SUFFERING, DEATH AND FEAR – MY PERCEPTION

Sufferings and death are dreadful experiences which people do not wish for, yet we cannot go to heaven except by them (Mat. 10:38, Mk. 8:34). Many misfortunes befall humankind and these cause us to question the reasons for them. For instance, the Tsunami disaster in December 2004, Indonesia earthquake in March 2005, and the most recent London transit system bombing in July 7th, which caused many deaths and sufferings. We easily ask God why He let such things happen, but we do not ask ourselves why we sin against God. Instead we make excuses for our sins.

In an American drama (which title I cannot remember) I watched some time ago, a family went through a protracted court trial for sexually molesting children, and was acquitted for lack of concrete evidence. The family seemed to have been innocent of the crime, but had gone through a lot of humiliation and persecution from people during the trial and even after their acquittal. This caused a young man in the family to ask his mother why God did this to them. The mother replied that, it was not God who did it, but men. She said men are the ones who do evil to one another. Perhaps, it is our sins that caused our misfortunes (Hosea 14:2). Perhaps, it is the work of our hands, and so we might be the architect of our own misfortunes: things we do or fail to do. Who knows? Ask yourself, because I have. And this is what I think.

‘God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living’ (Wis. 1:13). Knowing God more helps us to realize His efforts towards giving abundant life to His children: for ‘God created man to be immortal in the likeness of His own nature’ (Wis. 2:23). And even when man sinned against God (Gen. 3:1-13) and fell short of His glory, He still found a way of fulfilling His will of abundant life for man by giving him (man) hope of continued life hereafter. He did this by giving His only begotten son as sacrifice for the sins of men, so that ‘whoever believes in (Him) me, though he dies, shall live. Whoever is alive by believing in (Him) me will never die’ (John 11:25-26). Therefore, it is God’s will for His children to have eternal life like Him. But the devil, in his envy planted weeds in God’s garden to strangle man from meriting God’s promises to him (man) (Mt. 13:25).

It is the just who knows and accepts God’s will as good and think well of Him (God) in every situation. Here on earth, he (the just man) looks forward to life after in heavens, which feel of ethereality, he already experiences on earth as fruit for living a just life. In the face of death, his joy surpasses the physical pain that threatens his earthly existence. Because he feels the closeness of heaven to which he enthusiastically thirst for at a dying moment; he does not fear death. But the weak asks such questions as this in turbulent times: ‘why does God allow evil, death, earthquakes and tragedies, such as the Tsunami disaster?’

God does not want these ills for His children. He said, ‘if ever you are attacked, it will not be of my doing’ (Isaiah 54:15). He wants us to trust Him even when ‘we walk through the valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23:4) like David did in his trials: His first son by his wife Bathseba died in spite of his supplications. Rather than blamed God, he worshipped Him (2 Samuel 12:19-20); one of his sons, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar. And Tamar’s brother, Absalom, killed Amnon (2 Sam. 13); and Absalom, whom David loved most among his sons, fled from the city and waged war against his father, and was killed in the war (2 Sam. 15). Despite all these trials, David kept firm in his trust in God, and God blessed his house by raising a saviour-son (Jesus Christ) from it (Mt. 1: 1 & 20).

Therefore, God asked that we thank Him in every situation because all things work for good for those who trust in Him. He also said, ‘No weapon forged against us will succeed’ (Isaiah 54:17), ‘and your attacker will surely fail’ (15). So, when the devil tries to obstruct one’s progress by inflicting pain, death and other obstacles, let us praise God, because whatever He allows, He does so for our good. We might not know it immediately, but our thanksgivings and steadfast faith will help us to discover in good time the blessing He bestows from misfortunes. It might be difficult for the feeble-minded who take pleasure in the world to accept this, but it is understood and appreciated by those who store their treasures above and hope in God. This godly people do not fear death. As disheartening as the losses of loved ones are (for they are truly disheartening and need God’s grace of fortitude to bear), especially those of good and noble character, let us remember that these departed belong first and more to God than to us. Their sufferings are ended and their lives continue in the bosom of the Lord. And even those, whom we think die too young, do so before they could be corrupted by the world (Wis. 3:1-8, 4:10-13 & Lk. 20:38). But it is okay to ask God to deliver us from burdens that are greater than us (even though He would not let us carry such – Mt. 11:28-30) and which would hinder us from doing His will.

Have you heard people claim or blame the devil and the evil spirits in the netherworld for their lack of progress and misfortunes? Of course the devil with his legion of fallen traitors are responsible for misfortunes: It is ‘… the envy of the devil (that) brought death to the world’ (Wis. 2:24). But there is no gain dwelling in such blames and resigning oneself to despair. Perhaps, the less we apportion blames on the devil, the greater our chance of taking the bull by the horn. When we take responsibility for our actions and misfortunes, maybe we will learn from them, rise up to the challenges and conquer the obstacles. We know what our goals are and the obstacles that hinder them. For this reason we must keep on working hard to achieve them in spite of these obstacles, and pray always so that as we carry on with faith, the Lord fights our battle. And we shall triumph over all evil mechanisms in our way of success. I believe that looking towards the goal gives us the wisdom, courage and will to tackle the obstacles.

Also, they say that the victims of misfortunes have some link with evil spirits who torment them unless their victims reckon with them. We must never accept having any link with any evil spirit whether hovering in the air, or situated under sea. They are all simply defeated traitors fallen from above, and who remain defeated even on earth by the grace of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, whom we accepted in baptism and stand on by faith. These evil spirits and their boss (the devil) have been crushed in the head and cannot do more than strike the heel (Gen. 3:15). Only God is the Alpha and Omega. He alone can destroy both body and soul. The evil ones only try to instill fears in us in order to establish superiority over us or obstruct us from doing the will of God.

Knowing this, the children of God should not be afraid. Even the Bible says that satan hovers about looking for those to devour. Do not say that those who take pleasure in sin prosper and not suffer afflictions. This is probably because they are in the dark and the devil had no need to pull them from the light. But the Bible says that the children of God will suffer persecutions (Mt. 10:16-end). I think this is because the devil wants to frustrate them and cause them to lose their faith so that they might abandon halfway, God’s work, in which many might benefit and God glorified.

So, my brothers and sisters, it is not having a link with the evil spirits, but their striking the heels because God’s children crush their heads. But remember then that ‘your attacker will not succeed’, and ‘no weapon forged against you will succeed’, but in your steadfast faith and hard work, the will of God will be accomplished. The late Pope John Paul II is a testimony of trials (death of his parents and brother, his afflictions, gunshots and the obstacle of war during his seminary period), and victory (in His faith and hard work towards God’s will). Some Christians claim that God’s children do not suffer. This is self-delusion. Perhaps they should be more honest with themselves and tell the truth to set them free.

Fear is a natural phenomenon, and so people quickly take it for granted. But fear prevents or strangles the progress of physical life on earth and eternally life above. So, I think it is fear, itself that must be feared (as said by someone). It is fear of unworthiness that makes some reluctant to die, because they are not sure where they would end up after death (Wis. 4:20). It is probably what made the philosopher Nietzsche to admit there is God after all before he died. It is the fear of not having accomplished something worthwhile to show for one’s existence on earth (especially something pleasing to God) that makes one feel not ready to leave for the next world yet. It is the fear of going to live an everlasting ‘praising and serving’ God (Rev. 7:14-15) which some people wrongly interpret as boring existence; when they could party, indulge in gluttony and other carnal pleasures the world offers. We must learn to conquer fear, and if we should fear, let us fear only God who gives us wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, piety and fortitude in our stay and journey through life.

‘Whoever does not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me.’ (Mt. 10:38). Suffering is a criterion for heavenly eligibility; death, the gateway; and man, the actor. So why fear the inevitable. It might sound like a tall order not to fear, but what good is fear if it does not solve the problem.

The road to heaven is not an easy one, but it is the only route to it. Let us commend ourselves to God to help us pass through this road victoriously. Let us discard the worries over death, it is inevitable; and over suffering, it is a condition of access; but lean on Christ who lightens the yoke. Let us have steadfast faith in God and no evil will have dominion over us. Let us abandon sin, it brings no glory. Let us embrace God, He is our Father and protector. Let us ask for His strength and grace to live good life and so be worthy anytime He calls. Let us not fear, it is regressive. But let us fear God and we will not fear anything else. So help us, oh God. Amen. ‘No shaking.’

By Ifeanyi O.C.

[Written 11/April/2005; Published in the November 2005 St. Dominic’s Church Yaba Lagos, Adult Harvest Magazine, P70. Some were edited out of the magazine it was published in but I retain them here because they were my original thoughts at the time.]

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