The month of June is over. Thank God. It was a month where the divide between the direction popular culture is going — at about 89 miles an hour — and the true north compass point God directs us could not be more explicitly divergent. True to my Irish ancestry, whenever I see hyper displays of happiness and pride (not a biblical virtue, by the way) I always think, what’s wrong with this person? What deep hurt, resentment or sin is vexing them so much that their response is to mask it with an over-the-top display of the opposite?
I’m also glad the month is in the books because I no longer have to feel like a coward, keeping my lips sealed and my hands off the computer keyboard as the month-long activities and celebrations filtered through my own social media pages and friends, family, and work associates virtue signal their own versions of pride solidarity.
I found a counterintuitive remedy for feeling singularly alone and out of sync with the culture during June in Peter Kreeft’s book, “Making Sense Out of Suffering,” which I had been reading for an entirely different reason. Suffering comes to everyone. For the common root of our scriptural tree, we Jews and Christians can at least find some solace in our questions about suffering, but there remains a mystery to it that is vexing and sometimes maddening.
Peter Kreeft’s book was written more than 30 years ago, but this small, easy-to-read book should be on every nightstand. Call it a tutorial and a ready “how to” guide on how we should not only look at suffering, but on a host of other important issues as well…like the relationship we, if we claim to be believers, must foster and pursue with the Lord.
It has been a book that has helped me immensely with dealing with my thoughts and feelings toward friends, family, and colleagues who were doing all the celebrating in June over something I did not believe was something so positive to celebrate.
One of the many salient points Kreeft makes is how important it is to engage in dialogue with God, and he uses the Book of Exodus and Job as well as Augustine’s “Confessions” as prima facie evidence that it is good to talk to God, to question God, even to argue with God. Moses is constantly complaining to God that God has given him an impossible task and that he is afraid to risk life and limb to do what God has asked of him. Job takes a lot of abuse and a lot of suffering until even he cracks a little: “Are not the days of my life few? Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort” (Job 10:20).
The popular culture seems to have gotten this part down to a science. Even the most secular forms of entertainment, and almost all the “important” artistic ventures in our culture, are some manifestation by writers, actors or producers — arguing with God and seeking to go their separate ways with their own versions of the truth…thus the rise of the popular culture phrase: “following his/her truth.” In a similar fashion, the joyful marching that took place in June was a bunch of people celebrating their “truth.”
Instead of seeing this as something to rail against, and the temptation to do just that is acute, the Peter Kreeft book on suffering gave me another path to follow — to think about the amount of suffering that may go on within the ranks of all those happy faces in all those celebratory events. There are a lot of people who are seemingly having their own arguments with God and trying to square the circle of the inexplicable reality of suffering. Unlike the examples of arguments in scripture, these people believe they have won the argument and thus they turn away from the God-to-man formula in favor of a more malleable man-to-God plan. It may work well for one’s self-esteem, but it never points one toward the divine and true happiness.
And for all who suffer, if they are marching in a parade or reading a book on suffering, C.S. Lewis comes in handy as well: “Suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.”
Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. His column Ad Rem won second place in the “Best regular column: Arts, leisure, culture, and food” category at the Catholic Press Awards in 2019. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.
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