On Suffering

tornado01(This is a reprint of a post I did on my Facebook Page, Abraham’s Journey on May 21, 2013, in the wake of deadly tornadoes that swept through Oklahoma last year. I reprint it because it is a contemplation on the meaning of suffering that I think we need to be thinking of)

Some have contacted me to see what I have to say about the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma yesterday. Very long ago I accepted that God does not tell me what I want to know, only what He wants me to know. So there are many things that are, and will remain, a mystery to me until I am born to heaven, God willing.

But there are a few things I have seen that may help. In the fall of 1997, after giving my definitive yes that, if these things really were going to happen, I would publicly go and do whatever God required of me, the angel who instructs me was sent and took me through the whole of creation and the universe. It was stunning. Most of it I did not understand. It was like trying to explain to a four-year-old how the engine in a car works. But if the child is incapable of grasping the intricacies and wonder of the engine, he can understand that it makes the car go. I have written of it obliquely in a piece I wrote on the Book of Job. A key that I did understand is that, without interfering in our free will, God orders all things – and I literally mean everything – to call us to salvation. At one point during that visitation I was shown some natural disasters – and the incredible grace that God sends when they come. For a time, people behave as God intends us to, working together to help each other without regard for the things that normally divide us. Incredible graces are extended during these times and many souls that were lost are reclaimed to eternity. People see each other as God intends – as true brothers and sisters who are all in it together. Though some are more heroic than others, any who try to act as if they are the titans, dispensing mercy like some petty god, are usually brought back to the reality that, for that time, all in it are the less fortunate. People live solidarity. I saw that most souls in a disaster are reclaimed to eternity through that extraordinary grace. But there are some so wholly given over to satan that they exploit tragedy flamboyantly. These are the looters and thieves. Woe to them, but they do not touch the souls of those reclaimed to God. Satan rejoices in the temporal suffering inflicted on man during these times, yet rages over all the souls lost to him.
Just after the turn of the millennium I was warned to expect a noticeable increase in the number of untimely deaths leading up to the Storm. It was explained to me that this was a mercy, not a punishment. Some are not strong enough to weather the storm with their soul intact, so among these God was waiting for them to enter what would be their last state of grace, then plucking them so they would not be lost to eternity.

None of this can beguile anyone from grief. My mother died the day before Mother’s Day last year (2012) and I was devastated. For decades we had a strained relationship, then in the last few years of her life it became sweet and unstrained again, like when I was a little boy and she would tell me stories or take me to concerts or hold my hand while showing me the fish ponds. I confess that, as often as I tell people no one is exempt from the consequences of the storm, part of me thought I was. I was not. There were many miracles in the last week of her life – and all who were there came to know there is heaven. Having had the mercy of the sweetness returning between Mom and me, I am grateful that the night she died, I sang her to sleep. And I weep as I write this, for it is a great grief.

Those of us who have not lost a child cannot grasp the unfathomable grief of those who have – and that is a mercy. But the horror is that we can imagine it. When my dear son was just a year old, he exhibited symptoms of a very rare, but invariably fatal disease. He had to be taken into the hospital for testing for a few days to determine if that was the cause. He already had his magnetic cheerfulness, a charisma that sparks joy in those he encounters. Those few days were perhaps the darkest night of the soul I have ever lived. At the hospital, before we knew he was going to be okay, we were there and he was eagerly laughing with his nurse then playing vigorously with a balloon. I could not hold back the sobs when his nurse had to turn away because she had broken into tears over the “sweet little guy.”

I am always uncomfortable when survivors of a tragedy speak of God’s grace to explain their survival. I have certainly seen the grace that abounds in such situations in a unique way. But I worry that thanking God for mere physical survival somehow discounts the more terrible grace that those who have suffered loss have to bear – and theirs is often a greater grace. Better to thank God for the grace of all working together as true brothers and sisters for a short time, I think. I don’t know.

Grief is a mystery and there are many sorrows to be borne in these shadowlands that are prelude to eternity. I know with certainty that heaven IS – and despite that knowledge have grieved mightily. Yet I also know that Jesus, who is God – and holds the keys of life and death – upon hearing that His friend Lazarus had died…well…Jesus wept.

After having toured all of creation, I do not understand whether natural disasters are something God allows or whether satan inflicts them on us for the transient pleasure he gets from our suffering – or whether they serve some other purpose altogether. Certainly it seems that terrible physical storms have, over the last decade, foreshadowed the great spiritual storm that is upon us. I only know that grace abounds in them in the midst of terrible sorrow in some mysterious partnership.


And I also know that when the tornadoes swept across the plains of Oklahoma yesterday, Jesus wept.

About charliej373

Charlie Johnston is a former newspaper editor, radio talk show host and political consultant. From Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012, he walked 3,200 miles across the country, sleeping in the woods, meeting people and praying as he went. He has received prophetic visitation all his life, which he has vetted through a trio of priests over the last 20 years, and now speaks publicly about on this site. Yet he emphasizes that we find God most surely through the ordinary, doing the little things we should with faith and fidelity. Hence the name, The Next Right Step. The visitations inform his work, but are not the focus of it. He lives in the Archdiocese of Denver in the United States.
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31 Responses to On Suffering

  1. ann says:

    There is much here to ponder. First of all, as someone who has lost a child I can say that I think you showed real wisdom when you spoke of those souls taken while they’re in a state of grace so they can be saved. Grief is a very hard and life long state but it is also a very powerful prayer we can offer for the rest of our lives in our poverty of spirit. It’s something we can give totally to God to use as He wills. And that’s a great gift (from where I’m standing). And I think your explanation of free will and God’s design to have everything work toward our salvation is spot on. it rings true to my experience. Some of us just can’t hear God’s call when all is well. It is when we are bereft or struggling through something that we finally listen. It is all mercy, that’s what I have come to believe. Everything comes from His Hands and it is always mercy.

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    • Janet says:

      I too have lost a child. I can honestly say that the footprints prayer applied to me. Even in the depths of grief I felt carried and had an underlying joy that can only come from God. Jesus I trust in you!

      Today there is a beautiful piece on hope at Catholic Spiritual Direction. Here is a shortlink to the piece: http://tinyurl.com/jvusxwu

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jennifer says:

    Ann…such an antidote to fear for the rest of to hear that one who has preceded us into the fire can witness from the other side that it is all mercy. Thank you.

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  3. Judy says:

    I have thought a lot about our conversation of yesterday and your post regarding suffering. I know that suffering is done in atonement for sin (maybe even for someone close to us, or those we may not even know) . It is also meant to purge us of pride and vanity and to make us better vessels for the Holy Spirit to use us as His instruments. I do not know why God saves some during storms or accidents or sickness, and why some lose loved ones. It is fully human for the ones who have loss to ask if they are somehow being punished, and this is the initial reaction of most people. The story of Job indicates that we cannot not fully understand God’s ways, and we are not supposed to fully understand, but we are to trust that good will come from a bad situation/suffering through the grace of God….though understanding and confirmation that one is not alone help greatly, like a cool drink of water in the desert. After all, we are like sheep, who tend to be dumb, and we can do nothing truly good alone; He is the vine and we are the mere branches. And sometimes we are so weary that, like Mother Teresa, we know God is there but are going through a very dry period, a dark night of the soul. I currently see many people close to me suffering greatly for a very long time, and others who are getting ready to fly away to Italy for their annual winter holiday, or those who have come back from multiple vacations…..You say that you believe that there will be tremendous trials for all of us in the relatively near future. Will there not also be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Will the Holy Spirit not be with us during all the tribulations? Can prayer /sacrifice still mitigate or change the Tribulations? Will the Holy Spirit not work mightily to lead us through the Storm right to the very last, when the Immaculate Heart of Mary will triumph? (By the way, my protestant friends believe that they will be saved via the Rapture.)

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    • Judy says:

      Actually, there is no need to reply to my post. Jesus has promised that he will never leave us. The first apostles became strong only with the descent of the Holy Spirit. I believe that it will be that way again for prayerful people of good will. Whatever strength I have is not from me, but from the Holy Spirit. Whatever goodness comes from me is due to the graces which pour from Heaven. And we must ask for those gifts which Mary holds within her Immaculate Heart and which she wishes to distribute in preparation for times of trial. We give our fiat. God does the rest, though he does not promise us a rose garden on earth. I think that I have answered my own questions.

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  4. Peg says:

    Much to ponder in this post. The concept of redemptive suffering is so helpful to give meaning to one’s suffering -by offering it in union with Christ’s own suffering. I have often wondered-is it possible to offer the suffering of another in this way? I’m thinking of children born with serious health problems or of people with profound intellectual disabilities or perhaps those with alzheimers– each day of their lives is marked by significant struggle and suffering, yet their young age or disabilities prevent them from reaching for any redeeming grace. Is there any merit in having a caregiver or loved one offer up their suffering for them?

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  5. ann says:

    Thank you Jennifer. When I was first going through the trauma of losing my son I was given tremendous grace–as Janet too says. you are literally carried. And I began to understand He had given me in the midst of my sorrow a real joy to know my son was safe with Him. And that this unspeakable grief could be given to Him as prayer the rest of my life– to really abandon myself to Him and let Him use that pain in union with His Sacred Heart for others. This is nothing I have done–it is pure grace, pure mercy from God.

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  6. Liz says:

    Thank you for these comments on suffering. Some I have gone through myself. I also feel that what you wrote will be very helpful in times to come. I saved this one in my documents for future reading. I have a feeling I will need it.

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  7. charliej373 says:

    I am deeply moved by the wisdom that all of you have brought to bear on this subject. You have all thought so deeply and brought so much insight to the matter that I have refrained from commenting on much of it, just preferring to leave each gem to sparkle on its own. But this thread is like a display of jewels – some are emeralds, some rubies, some diamonds, the occasional amethyst…but all are striking and beautiful. Thank you all for reaching into the forge of your lives to the place where it is most burnt to pull forth this trove of wisdom. It is breathtaking. I think you have all done much here to be a sign of hope to those who grieve.

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  8. ann says:

    Thank you Charlie.
    Peg, I once read a prayer that addresses your comment. this is it: “Lord Jesus, I offer You today all the crosses and sufferings of the whole world of those who do not know to offer them that Your Heart may be consoled and sinners may be saved.”
    Ever since I’ve prayed this prayer, especially for those I know who are suffering and don’t understand about “offering up.” Hope this helps.

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  9. Peg says:

    Thank you ann for this prayer. It was just the sort of thing I was looking for. I am so sorry for the loss of your son.

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  10. Stephen Maresch says:

    I remember pondering the question of suffering while standing at my sink washing the dishes years ago. Mainly because my wife suffers from Lupus and one of my eldest daughters was enduring an almost biweekly attack by my siblings (whom I thought new what it meant to be Christian). But that day my two younger children were complaining about who has done more work than the other, and they thought it unfair to be asked to do more. Then God gave me the insite at that moment to better understand suffering. Many suffer out of there own personal need so as to atone for sin or to change the way they live. Others suffer in much the way when ones work load is heavier than anothers, because one refuses to carry their fair share of the load. Those who suffer and offer it for the salvations of others are carring the work load that others refuse to carry.

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  11. charliej373 says:

    I like that. A few years ago I was going through a very difficult patch. Everything I did turned to dust. I was frustrated and pleaded, that if I had done something to offend God, just tell me and I would cease. Silence.

    Finally, my angel came and told me – obviously disappointed in me – “This isn’t about you.” Then he told me who it was about – someone dear to me who was about to go into severe tribulation. My angel asked was I willing to do penance on his behalf. I eagerly accepted. Then, pointedly, he asked me was I willing to quit thinking everything was always about me. I agreed with that, too, finally understanding that even our efforts to receive pardon are often self-centered vanities. That’s a tough one that I don’t expect to ever master in this life – but I’m glad I’m aware of it. And I was very glad to accept the penance, for the person did, indeed, enter into a very dark place.

    God bless you and all who carry a load and freely offer it for those who most need it!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. aj says:

    Charlie…your last response is spot on! In my trusting of the Good Lord when things happen I would say ok, the Lord must know this is best for me; or this has happened for my betterment, which is also true…but our gentle JESUS rebuked me in my thoughts some time ago telling me that even my so called Trust in Him was a little warped…Hey it’s not always about you Allan, you’ve passed this primary level, I want you to be a conduit of Grace and Mercy to my other children whom I also love dearly (heard this in my heart). It really showed me how self-centred we are even in our relationship with GOD.

    And so we continue on the road to Emmaus being taught by the Messiah…

    YESHUA I Trust in You! Save souls.

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  13. Nancy says:

    Charlie, thank you for this post. I went back into the events that caused me the most sorrows in my life, particularly the deaths of my husband and parents, and saw more clearly than before the miracles of grace that occurred. While I still suffer the grief (though it is not as intense), I understand better as I get older. All three of them approached death in such a manner as to take away my fear of death. And that is just a “small” grace; there are many others that extend far out from the events–ripples in a pond that affected even strangers. It is easier for me to now pray for a cure for someone and yet accept God’s plan for the opposite knowing that an explosion of grace is occurring. It’s all about souls. He loves them so much.

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  14. Kent says:

    Charlie, you commented recently that to read the articles without reading the comments would be a great loss. So I randomly picked an article and read the comments. You were right. Thanks to all in this thread who have shared.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. NancyA says:

    Ahh, this expresses what I believe so very closely. I also wonder if when God creates a new soul, they are able to choose to accept suffering to give grace for others….

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  17. Joj says:

    This is very intense spirituality! It was a long hard road before I was given to see the value of my chronic illness and all its sufferings. I already had it ingrained in me to ‘offer it up.’ But did not understand what I was doing. My main question was ‘how can this suffering be a suitable gift to offer when I am dealing with it so badly?’ I was in a dark night. I prayed for understanding and came to see it as a privilege by which I could join in Christ’s redemptive work. And that uniting my suffering to His suffering is what gives it value. This is such a purely supernatural perspective, that it must be only from grace. I am so glad for this site and the encouragement I get from Mr. Johnston and all of you who are ‘straddling both worlds.’ When I am most ill, I feel that this world is a mere shadow, and the supernatural is what is most real. Thank you, thank you for helping keep this perspective!

    I still ask the question, does the value of my suffering diminish when it makes me so irritable and grumpy to my family?

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    • charliej373 says:

      Joj, try your best on the grumpiness. It is something I sometimes struggle with, too. Just acknowledge it candidly as it passes. My son – and a few other family members – get so tickled by my occasional grumpiness that they try to provoke it just so they can giggle at me. It doesn’t make it a virtue – but it sure takes the edge off. Do the best you can, always acknowledging your own feet of clay, and trust God to fill the gaps of your weakness.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi JOJ, You ask a great question that I often ask myself. Pain and ailments can sure make it hard to be joyful, and I wrestle with grumpiness and sadness almost daily. 😞 I ask, “Where’s my sense of joy?” — I’m on the right path to Heaven but can’t seem to find joy in my heart. I embrace and even love my bit of suffering, offering it up for the conversion of sinners, but I wonder: do I blow it when the moodiness overcomes me in moments of self pity or annoyance when I treat others with something less than love?

      So per St Catherine Laboure’s suggestion, I now frequently ask Our Blessed Mother for the grace of a joyful disposition. This helps, but this struggle will still take time.

      Padre Pio wrestled with anger, but toward the end of his life overcame it through awareness and perseverance and the Lord’s grace. So, just keep praying and trying, J. I think you’re on the right track.

      Grumpy in South Dakota,
      Patrick 😇

      Saint Padre Pio, pray for us.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Joj says:

        Thank you, Patrick and Mr. Johnston!
        I just read the next article in my effort to catch up. It is about St. Therese. She is very dear to me, and I made her act of Oblation to Infinite Mercy (after a lot of rsearch figuring out what that meant.) Here’s a quote from the article linked to: “We do not have to despair when we seem to make no headway against sin, despite our efforts. We can trust that in God’s time–which may be our last moment of life on earth–He will relieve our burdens. What we cannot do for ourselves, He will delight to do for us.
        But only if we trust Him.” Connie Rossini
        So I will keep up the good fight, pick myself up when I fail, and renew the struggle, with trust that He will bless my efforts in His good time. I am finding the Holy Spirit is using this site to answer my questions, and keep me focused on the Spiritual Life. Thank you, Mr. J!

        Liked by 3 people

        • charliej373 says:

          Mr. Johnston?! Lord have mercy…just stick with Charlie.

          Liked by 2 people

          • YongDuk says:

            Gonna get you a Native American name, I am… Like Charles Joseph Chaput, if that isn’t already taken.

            Liked by 2 people

          • charliej373 says:

            When my kids were little, we each had Indian names…I am 1/8 Cherokee and so we thought it would be cool. We didn’t do it right away, but let them bubble up. My daughter was Running Pony, my son was Laughing Turtle, and I was Singing Bear.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Beckita says:

            Oh Charlie… I am so tired from the festivities of yesterday topped off with a drive home through the pitch black night with snowflakes shooting at my front window, not as THE comet but as thousands of comets racing to earth, so that your reply has me giggling my heart out. I love this site.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Joj says:

            I’m just trying to get under your skin! LOL Not really. I’m just old fashioned, I guess. I have to overcome myself to call someone by their first name, whom I’m not yet friends with. It feels presumptuous, though I know that I am out if step with the rest of our culture. It kind if goes with wearing ties and skirts to Sunday Mass. A bygone era, but one I would feel more comfortable in. Besides, I do have s lot of respect for you and your vast experience, Mr. Charlie! 😉

            Liked by 2 people

          • charliej373 says:

            Ha, I love that! I once had a downstairs neighbor – an elderly black woman – who was a dear friend. I always called her Miss Billie and she always called me Mr. Charlie. Your comment brought her to mind. I stopped by to see her when I was in St. Louis last fall.

            Liked by 2 people

          • YongDuk says:

            I am Young Duck 🙂

            Liked by 2 people

          • charliej373 says:

            Hmmm…I was thinking maybe Old Dog.

            Liked by 2 people

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