A baby eagle is safe in its nest: warm, well-fed, and knows that it is loved. There’s a legend about how baby eagles learn to fly. One day, the mother destroys the nest, and throws the baby eagle out from the tree. The mother catches the eagle before it hits the ground, brings it back up, and then launches it again, hurtling towards the ground over and over again until it learns to fly. There are days when we look at God like that baby eagle must look at its mother: are you insane? What are you doing? I’m not going to survive this!
Some of the spiritual giants in our history have put this sense of panic to words:
If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore, God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. -C.S. Lewis
If this is how you treat your friends, Lord, it’s no wonder you have so few of them. -St. Teresa of Avila (having been launched from her carriage into the mud)
Even Jesus’ words from the Cross seem to speak of that same feeling: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief. -Psalm 22:2-3 (But make sure you read the rest of it, as it’s not a completely hopeless Psalm…)
St. Paul writes an interesting prayer for moments like this:
We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you, you (both) are doing and will continue to do. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ. -2 Thessalonians 3:4-5
Let’s break that open. We are to be directed to the love of God, because our faith begins in response to knowing the love of God. To encounter Jesus is to have an encounter with the love of the living God. When we pray, we sit in the presence of that love incarnate, when we are lost we call out for that same love. A priest I once worked with shared a homily with children about the love of God, telling them that it was God’s love that kept them in existence. If He ceased to love any of them (and any of us) even for a moment… we would cease to exist.
We are also directed towards the endurance of Christ. That’s a powerful prayer, because you can’t argue that Jesus perseveres in suffering, and it by His endurance His saving mission is accomplished. We have a Catholic Christian faith today and a hope of eternal life BECAUSE of Jesus’ endurance TO THE END.
God allows us to suffer many things in the same manner as the mother eagle allows her child to feel the confusion and the terror – it just doesn’t make sense. For that baby eagle, however, those moments of suffering make it possible for that eagle to fly. And eagles were meant to fly – it’s a majestic thing to see – not to be trapped on the ground. We endure our sufferings so that we can become people who know what it is to have faith in God – and choose it. We endure our sufferings so that we can become people who know what it is to hope in eternal life – and choose it. We endure our sufferings so that we can become people who know what it is to truly love – and choose it. And more than choosing virtues of faith, hope, and love – which are important – we discover that we are actually choosing to enter into a relationship with God, who will teach us how to fly… making us a people who are more faithful, more hopeful, and more loving.
The smallest of life’s events are directed by the Lord. Creatures are instruments, but it is the hand of Jesus that directs all. -St. Theresa of the Child Jesus
Remember how the crown was attained by those whose sufferings gave new radiance to their faith. The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without genuine effort no one wins the crown. -St. Thomas Becket
One other thing is clear: some of the sufferings of this life do go beyond the simple explanations of an 800 word blog post – though even those can help us achieve great things – but it is those sufferings which will only ever be answered by Heaven. It is that same Lord we must turn to – the one who will weep with us in those moment that make no sense at all.