Christopher looked up from the sofa into the tender and understanding eyes of Jesus. “I would love to.”
Jesus motioned to the door and Christopher arose and walked toward it. As he approached the door it opened and the man Christopher had met earlier when he first arrived in the city was there, waiting for them to exit the room.
“Thank you Peter.” Jesus said kindly as they passed through the door and into the large entry hall of the building. Jesus led them out of the building and down the steps and onto a path that appeared to weave through the city.
Everything was immaculate – the grounds, the gardens, the streets, and even the buildings. “Just like heaven,” Christopher thought to himself as he smiled. Not long ago he denied everything about this place – but now he was enjoying himself so much he never wanted to leave.
As they strolled leisurely through a park surrounded by trees and flowers, Jesus broke the silence. “You have learned much so far Christopher – simple truths that are so plain and precious but yet beyond your grasp even just a few hours ago.”
Christopher just nodded.
“You still have questions however – doubts about the reality of what you have heard and seen. That is understandable.”
Christopher just nodded again.
“Life can be complicated, difficult, and there are things that happen that are hard to understand. Please ask me what is on your mind – what troubles you?”
After a full minute, Christopher stopped walking and turned to Jesus and said, “My mother suffered greatly for many years before she passed away. She was a good woman and she believed in you. I can only assume you knew her and the pain she was feeling.”
“I know her very well,” agreed Jesus.
“Do you love her?” asked Christopher.
Their eyes met and Christopher could see the compassion in Jesus' eyes. “Your mother is a precious daughter. She served your family tirelessly. But what you didn't see as you were growing up was that she helped so many people. The job at the factory was difficult and many had a difficult time keeping up with the demand of the work. Your mother would silently step in and assist people who were behind. Her smile would brighten even the darkest day – and people around her could see me in her face. I love her so deeply Christopher. She was my hands.”
Christopher could feel his eyes began to moisten. Then he remembered why he had asked Jesus about her. “If you love her – why did she have to suffer?”
A few moments went by and Jesus took a deep breath. After he let it out, he began to speak softly. “As you are very well aware, for the last 8 years of her life she suffered from severe pain caused by lupus. It was very difficult to see her suffer. What you may not have noticed however was how her suffering affected others. Your father was impatient at first and not very sympathetic. But over time his love for your mother deepened – something that would never have been possible otherwise. Her disease and suffering made them both stronger. But your father was not the only one – her neighbor at the time, Delores, sacrificed much of her last years in service to your mother. As a result, her son, who was on the path to self-destruction, realized the fragility of life and turned away from his dangerous lifestyle. Many others were greatly affected. Suffice it to say Christopher, that your mother helped almost as many people because she was able to do very little for herself, than those she helped when she was in good health.”
Jesus turned his eyes back to the path and slowly began walking forward. Christopher was deep in thought and didn't follow for a few moments. Once he had gathered his thoughts, he turned toward Jesus and quickly caught up with him. Jesus smiled at him as he approached. Both continued walking slowly toward a large fountain on the other side of the park.
“Before your mother was born, she accepted the challenge of poor health in her later years. She was well aware at that time what good could be done.” Jesus stopped and turned toward Christopher – who looked back at him with unusual intensity.
Jesus continued, “Everyone who suffers does so for a different purpose. Some suffering is self-inflicted. Some is inflicted by others. And sometimes suffering is brought about by causes beyond anyone's earthly control. What matters most is how people respond to what is given to them – and how they respond to what is given to others. Too often, people think that anything inconvenient or painful is the antithesis of life – that nothing good can come from it. Mankind has worked tirelessly to avoid difficulties and they feel that anything that differs from their plans means failure.”
Christopher could relate to this. His life has been spent trying to enhance others lives – to make things easier and more convenient. Defying nature – disease, suffering, even death – has been his focus and others in his community. “But using talents to ease other's burdens is not a bad thing.”
“Not it isn't a bad thing – quite the opposite. But what is destructive is when someone cannot be helped and I am blamed for being heartless and cruel. How could I be a loving God and allow people to suffer? How can I allow death and destruction? How can I allow people to be cruel towards others? Don't I see what is going on – and why don't I step in and stop it?”
This was one of Christopher's many arguments against a belief in God. If God exists and is loving as people claim, bad things would not happen.
“I see that you clearly understand Christopher. Your thoughts betray you.” said Jesus.
“Was there nothing that could be withheld from this man?” thought Christopher.
“From what I have explained, can you answer that question? Why do I allow suffering?” asked Jesus.
Christopher had to think about this. Although he may not believe everything Jesus was saying, he should be able to develop an explanation based on the information presented. “You allow suffering,” Christopher started, “because suffering does not always produce negative results.”
“True. Does it mean that I don't care about the people who are afflicted?” asked Jesus.
“From what you have said about my mother and the love I felt from you for her, I believe you do care.” answered Christopher. “However,” he continued, “there are cases where it seems nothing can be gained by struggles. I have witnessed thousands of people dying of starvation and disease in foreign lands. I have seen countless suffer in this land from poverty and neglect. I have seen many wars in my lifetime where people are brutally disfigured. I have seen oppressive governments affect millions. How can you allow this to go on?”
“What you do not see Christopher is that I know each and every one of them. I feel their pain. I know their despair. I understand completely what they are going through. I have gone through it all myself. I have drunk from the bitter cup. So why do I allow my friends to suffer? Why don't I provide manna from heaven to feed to poor? Why don't I heal all disease? Why don't I take away all pain? Why don't I temper the storms that threaten property and life? Why don't I strike down the oppressors? Can you answer these questions Christopher? Can you logically derive why I allow things to take their natural course?”
Christopher had stopped walking. Although he had asked these questions before while discussing this topic with his religious colleagues, he now felt a new perspective somehow. Could he actually answer this age-old question and have it make logical sense?
Christopher opened his mouth and began to explain. “If you provided manna from heaven to feed the poor, you would remove the opportunity for others to help their fellow beings survive. You would also create a lazy and dependent people who would not learn skills necessary to be able to survive on their own.”
He continued, “If you healed all disease, people would never die and the population would soon be unsustainable. If you took away all pain, people would never appreciate it when they felt good. If you tempered all storms people would become complacent, idle, and forget you. If you struck down oppressors you would be taking away their free agency.”
Jesus looked very seriously at Christopher. “Your explanations have been proven by the experiences of people that spans thousands of years. I let things happen BECAUSE I love them. I hope you can understand that. Those who criticize me fail to understand that life is not meant to be easy. Life has a purpose and perfect ease and conveniences cannot provide the lessons necessary for mankind to be what they are destined to be. I know each of them, and I know what is best for each of them. But do not think for a moment that this gives anyone license to say when they see someone suffering, 'they suffer because God wants them to suffer – so they are not my concern.' Mankind is responsible for each other. Some suffer and some prosper – and how each and every person handles their situation in life will have a great impact on determining their future – not just in their short mortal span, but forever.”
Jesus was very intense and Christopher did not dare look away.
“Do you understand Christopher?”
After a few moments Christopher broke his gaze and looked at all the people busily moving around the city. “Each of these people had lived and died,” he thought. “What were their circumstances? Were they rich or poor? Did they die of disease early in life or did they live to be old? It was impossible to tell. From what he understood of this place however and by the look of peace and joy on their faces, he somehow knew that each of these people had learned valuable lessons from their mortal existence. They had proven themselves worthy to be here among the faithful – engaged in a good work. A scripture came to mind that hadn't surfaced since he was a boy. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
Christopher looked back at Jesus and nodded pensively. “Yes. I think I'm beginning to.”
 Matt. 26:39
 2 Timothy 4:7-8