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Sophia Smith wrote:

Hi, guys —

The following questions are not just theological questions asked for an intellectual purpose. Your answers are needed to solve an ongoing life issue I have.

  1. Was Jesus crucified to pay for our sins so that we don't have to pay the price, or
  2. Was He crucified in order to show us the way to salvation; which is to be willing to suffer?

  1. In other words, am I saved because of my faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done for me, or
  2. Am I only saved if I surrender to pain perhaps through illnesses and bad events such as accidents, abuse, rape, etc?

Also, what was the Cross Jesus said his disciples ought to follow?

  1. Was it the Cross of discipleship (e.g. missionary work, letting His Name be known to others and leading others to Him), or
  2. Was it the cross of daily trials, and tribulations in our private lives?

  3. Should we surrender to those trials and tribulations or fight them and try to overcome them?
  4. Should we go to the hospital for example to fight cancer or should we suffer bravely until we die?
  5. Should we enter an abusive relationship, knowing that it will be abusive, physically, and emotionally, or should we run away from it?
  6. And what if we thought God spoke to us, and He wants us to die on the hand of our beloved/friend or relation?
  7. Is this really the voice of God or of the enemy?

Please advise.

Sophia S.

  { Can you answer these theological questions so I can solve an ongoing life issue? }

Eric replied:

Dear Sophia —

Jesus didn't die to save us from suffering in this life. At the same time, we are not bound to passively endure suffering in an unconditional fashion; it is legitimate to treat disease and take painkillers (even if it hastens death). We can counteract suffering. But accepting the suffering we can't avoid and uniting it to Christ's sacrifice on the Cross is beneficial for us and for those we love. It can facilitate the salvation of souls, including our own. Rejecting the suffering that we can't avoid, on the other hand, doesn't do us much good. It just makes us miserable. Worse is if we blame God and alienate ourselves from Him because we reject the suffering He has allowed us to suffer.

I don't think either of your choices are true. Jesus did not die to pay the price so we don't have to, as if God wanted to punish someone for our sins and Jesus volunteered to endure the wrath of the Father so we didn't have to. On the other hand, salvation is not earned by enduring suffering, as if we have to pass through some kind of suffering gauntlet to achieve salvation.

Salvation is a free gift; the baptized child who dies before the age of reason goes straight to Heaven. There is more than one theory of atonement (this is the topic you are broaching) and the Church has not finalized her teaching on it, but neither of these theories are adequate ways of explaining it.

No Christian can expect to avoid suffering. Saint Teresa of Kolkata (also known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta) said that suffering is a kiss from Jesus. Just look at the saints; the Apostles were all save for one martyred, and the remaining one was exiled. Many saints suffered martyrdom. Being a Christian is not a walk in the park. It's more true that we are called to imitate Jesus in enduring suffering than it is true that Jesus suffered so we don't have to. Suffering is beneficial (and this is good news). It conforms us more to the image of Christ.

As for what Jesus meant by take up your cross and follow me, (Matthew 16:24-26) I think He chiefly meant endure whatever you must endure to live out the Gospel faithfully. He means be willing to endure martyrdom and whatever leads up to it in order to obey Jesus's message. Secondarily, it can mean to lift up and endure those sufferings you cannot avoid in union with the sufferings of Christ. (In some situations we can subject ourselves to unpleasant, but unharmful, disciplines such as fasting to learn self-control, but I think that is outside the scope of your question.) It manifestly does not mean that we should passively endure whatever comes our way and make no effort to counter it. If you are sick, you need to seek appropriate treatment. If you are being abused, you need to get out of (or not get into) that situation. (You can call the Domestic Violence hot line in the U.S. at (800) 799-7233 for help.)

If some entity is speaking to you about dying at the hand of someone you know, that is certainly not God. I'd strongly refer you to a mental health professional to rule out the psychological or demonic.

You might want to read St. John Paul II's apostolic letter, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, Salvifici Doloris.


Paul replied:

Hi Sophia,

Here's my two cents.

Your first question is not [either/or], it's [both/and]. We are saved by what Christ did for us and how we respond to His saving actions. Our response must be one of love and obedience and includes how we react to suffering and injustice. By God's grace we are called to fight and conquer evil and injustice with the weapons of truth, love, and perseverance.

We do not look for suffering, and every legitimate means of alleviating it is permissible. But all the suffering we cannot legitimately avoid should be offered to God in union with Christ's sufferings on the Cross for the salvation of souls.

The voice of God only nurtures and promotes life. It's safe to say any thought relating to immorality and death are not from God.



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