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.
In fact, only a concrete encounter with the Lord can provide solace for people grappling with the question of how there can be a God who is good when there is also agony and death, especially of innocent children, said Evandro Agazzi, a member of the Italian National Committee for Bioethics and the Committee for the Ethics of Research and Bioethics of the Italian National Research Council.
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 good.
“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.”
During a brief question-and-answer period at the end of the talk, a member of the audience said he was a chaplain at the Vatican’s Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital in Rome.
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.