‘Why, Oh why?’ This is a cry we often hear from a person suffering, or of one who encounters suffering in some form. It is the cry perhaps of a mother whose five-year-old son is shot dead, or the cry of a young man dying of cancer, the cry of a young wife whose husband dies in a car crash, or the cry of thousands dying of starvation in the third world or the cry of girls and women abused and made to feel less than human. It is the cry of every human person, man, woman and child, the cry of the theologian, philosopher, scientist, or lay person, the cry of an atheist or believer. Suffering seems to force an instant cry, Why, Oh why?
For us Christians, we naturally turn to God. God is a God of love and tenderness, of justice and compassion, yet what is his role in our suffering? We know from revelation that God is not the cause of suffering. But then, is he concerned at all? Is he a bystander watching uninterested, or is he a sadist enjoying watching us suffer? These questions are our attempt to find a meaning to suffering.
It is our endeavour in this study to search for a meaning to suffering and a way of coping with suffering. We thus present a brief definition of suffering, then glance at some length at the way suffering is understood in the Old Testament and then in the New Testament. We then briefly look at the understanding of suffering in the tradition of the Church and in recent magisterial teaching. We then briefly look at certain contemporary theologians and how they understand and present a theology of suffering. We finally present Christ and his cross as the locus for any meaning and way of coping with suffering.
We must admit that in the final analysis suffering leaves us mystified and seems to transcend any rational answer we could possibly offer.