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Lou wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • What is the theology of suffering?

I've heard the term used before, and as I understand it, it is the theological concept that suffering purges sin, and therefore allows God to work in the world. I understood this was a Catholic belief. I was raised Catholic and so it seems familiar. The person who mentioned it said,

"There are several problems with the theology of suffering."

but did not explain his objections.

  • What is the theology of suffering?
  • What are the arguments [for and against it], and
    Why is it [sound or unsound]?



  { What is the theology of suffering and what are the arguments for and against it? }

Mike replied:

Hi Lou,

Your question is not an easy one to answer.

I'm sure some of the greatest minds down through Christendom have given answers far better than we could ever give you.

For that reason, I'd like to give you some reference reading — at the end of my answer — from author's I believe are faithful to the Church.

I would just personally add that St. Paul affirms the theology of suffering in Colossians 1:24 and in many other passages:

16 it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:16-17

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear omen to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine.

Philippians 1:27-30

8 Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:8-11

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me.

Colossians 1:24-29

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; 16 yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And "If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?" 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.

1 Peter 4:12-19

You said:
The person who mentioned it said,

"There are several problems with the theology of suffering."

Your friend is wrong. There is no problem with the theology of suffering. The theology of suffering is a reality all Christians have to accept and enter into, in this life, and for many, in the next life. In addition, we also enter into the joyful, luminous and glorious parts of Jesus' life because we, with Him, make up the Body of Christ. We are humans who are united into his divine life. Protestants who reject the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist will never understand this. We are real partakers of his divine nature, though we are mere men.

The only problem I can humanly think of with the theology of suffering, is that it's painful. : ) Nevertheless, the Catholic Christian turns the tables around on this issue by offering their personal sufferings up in union with the perpetual Sacrifice of Jesus the Cross that we enter into every Sunday and by making our Morning Offering to Him. These reading resources should give you some good insight into the topic:

I hope this helps,


John replied:

Lou —

The way the theology of suffering is often explained, can indeed present problems, especially for non-Catholic Christians who speak an entirely different language and have a different paradigm for Justification and Atonement.

If Catholics aren't careful, they can also misunderstand the doctrine, focusing only on the suffering and not the grace. Far too often Catholics take a very Pelagian approach to salvation. They understand Christ died for their sins in an abstract, but think that they must earn their salvation or pay a debt for their sins.

Without getting into to purification after death and so forth, the debt for sin was paid in its entirety by Jesus Christ.

Our response to grace therefore must allow Him to transform us into His Very Image. Hence when we suffer, we are given the opportunity to be like Christ and, in our suffering, think of other.

But again, we do this by grace. It is, Christ working in us, with Whom we cooperate. It is not in our own strength.


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