If God is so Merciful, Why do the Innocent Suffer so Much?

Not long ago I received a most poignant letter from a man named "Mr. Weaver," who poured out his heart on a subject that touches all of us at one time or another: the mystery of innocent suffering. Mr. Weaver wrote:

I have a few questions I need to ask. I have read a lot about the Divine Mercy and I recite the Chaplet every day. Now, according to Sister Faustina's Diary, Jesus told her that no one was excluded from His mercy. Also, He promised us we'd get whatever we ask of Him by reciting this chaplet.

I have put my trust in Him and asked for His help. My health has been poor in recent years and I cannot work. I've tried, believe me. I applied for Social Security disability but don't seem any closer to getting it than the day I first applied back in 2001. I also applied for Medicaid to help with medical treatment I desperately need. I still haven't been approved for that either. These are the things I have asked Jesus to help me with. My situation is desperate and it is really frustrating not getting the help I ask for.

Although Jesus did say that no one was excluded, how can we be sure? I'm not asking for anything I don't really need (financial help and medical treatment) yet where is His mercy? And Jesus did say we'd get whatever we ask for through His chaplet. Of course, He did attach strings to that. What we ask for must be in accordance with His will. Okay. My health problems are quite serious and need to be treated, and how could getting treatment not be in accordance with His will? Look in Matthew where Jesus told His apostles about the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. He told us the Father cared more about us than the birds and the flowers, and would always provide for our needs. "Seek first the kingdom of God and these things will be added to you." Well, I have been seeking God's kingdom, so where is the help I need? Medical treatment is a very basic need, and Jesus did promise help with these needs.

Mr. Weaver, I read your letter several times over, and my first, second, and third reaction was the same: you sound a lot like me. I have a 10-year-old daughter who was bullied in the first school we sent her to, so we switched schools, and she was bullied in the second one, too. After a year and a half we took her out of that school, and six months later started her in yet another one. Things went OK the first year, but as her fellow students realized that she was a straight-A student and a brain-box, they started to ostracize her there, too. Last week her belongings in school were vandalized. As usual, the school does virtually nothing to help or protect her. And so on it goes...

My little daughter's social sufferings (by the way, she has never done an ill deed to anyone at any school she has attended) have been the object of countless novenas, chaplets, and even pilgrimages by her mom and grandma - all, it seems, to no avail. Sometimes I get so frustrated that I look up at the sky and ask: "Lord, do you still work for a living? Why can't you DO something? Is a little humane treatment of my daughter by her peers too much to ask?" I shudder to think what kind of lasting damage she will suffer to her sense of self-worth as a child of God.

In short, Mr. Weaver, I know and share your feelings of frustration with divine providence. Often, I just cannot figure out what our allegedly merciful Lord is up to. It does not make much sense to me, and it makes me really angry at times. And when I look at the Bible, I am in good company. Read Psalm 77 on this, or the book of Job, or the Lamentations of Jeremiah. They couldn't always figure God out either. Even Jesus felt that way on the Cross: "My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34).

So, what is God up to when He permits innocent people to suffer - prolonged, grinding misery - and prayerful appeals to His mercy seem to fall on deaf ears? I honestly don't know.

But I have to set what I do not know against what I DO know. There IS a God of infinite power and wisdom and goodness; I know enough philosophy to be sure that we have very strong rational grounds for believing in the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of this universe. And I know that Jesus Christ was and is the true Son of God; I know enough historical evidence about Jesus to be able to say beyond a reasonable doubt that He was not a liar nor a lunatic, but just who He claimed to be. In addition to all that, I have known and experienced Him personally - His merciful and undeserved love for me - in the gospels, in the Blessed Sacrament, in prayer, in times of solitude, in the sun rising in the morning, and the wind rustling the trees, in His whisper in the depths of my heart, calling me to do good and shun evil. So I have met Him: I cannot deny that. No matter how far away He may seem to be at times, I cannot deny that I have known Him when He was near!

I wish I could understand why the infinitely powerful and merciful God has not granted my prayers about my little daughter - an innocent sufferer for sure. I wish I could understand why He does not grant your prayers for medical aid in a way that, to us, seems only merciful and right. But I can't fully understand these things. I just know that He knows so much more than we do - infinitely more - and He sees so much more than we see. Saint Paul wrote: "all things work together unto good to them that love God" (Rom 8:38). Saint Paul did not promise that we would be able to SEE how all things work out for good to those who trust God - only that they will. Only in heaven shall we see all things clearly, and all the reasons why (I Cor 13:12).

That's why the heart of St. Faustina's spirituality is not the Chaplet, or the Image, or the Feast, but the simple signature at the bottom of the Image: "Jesus, I trust in You." It means that we need to trust either that Jesus will grant us what we ask for in faith, or if not that, then He will grant whatever He knows is best for us, which somehow, some way, must be better for us than we could either ask or imagine. It has to be - just because He Is.

Got a question? E-mail me at questions@thedivinemercy.org.

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