Peter Kreeft
Peter Kreeft
" You don’t make great saints out of milk toast.
" Peter Kreeft Boston College philosopher
Jesus protects us from sin, not from suffering, a renowned Catholic philosopher told an Oregon State University online audience April 8.

Kreeft, author of more than 80 books, knows that Catholics, especially those in health care, have questions: Why does God allow suffering? How can we have a relationship with a God who allows it? What can we do in response to suffering?

Like any good philosopher, Kreeft begins by defining terms. Sin is evil we do. Suffering is evil that happens to us. And since the soul is eternal and the body isn’t, sin is the worst kind of evil, Kreeft said. Suffering comes second.

Both sin and suffering, Kreeft posited, are results of the free will God gave humans out of great love. When humans choose to “do it their way,” sin and suffering result.

The setup seems to cast doubt on God’s goodness, Kreeft admitted, especially since suffering seems to come disproportionately, with tragedy hitting saints and sinners alike. All we can say, Kreeft said, is that none of us know the last chapter or the final disposition of anyone.

And while it’s not always the case, suffering seems to play a part in the advance of many souls.

“We need suffering to gain wisdom,” said Kreeft, who is 85. “We need wisdom to be truly happy. So we need suffering to be happy. Deep happiness requires suffering because it goes through wisdom.”

He called suffering “the wave that allows us to surf, terrifying but effective.”

And when people think they are getting a raw deal, if they back up and look more closely, they find that good far outweighs bad in any life, though the bad may make a big impression.

“Life does not stink. It has good and evil,” he said. “There is sorrow and joy. The alternative has no meaning.”

Suffering is a mystery, not a problem, Kreeft said, explaining that problems have answers while the very definition of mystery is something without a full answer because of our limited vision.

In life we are in a story, Kreeft said, and we are all Hamlets, not Shakespeares.

Kreeft wonders why humans demand answers about suffering when they would never do so for other mysteries, such as love. Mysteries must just be lived, he said.

As for suffering’s impact on one’s relationship with God, Kreeft contends that pain and anguish often call forth genuine communication with the Almighty, especially when anger is involved.

“Don’t be afraid to shake your fist at God and say, ‘How could you do this, you bloody butcher!’” Kreeft suggested, reminding listeners that God is merciful, hates indifference and wants a genuine relationship with his people. He point to Sts. Paul, Augustine and Ignatius as great sinners.

“You don’t make great saints out of milk toast,” Kreeft said.

What’s to be done in the face of suffering? Mitigation is the best answer, Kreeft said, adding, “The science that pleases God the most is medicine.”

Jesus made death a door to eternal life, Kreeft said, reminding listeners that they are part of the suffering body of Christ and can be agents in redemption by accepting suffering that can’t be resolved or softened.

“Suffering stinks. So the answer is not easy,” Kreeft said. “But what Christ can make of it will absolutely astound us.”