Times of Suffering and the Ultimate Connection

July 11, 2010

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

Here’s an often misunderstood and misinterpreted statement: many people feel drawn to God in times of suffering.

During a serious illness, a family crises, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one, many people will say that they turn to God… More skeptical minds may chalk this up to desperation. The person, they say, has nowhere else to turn and so turns to God. God is seen in this light as a crutch for the foolish, a refuge for the superstitious.

But… we do not turn to God in suffering because we suddenly become irrational. Rather, God is able is able to reach us because our defenses are lowered. The barriers we erected to keep out God – whether from pride or fear or lack of interest – are set aside… We are not less rational. We are more open.

Near the end of his life, my father started to talk more frequently about God. This was a complete surprise… he had, as long as I had known him, never been overly religious… My dad also became more gentle, more forgiving, and more emotional.

After his death, I remarked to my friend Janice, a Catholic sister, that my dad seemed to have become more open to God.  “Yes,” she said, “Dying is about becoming more human.”

Her insight was true in at least two ways.  First, becoming more human for my father meant recognizing his inborn connection to God, though we may ignore it, or deny it, or reject it during our lives. But with my father’s defenses completely lowered, God was able to meet him in new ways. Whatever barriers had kept God at a distance no longer existed.

This, not desperation, is why there are so many profound spiritual experiences near death. The person is better able to allow God to break through.

Second, my father was becoming more human because he was becoming more loving. Drawing closer to God transforms us… the more human we become, the more divine we become.

This is not to say that God desires us to suffer. Rather, when our defenses fall, our ultimate connection is revealed.

–   edited from The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, by James Martin, SJ

Ya Haqq!