Encounter with God gives solace to those mired in tragedy, says expert
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) — Pain, suffering and human mortality shouldn’t be explained away, ignored or denied, but embraced by faith in God, said an expert in the philosophy and ethics of science.
Agazzi, an Italian philosopher, physicist and mathematician,
was the guest speaker at a Sept. 17 lecture organized by the Ut Vitam
Habeant Foundation — a Rome-based Catholic foundation, headed by
Cardinal Elio Sgreccia.
People’s faith and trust in a benevolent God have
been challenged for millennia by the existence of death, pain and suffering,
especially when such ills were not considered to be the direct result
of moral evil, Agazzi told an audience of more than 250 people.
Ancient philosophers and other thinkers have proposed a
wide variety of approaches: passive resignation; a cynical frustration
that laments the burden of life; “death as liberation, so we need to get life
over with as soon as possible”; or a naive belief in the harmony
of nature, which will make sure all the bad will be balanced out by the
“The real problem was the meaning of pain and suffering” and
one’s response to it, he said.
Agazzi said people won’t find consolation in being told that evil
exists and they just have to deal with it, or “don’t worry,
it will all balance out” in the end.
In the same way, he said, modern science and technology’s “ultra-rationalism” — for
example, geneticist who explains the origins of cancer to the last chromosome — offer
no consolation by “explaining away and destroying the existence
of the bad.”
A correct use of reason doesn’t negate the presence of the unintelligible. “There
is an undeniable reality that goes beyond every explanation. It’s
real and beyond our ability to change,” Agazzi said.
However, he said, it is precisely that reality beyond what
the mind can grasp “that is capable of filling life with meaning.”
“Christian faith has a response that goes beyond
all the many possible responses that philosophy came up with.”
“We are called to collaborate with God” and work to ease
suffering and right injustices, he said, but “we don’t know
if we will be successful because we know our success will always be limited.”
Christianity teaches that “there’s no need to deny the negativity
of pain or justify it. We have to accept it as it is, accept its negativity
and accept that it may be opening up something more,” he said.
“The first way to overcome the bad is with love, but it won’t
resolve everything; the mystery remains — the mystery of why love
should pass through pain.”
“There is no reason for it,” yet Jesus showed
it was true by giving up his life to redeem humanity, he said.
The Old Testament figure Job, who was righteous and yet
suffered without reason, overcomes his dilemma when he has a direct experience
of God, Agazzi said. “If you don’t meet God face-to-face your problems
won’t be resolved,” he said.
Therefore, Agazzi said he tells people who think it’s impossible
to believe in God after witnessing a child’s suffering and death
that “only one who believes deeply in God is able to bear being
at the side of a dying child without losing reason, without going mad
in the pain.”
Since the answer to witnessing such suffering is having a concrete encounter
with God, he asked Agazzi how he could help people living through so
much tragedy have that experience.
The action of the Holy Spirit is key, Agazzi said, and
people can pray “for
the spirit to illuminate the mystery.”
Agazzi said, “We have to be witnesses, but we can’t
substitute God in helping people discover the way to God.”
“You can’t put yourself in God’s shoes; they’re too big,” he added.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops