Ronald Knox's excerpted explanation of "He suffered" from his book, The Creed in Slow Motion, which we began here, continues here in Part 3:
WELL THEN, IF SUFFERING is an evil, that means that you and I have got a right to avoid it. If you've got a toothache, you've a perfect right to have the tooth taken out, instead of saying, "No, thanks, I'd rather offer it up." And indeed it means that you have a duty of looking after your health, because your health is one of God's good gifts, and it isn't polite of you to throw it away carelessly as if you attached no value to it; any more than it would be polite if your rich uncle gives you half a crown to throw it out of the window and say you can get on very well without it. If suffering is an evil, that means that you must not inflict it on other people. I remember a small boy - only he isn't a small boy now, he's grown into rather a great man - who was teasing his sister, and when she complained of this treatment he replied, "A slight mortification, my dear, can only help to get you off Purgatory." That won't do; suffering is an evil, and human beings mustn't inflict it on one another, unless it is for the sake of securing a greater good - as, for instance, when the dentist inflicts suffering on you because that is the only way of stopping a bad tooth.
And again, if suffering is an evil, we must do our best to relieve the sufferings of other people. We must feed the hungry and look after the sick; or if we can't do it ourselves we must contribute to the charities that do. All these centuries Christianity has been preaching that suffering isn't what really matters, sin is what really matters. And yet, all these centuries, Christianity has been founding hospitals and running soup kitchens, because it knows that suffering is, in itself, an evil. I suppose that was part of the reason why our Lord, in Gethsemani, prayed to be delivered from the chalice of his Passion. He wanted to show us that suffering is an evil, and unless it is clearly God's will that it should come to us, we have a right to try and avoid it.
But sometimes, you see, it is God's will that suffering should come to us, and that we should not be able to avoid it. How is that? Well, we tried to go into all that last term, when we were talking about the Fall, and how suffering was the appropriate punishment of sin. The whole human race has sinned, and the whole human race has got to suffer; the bit of suffering which comes your way and mine is just you and me doing our bit. We have said that suffering is an evil thing in itself. But the suffering which comes to us in this way, suffering which we can't avoid because it is God's will for us, can be turned from an evil thing into a good thing, if we treat it in the right way. If you look at an electric light bulb when it isn't burning, you will see nothing inside but a rather uninteresting-looking bit of wire; and you might be tempted to say to yourself, "I don't see how anybody's going to get light out of that." But, once you switch the current on, that piece of wire does give light, because the electricity transmutes it into a glowing mass. So it is with suffering in human lives; an evil thing in itself, it becomes a good thing when it is transmuted, by the love of God, into the glowing focus of charity. (Continues in Pt. 4)
- Ronald A. Knox