are not in full control of our health and life and falling sick is for us all one way or the other. As much as we are on this earth, we are not immune from sickness and suffering. Each one of us go through this experience and its important to look at this reality from different perspectives. Despite all these calamities, there is healing. Healing has brought a lot of controversies and families have broken apart. A father, mother, children, uncles and so on cannot see each other eye to eye.
“Sickness and suffering are part and parcel of our human existence, and they have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit”. No one lives without going through this experience. Sickness can be avoided to a certain extent, by taking care of ourselves and our health, but sooner or later we are bound to fall sick since our bodies are frail and weak. Sickness too is a companion of life. We suffer not only because of physical problems, but even more because of lack of harmony in our relationships, because of misunderstandings, betrayals, hatred and lack of love. Every human being is faced with the problem of sickness, human limitations, including suffering and death. When we are touched by painful experiences, many questions come to our minds like: Why me? Or have we done something wrong to deserve this? Or where is God in these problems?
Sometimes God allows suffering in order to awaken us to the fact of our sin, our impeding death and judgment, our emptiness apart from God or to help us repent and go back to God. The prodigal son in his suffering got to the point where he realized that things were not the way they were suppose to be. He was miserable. His self-realization of his misery provoked him to return to his father. Sickness and suffering have been the gravest problems confronted in human life. When in sickness man experiences his limitations, his powerlessness and his finitude. Every sickness can make us taste death. Sickness can lead to self-absorption, despair and even revolt against God. That’s where the question of “why me?” comes. In another hand sickness can make someone more mature. It can make someone discern in his life what is important so that he/she can turn towards that which is. Very often sickness provokes a search for God and return to him. St Thomas Aquinas would say “the evils which bear us down here drive us to go to God”. But also we have that freedom to choose to harden our hearts and turn away from God even more in our suffering.
The theology of the cross is a paradox that we should gladly accept and live with it. The cross has two symbols that is suffering and deliverance. For the ancient Greeks and the Romans the cross is a sign of weakness and the inability of the Christian God. The Christian message was rejected because of the cross. For a Christian the cross is the power and wisdom of God. Martin Luther King would say “God does not leave us in our agonies and struggles, rather he seeks us in our dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality”. God does not become a spectator while we suffer, but rather he comes to us and participates in it. The death of Jesus Christ on the Cross brings us face to face to experience the love of God to humanity. In so doing we are strengthened so that we may also face our sufferings with courage and vigor. The cross is a sign of demonstration of God’s solidarity with us in this suffering world. God allows himself to suffer with us voluntary without any pressure because of his great love for us.
Sickness and suffering makes us to have fear. Looking at the cross we find incredible power and courage to face fear and the terror of suffering. We are reassured that suffering does not possess the power we think it has. After all, it has some meaning in God’s plan for salvation. Suffering does not become something negative but something positive even if its sting remains. For God the cross is a victory for suffering and evil.
The relation between our present life and the life to come is the condition for the meaningfulness of our sufferings in this present life. The gospel shows us that suffering is an opportunity given to us to participate in our future blessedness by offering our present sufferings. We are in union with Christ’s sufferings. Christian martyrs rejoiced when they were chosen for martyrdom, and why after being flogged the Apostles went away “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:41) Apart from the gospel, much of our suffering would seem gratuitous and even sinister. But in the light of the gospel we see that our suffering is a gift, a gift of the same sort as this present life, but even greater. It is the gift of an opportunity to give ourselves entirely to God in the greatest possible expression of love, i.e. sacrifice: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”