I share with you the sad news of the death of Bernadette Lynch, mother of Brendan, Class of 2018, and Michael, Class of 2016. Bernadette had been battling cancer for the past year.
I expect even those who are new to the Siena community are aware of the suffering that the Lynch family has endured over the past few months since the widely reported death of Michael in a car accident this past spring.
Many of us will struggle with this news of a second tragedy to strike the Lynch family in the past few months. Those of us who have known of Bernadette’s struggles have perhaps had time to find some solace in the remarkable fortitude she exhibited throughout her suffering. But the question of God’s purpose will no doubt arise in your children’s minds, if not in your own.
How do we reconcile the idea of an all-powerful and benevolent God with suffering and evil, especially when it strikes good people? Why do bad things happen to good people? I offer a few reflections here for you to consider as you speak to your children about this – the theological idea of theodicy.
While suffering is a part of the human condition and the natural world, I would first distinguish between tragic natural events and evil. I associate evil with the acts of men and women who make choices that are contrary to God’s will. Whatever their motivation or level of ignorance, they are not pursuing goodness, beauty, and truth. Natural disasters and disease, though sometimes compounded by human decision-making, are not evil, though they do cause tremendous suffering. The natural world is a world of science, where physical laws, such a thermodynamics, cause storms and earthquakes and where living organisms struggle to survive, frequently at the expense of other living things. I do not believe that God micromanages the events of the world. God does not generally intervene in the natural world, and God does not thwart our free will. For these reasons, I do not blame God for the suffering that we endure. Quite to the contrary, I believe that the suffering we experience is made easier by the comforting words and promises God has given to us.
On the few occasions I had to sit with Bernadette, she was able to convey through her words and her spirit, the faith, hope, and love that are central to the Christian message. In her dying days she cried, yes, but she smiled and laughed as well. She looked to the next step of her journey and expected to see those who went before her.
All of us are given a limited amount of time on this earth. For some of us, that time is less painful than for others. But the Christian should see with the eyes of eternity. As C.S Lewis wrote:
“…you cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”
I cannot speak for Bernadette, but everything she said and did in my presence reflected blessedness and it is for this reason that I expect she has joined her beloved sons who went before her and that she is looking back on her remarkable earthly existence and saying, “I have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.”
Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.
In the Hope of the Resurrection,