God never sends radical suffering

 What follows is another response to the spiritual questions of sexually abused children:

God never sends radical suffering

If God’s love is unconditional, then how could God allow such horrors to happen? Popular theological ideas that God has a reason for everything that happens, or that God sends suffering to strengthen or test us, cannot look this kind of maiming in the eye.  The idea that we draw to us the things we need for our spiritual growth is particularly horrendous when we consider child sexual violation.  Many victims of childhood trauma never recover in this life; their souls remain locked in self-hate and isolation. More than a few commit suicide.

Elizabeth Johnson uses Wendy Farly’s definition of “radical suffering” as “an assault on one’s personhood as such”  and as that in which “the soul itself is so crippled that it can no longer defy evil”[1] Child sexual abuse is prime example of this kind of suffering. Only a belief that God never sends radical suffering for any reason makes sense of a loving God. Wuellner sorts through this issue in a helpful way. She says that there are two kinds of suffering into which God may invite us. One is that which may be the result of a freely chosen call (and then it only remains God’s will if we also thrive in it). The other is that which comes from growth and healing.[2] The painful healing process from abuse is certainly an example. Beyond these two kinds of suffering which we may freely choose to embrace, as Wuellner puts it,  “It is an ancient and evil heresy that God sends our tragedies.” [3]



[1] Wendy Farly, Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion: A Contemporary Theodicy (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/ John Knox Press, 1990) 53-55, as quoted in Johnson’s She Who Is, 249.

[2] From notes taken in her course on Prayer and Human Wholeness at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Ca. in 1991.

[3] Wuellner, Heart of Healing Heart of Light, 30.

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