Reflections on Suffering and Death

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The following was a college essay written by Joseph Tuttle. It has been edited and approved by Ariel Hobbs. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By Joseph Tuttle, Benedictine College

As a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin of eating the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (RSV Genesis 2:17), death entered the world. Therefore it is through sin, that suffering and death entered the world. “Even though man’s nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator…” (CCC 1008).

Some people ask why God permits death and suffering to continue, even after sending his own Son to redeem us. Fulton Sheen says there are two options: “There are only two things that could possibly remove evil and suffering from the world: either the conformity of human wills to the will of God, or God becoming a dictator and destroying all human wills” (Zia 29). The first option is nearly impossible, because “all of humanity would have to cooperate with God’s grace” (Zia 29). And the second option is impossible because God would never infringe upon our free will. What we usually forget is the second half of the picture. The first part is suffering followed by death. The second part is the resurrection. Our greatest example of this is actually Jesus himself! Jesus endured scourging, a crown of thorns beaten onto his head, the crucifixion and ultimately, death. But Jesus rose again on the third day.

There are two perspectives toward suffering which we can have. “Suffering can either lead us to bitterness or inflame us with a sense of the divine.” (Zia 31) The best representatives of these views are the two thieves who were crucified with Christ. For the first thief, his suffering increased his hatred and anger, which caused him to lash out and mock Christ saying: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39) The second thief’s suffering on the other hand became an agent of grace. In his suffering he recognized Jesus as God, and the Messiah. While being nailed to a cross the good thief realized his own sins, and the sinlessness of Jesus, and begged him saying: “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power” (RSV Luke 23:42).

Fulton Sheen said that the good thief had two attitudes of the soul which made him acceptable to Jesus. The first was penitence and the second was faith (Zia 33). Pope St. John Paul II said that “Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace” (Zia 32). It is this attitude of the good thief that we should take to be our own in the midst of suffering and trials.

An important aspect of suffering is to always remember that it can be fruitful. Fulton Sheen says “It is God who gives us the Cross. And it is the Cross that gives us God” (Zia 34). Pope John Paul II reminds us that “The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished” (Zia 36).

One way we can unite our suffering with Christ, is to offer up our sufferings for our sins, and the sins of others. Fulton Sheen said “The greatest tragedy of life is not what happens to souls, but rather what souls miss… There is nothing more tragic in all the world than wasted pain” (Zia 37). “Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus” (CCC 1522). Fr. John Hardon remarked on suffering that, “its purpose, however, is not only to expiate wrongdoing, but to enable the believer to offer to God a sacrifice of praise of his divine right over creatures, to unite oneself with Christ in his sufferings as an expression of love…” (Hardon 524).

Pain and suffering are allowed by God to bring about a greater good. Think of St. Ignatius of Loyola. If he had not been injured during a battle, we would not have his Spiritual Exercises, or the Society of Jesus. If we did not have the Society of Jesus, we would not have the Jesuit Martyrs, and without them, America might not have received the Gospel message! God used St. Ignatius’ injury and suffering as a means of sanctification for Ignatius and many others.

In the end then, “the only reason God allows it (suffering) is to transform our sinful ways into paths of virtue and charity” (Zia 37). Whenever I think of suffering, or am suffering I think of Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, when he has gone through much suffering and turmoil, he sings a song. One of the verses is “above all shadows rides the sun,” implying that after great suffering and affliction (shadows) comes the reward of joy and happiness (the sun). This can be applied to our lives, that after suffering here in this world, we might attain the heavenly kingdom which is free from all suffering and pain.


Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000.

Hardon, Fr. John, Modern Catholic Dictionary. Bardstown, Kentucky: Eternal Life, 2008.

Zia, Mark J., The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen. Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, 2015.

Edited By: Ariel Hobbs

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