National Catholic Register


Social Justice: In Search of Comfort?

BY Matthew Warner

| Posted 1/21/10 at 12:44 PM


We live in a world filled with suffering and despair.  And we daily search for meaning amidst it all.  But there is a very important difference between suffering and despair. Suffering and despair don’t have to go together. In fact, separating the two is at the heart of the Christian message.

The full meaning of suffering is surely a mystery. In our fallen world, there is simply no escaping it. No amount of money, technology, medicine or love has managed to rid the world of suffering. Even in our richest, most advanced countries, suffering persists. It may not as often be all that visible. But inside the big homes and fancy cars. Underneath the expensive clothes and well fed bellies. Hidden behind drunk smiles and distracted attention spans, busy lives and broken families. Underneath all of the noise, suffering is very much alive and well.

But, indeed, the goal of the Christian life is not to rid the world of suffering. The goal is to embrace the suffering. That is where we find meaning. That is where we become the people God made us to be. That is where we become saints. That is where we find and experience Truth. If our primary goal is to reject and rid the world of suffering then not only do we miss out on the value of suffering, but we set ourselves up for failure too.

Despair is different. Despair is what happens when you lose hope amidst the suffering. Despair is much worse than suffering. Fortunately for us, the Truth of the Gospel destroys despair. This Truth brings Hope. And Hope will set you free from despair despite any suffering.

One of our big problems is that our “Social Justice” cause has largely become separated from this real Hope. It’s been separated from the Truth. It has become solely about easing suffering and not enough about curing despair. To be sure, easing suffering does offer some hope itself, and that is a very good thing. We must do that. But we must also remember that it only does so temporally and is usually dependent on a social program or a politician or some other ultimately undependable factor.

The kind of Hope I’m talking about destroys despair even - and especially - while suffering. This is the kind of Hope that the world needs most. We need the Truth of the Gospel. And any Social Justice cause must share, as a matter of priority, that Truth first and ease suffering second. Getting these priorities mixed up will, in the end, help nobody.

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth - only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” - C. S. Lewis

We live in a culture that seeks comfort first. So is it any wonder that we also live in a culture of “soft-soap and wishful thinking”? Is it any wonder we live in a culture filled with despair?

Suicide happens when a person loses hope…when they are in total despair. So I thought it would be interesting to look at which cultures have the highest and lowest suicide rates. That may be an indicator of which breed Hope and which breed despair.

Suicide rate per year per 100,000 residents:

Japan: 24.2
Finland: 20.1
France: 18.3
Denmark: 13.7
Canada: 11.6
United States: 11.1
Mexico: 4.0
Peru: 0.9
Haiti: 0.0

Who is seeking comfort?  And who is seeking Truth?

Even more interesting, yet predictable, is that the countries with the lowest suicide rates are also the most religious ones. Go figure.